Polycom, Cisco Spar On Video Interoperability Question


It's an increasingly common tactic among Cisco competitors. As Cisco continues to expand in video and telepresence thanks to its acquisition of Tandberg, its competitors continue to market against the idea that Cisco's telepresence products are "closed" -- that they won't work in multi-vendor environments and that's a major disadvantage for customers.

"Our philosophy is fundamentally different. The lifeblood of our solutions is partnerships," said Jim Kruger, Polycom's vice president of Solutions Product Marketing, in a discussion with CRN. "We know customers have mixed environments and that they want investment protection. We hear that loud and clear."

Polycom plans to further tweak the UC Intelligent Core platform to be interoperable with the full range of video and telepresence systems as -- a move its executives say will extend the reach and opportunity for Polycom VARs. Polycom drives a lot of that interoperability through its Open Collaboration Network, a series of strategic alliances that includes the lion's share of Cisco competitors, including HP, IBM, Microsoft, Avaya, Juniper, BroadSoft, McAfee and Siemens.

Polycom will begin offering TIP interoperability in the second quarter of 2011. It'll allow Polycom VARs to more effectively sell into legacy Cisco environments, TIP or no TIP, said Maurizio Capuzzo, vice president of global channel marketing at Polycom.

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"It makes the pie bigger," Capuzzo said. "It opens conversation with customers that have Cisco. They can choose what they want, and cut down on some of the integration costs. It's a huge market opportunity and a great conversation starter for existing channel partners."

Cisco, however, took issue with Polycom's open-versus-closed claims. David Hsieh, vice president, emerging technologies at Cisco, said that to call TIP a closed standard is inaccurate.

"We are pleased to hear that Polycom is joining other companies in adopting the Telepresence Interoperability Protocol (TIP), the only open, multi-scrceen Telepresence interoperability protocol available today," said Hsieh in a statement e-mailed to CRN. "TIP, originally developed by Cisco to enable multi-screen telepresence interoperability, was turned over to the International Multimedia Teleconferencing Consortium to be managed as an industry standard. It is not a Cisco proprietary protocol -- it's an open protocol available to anyone in the industry."

The interoperability of Cisco video and telepresence products with other video systems has been an ongoing concern for VARs even as Cisco's partnering and distribution strategy for the Tandberg product set takes shape.

"Cisco is committed to interoperability between Cisco TelePresence products and competitive multi-screne video communications devices, including Polycom, LifeSize and others," Hsieh said.

Polycom's Capuzzo said Polycom offers the best alternative for VARs "not feeling the love" from Cisco. Polycom in the past year and a half has remade its executive team and also changed much of its channel program to more aggressively market against Cisco-Tandberg and provide better incentives to solution providers.

"We are going to stay very selective," Capuzzo said. "We want to protect and honor the investment from an end user perspective and want to enhance the margin opportunity for our ecosystem of partners."

"Polycom, I'll give them credit, the channel margins are good and they've done a lot to make us happy in the past year," said an executive from a large East Coast solution provider that also has a significant Cisco-Tandberg practice.

The executive, who asked not to be identified, said Polycom executives had been frank with him in admitting they hadn't done a good job of incentivizing channel partners in the past. The retooled partner program, now about a year old, has re-solidified some of those relationships, he explained, and Polycom has "good energy" behind CEO Andy Miller.

"They woke up a little late in the game to make everyone in their channel happy, but they're still a vendor you need to have in this space," he said.