• George Goglidze
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by George Goglidze, CCIE #19926

Microsoft Teams vs Cisco Webex Teams

There I was, a young engineer starting to learn some CUCM, and I thought that was the pinnacle of collaboration at the time. I have always loved bringing people together, bridging the gap of communication so to say. Maybe that’s why I was a network engineer, but just networking felt dull, it was just EIGRP, RIP, OSPF and BGP all redistributing into each other, it was like art of some kind, but still felt disconnected from the actual user experience. Nobody would ever feel they are connected because their e-mail went through some expertly designed MPLS backbone.

So CUCM was a change. I felt more connected to the user experience. I was making difference in how companies communicated and that felt different. Little did I know I would dedicate over a decade of studying and work to what was initially known as Voice world.

… but I did. And the world has grown since then. It has become Unified Communications and has embraced applications like Jabber or Lync or Skype for Business, then it took a whole new turn and became Collaboration with tools like Microsoft Teams or Webex, Zoom, and many other applications possibly less known to a cosy home user, but pivotal to large organizations.

Especially in the past year, we have seen an increase in the usage of Collaboration tools. I won’t go into reasons for that as it’s April of 2021 and this topic makes me want to drink more than I already am, and I’m out of wine today; nevertheless, collaboration in companies has become one of the most demanded projects, and I for one am super keen to know what the future has in store for us in Collaboration.

A lot has changed since the voice world. It has gone through a plethora of certifications, marketing rebrandings and even many manufacturers. Do I have a special manufacturer, one that gives me butterflies? Maybe. But this blog is not about that. These past few days I have been looking at the differences between Cisco and Microsoft, and how they are trying to bring people together with their products and I love what they are doing, but I’ve had to take a little step back from user experience and think from an engineering perspective, which one is better? Which one provides better tools or information to engineers to be able to support their customers better? Also, which one provides superior features?

In this blog, I will be comparing the two products and give an engineer’s point of view rather than the user’s point of view.

So, what does a company look for when they chose a product. One primary thing that comes to mind is (cost but let’s not dwell on finances at this point):

  • Features

Of course, there are many other things that companies look at, like budget for upfront and running costs, also user’s opinion, and how each integrates into their current business processes, but I am trying to keep this blog only about the comparison of the two products from an engineering perspective, therefore we have no need to delve into boring business processes.

But what does the engineer look at when he chooses a product. Here are some of the things I would be looking at:

  • The information available to configure it
  • Ease of configuration
  • Certification paths

I was initially planning on putting a humongous table here with all (or almost all) user-facing features available in both Cisco Webex Teams and Microsoft Teams, but then I remembered I’m writing this article from an engineering perspective, not from a user perspective, therefore the features I’m going to put there will be only configurable features, ones that make difference for an engineer. Might not even be readily noticeable for a user, but important from the configuration and support perspective of the solution.

Keep in mind I’m trying to compare like for like. Therefore, I’m completely removing on-premises Cisco CUCM or Microsoft Skype for Business on-premise products from the comparison. I want to make the only cloud to cloud comparison, which means no on-premises services will be listed here.

Features

Here are some of the features that I think are important:

Single Interface for Calls, Chat and Meetings

Webex Teams: No

Unfortunately, this has been a sore point for many in the industry, but unfortunately, Cisco has not made a product that would provide all functionality in the same place for users. The users would have to go to one place for Chat, to another for Calling functionality and yet another for Webex Meetings. I think this point has hurt Cisco hugely, and they know it.

Microsoft Teams: Yes

Not much to say here really, but Microsoft Teams has been a single interface that brings a plethora of applications together into a single interface from the start. It really is a true Collaboration product, that will give you a place that you never have to leave. Just open Microsoft Teams and never change a Window to any other application any more (Ok I may be exaggerating, just a little bit).

Different UPN and SIP Addresses

Webex Teams: Yes

Webex Teams login user by nature is the SIP Address of the user as well, but because during the user sync process, any field can be used for the userid, this can be made different regardless of where the synchronisation is happening. From Azure AD or On-premise AD Connector.

Microsoft Teams: No (Kinda)

Well not natively. If users are fully Microsoft Teams Azure domain, not synchronized from the on-premise environment this cannot be done. SIP Address will be the same as UPN. But if we are synchronizing from the on-premise environment we have a bit more flexibility and can decide to use the msRTCSIP-PrimaryUserAddress on-premise attribute.

Optimization of RTP Streams per location (saving of bandwidth consumption)

Webex Teams: Yes

We can deploy VMN(Video Mesh Node), and this would provide local media termination capabilities for all endpoints, and send out a single RTP to the cloud thus saving a lot of bandwidth especially in large meetings with many participants.

Some companies will even consider this as a security feature, that would allow them to not necessarily open all outbound ports to Webex Cloud from all user/device networks, but Cisco is not positioning this as a security feature, because potentially if the MVN fails, then all your users/devices still need to access the Cloud.  But in my opinion, if you design the MVN’s with high availability then there is no reason why not to position this as a security feature as well.

Microsoft Teams: No

Not much to say here. Unfortunately, we do not have an equivalent feature available from Microsoft Teams. If there are 100 users connected to the same meeting from the same location, there will be 100 streams going up and down to the cloud.

Customer managed encryption keys

Webex Teams: Yes

We can deploy an on-premises KMS system and have all organization Webex/Webex Teams encryption keys managed by an on-premise system. Thus, having full control over encryption.

Microsoft Teams: No

Encryption is managed by Microsoft Cloud

Calling Plans

Webex Teams: No (kinda)

And this one is important. Cisco for some reason has not been able to position itself as a “Telco” until now. They have implemented Calling Plans in the US since December 2020 and will be slowly expanding this to other countries. But it will be slow, so do not hold your breath.

This does not mean they do not have other kinds of PSTN offerings. Including CCP (Cloud Connected PSTN) or support of local gateway.

Microsoft Teams: Yes

Microsoft has Calling Plans in many countries already, and it’s as easy as just a few clicks. Just purchase a few numbers and you’re all set. Also of course Microsoft offers Direct Routing for anyone that wants to bring their own PSTN.

Also, Microsoft has already announced “Operator Connect” feature which is similar to Cisco’s CCP, where your telco is providing the PSTN without you having to have the SBC on-premises.

CoS – Class of Services

Webex Teams: Yes (kinda)

For a very long time, Cisco has had no possibility to do any Calling Restrictions on Webex Cloud, thus if you had a Webex Calling feature enabled, anything dialled on the Webex Teams application would just go to the SBC.

Now it seems Cisco has finally enabled some level of control over this with Calling Permissions on user-level configuration. But these are all pre-defined by Cisco, and you have no way of customizing this at all. So it’s very early stages and needs a lot of improvement.

Microsoft Teams: Yes

Microsoft Teams has dial plan capabilities built-in. There is Dial Plan where we can configure transformation rules to provide short dials, there are voice policies which together with voice routes and expertly defined “usages” can be used to provide different levels of calling capabilities to users.

Dial Plan and Transformations

Webex Teams: No

There is no call routing, no transformations and no customizations here. It’s as simple as this if the user dialled SIP URI, then Webex Cloud will route it to the destination, if the user dialled a number, whatever the number is, it will be sent to the SBC. This is not great, especially if what you are implementing is not just a local GW for PSTN but integrating it with other telephony systems via SBC, and need a lot of customization.

Microsoft Teams: Yes

Microsoft Teams has all the necessary components to customize a dial plan. Transformations on different levels (Dial Plan level and SBC level), voice routes, usage policies and calling policies that bring all the dial plan together. Did Microsoft implement the best way to implement a dial plan? No, there are many things that it’s still missing, like access to some level of SIP header manipulations, or a better way to design custom country dial plans, but it all works, and once implemented will provide the company necessary tools to use MS Teams as a fully functional Telephony Solution.

Information Available to configure it

Here I have to say, the level of information provided by Cisco is unparalleled. Even something as simple as all the destination IP Addresses and URL’s that the client application is using is just not readily available from Microsoft. There is of course the following URL:
https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/microsoft-365/enterprise/urls-and-ip-address-ranges?view=o365-worldwide

But is that enough? What is each destination? Do we have a comprehensive list of features that each destination is supporting? It merely provides the category, protocol and the port number used – not much detail. A lot of financial clients with more complex security approval process do struggle with this.  Here is a piece of similar information provided by Cisco:

https://help.webex.com/en-us/WBX000028782/Network-Requirements-for-Webex-Services#id_135010

This as you can see is providing us all the information to a detail that will be sufficient even to the most stringent security officials.  For example:

*.webexcontent.com (1)

Webex messaging service – general file storage including:

User files,
Transcoded files,
Images,
Screenshots,
Whiteboard content,
Client & device logs,
Profile pictures,
Branding logos,
Log files
Bulk CSV export files & import files (Control Hub)

This is more than enough! And this is just one example. Cisco will provide you with all the information that you need on any feature and any configuration you need, that you can reference in your detailed design documents or just have as a go-to place when you need to look up some information.

This does not mean Microsoft does not provide information. Microsoft’s solution is very well documented as well and has plenty of information for most of the customers. It’s just in those rare cases when “plenty” is not enough and you need to go overboard, Microsoft will probably lack in some areas.

Ease of configuration

So people are going to probably hate me now. How come a double CCIE, with decades of experience, is looking for an easy way to configure the solution. Well, I am! Stop hating. I’m not 20 any more, I want easy and fast, and get back to my family most of the time now. That does not mean it has to be worse quality. Easy does not mean any less capable or lacking in quality. For me, easy means a centralized, easily accessible administration interface.

And Cisco does win here as well. They have a Webex Control hub, that will contain all the configuration you require.

With Microsoft, you start with Microsoft 365 administration centre, then go to the Teams admin centre, then configure some DLP’s for compliance in the compliance centre. Then go to Azure AD admin centre to configure some Teams naming policies. Ok fair enough, you will say this is all Microsoft 365 admin centre, just different parts of the web interface – and ok, I’ll give you that, after Microsoft Teams is not only about Teams, but it’s a collaboration tool designed to work very intimately with Sharepoint, OneDrive, Compliance, Azure AD, Exchange, and all the rest of Microsoft 365, therefore it, of course, makes sense that every single one of them is configured differently. Maybe I’m complaining for no good reason.

But then you suddenly need to enable some obscure feature on the user that is only available in Powershell, and when I say obscure, I don’t mean obscure, I mean every other normal feature. There are so many features that you can only enable via Powershell that I have lost count already.

Certification Paths

Interestingly, I have done so many Cisco certifications, that the first page of my CV is now almost exclusively dedicated to the certifications. But if we talk about Voice/UC/Collaboration, all the certifications are mainly focused around Cisco’s on-premise solutions and not the cloud.

There is currently no Cisco certification that would provide Webex professionals with any sort of accreditation.

On the contrary, Microsoft has MS700 certification already, which would give Microsoft Teams professionals the necessary accreditation that they are Microsoft 365 Certified Teams Administrator Associate.

This is a great thing for Microsoft. Because certification I find it very important to any growing specialist. You want to learn new stuff, but you want to have your learning path structured, and well thought, and certification gives you exactly that. Also, you want to show the world that you are a seasoned specialist, and put the certificate on your CV as a badge of honour. Why not, you passed the certificate so you deserve it.

I started this article, with an idea to provide a clear winner in the end. But the more I think about it, I believe that will be not only difficult but impossible to do. I believe currently both of them have a valid place in the market. It all depends on what an organization needs, what its current infrastructure looks like, and where most of its current investment into Collaboration lies into.

If the company is heavily invested in specific manufacturer hardware, then why suddenly up and go to the other one? At the end of the day, the integration points between the two manufacturers are only getting better and will improve even more as time passes, so maybe the best is to have both? We at IPCORP pride ourselves in being vendor-independent, and most of the time think of the best ways to make the current customer infrastructure work, without unnecessarily locking the customer into a specific solution. Make use of all the tools you have, and make sure they work well with each other.

I would be happy to hear what you guys think about it. Please comment.

George, today – the grumpy engineer.

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