Cisco Telepresence Blitz Includes New Endpoints, Interoperability

Cisco on Tuesday confirmed a barrage of updates to its video telepresence portfolio, as well as "any to any" interoperability between Cisco TelePresence endpoints and other standards-based video endpoints, including those made by Cisco rivals like Polycom and LifeSize.

New to Cisco's telepresence lineup from a product perspective is the Cisco TelePresnece MX200, a small-office endpoint with a list price of $21,600. Scheduled for availability in July, it's a 42-inch unit offering 1080p at 30 frames per second video, and according to Cisco, is out of the box and installed in about 15 minutes.

"It's entry-level to the multipurpose category [of endpoints]," said Thomas Wyatt, vice president and general manager of Cisco's TelePresence Infrastructure Business Unit, to CRN. "You can have it in smaller spaces where you don't want to take over a whole room, and you also have more flexibility in getting it up and running."

Another new release from Cisco is the TelePresence Conductor, a management platform that processes multi-party conferencing requests and automatically assigns meetings to the most appropriate conferencing unit, as well as divert conferences to other units in the event of a power failure. That way, according to Wyatt, business users can set up telepresence meetings "on the fly," without having to wait for administrators to set up conferencing ports. Business users can also use virtual room ID numbers, provided to employees, to set up fast telepresence conferences through Conductor.

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"We have great servers, switches and MCUs, but with the conductor, it sits above those in the network and can figure out what endpoints need to be connected to which conferencing service," Wyatt explained. "Say you have a 1080p immersive experience with Active Presence and that needs to be linked to a voice-switched video capability on a desktop phone. What Conductor does is access a pool of MCU and switching resources to route the right endpoints to the right conferencing resources."

Conductor is expected to be available in the second half of 2011, according to Wyatt, likely in December. Expect more products and services from Cisco that address easier and more flexible management options for video, he said.

"You're going to see an evolution on how we can evolve switching across the range of endpoints," Wyatt said. "We'll be getting even more flexible and scaleable, and what you see in the Conductor is driving a lot of the intelligence and logic."

Elsewhere, Cisco has further updated its endpoint software -- specifically TC5.0 and CTS 1.8 -- to bring native multipoint interoperability between Cisco TelePresence and standards-based third party endpoints without requiring additional hardware transcoding. That means Cisco TelePresence calls can connect more easily to video endpoints made by Cisco rivals like Polycom and LifeSize -- a measure long hoped-for by Cisco solution providers.

"It's anybody that does standards-based or TIP-based endpoints," said Wyatt, referring to the Telepresence Interoperability Protocol (TIP) Cisco released in early 2010. "Polycom, LifeSize, the whole gamut."

Cisco made a number of smaller adjustments to the telepresence portfolio as well. Its TelePresence Server 8710 and 7010 v. 2.2 units can now support up to 64 meeting participants in high definition (720p30) or 48 participants in full HD (720p60 and 1030p30), and Cisco's Multipoint Switch v 1.8 can now support Cisco's C-series, EX series and all TIP-based endpoints, as well as 90 screens that can participate in a single telepresence meeting, up from 48 before.

Also newly available in Cisco's TelePresence Manageability Suite is a one-button-to-push capability for EX and C series endpoints, meaning meetings can be launched with one button based on calendaring integration with Microsoft Office, Lotus Notes and other applications.

Finally, Cisco added native call control and session management for the EX series and C series Cisco telepresence endpoints to Cisco Unified Communications Manager 8.6. That means UCM 8.6 is now the common call control platform for Cisco voice and video.

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The series of moves comes as Cisco looks to shore up its lead among business videoconferencing vendors, especially as the space becomes a more attractive channel play. According to Infonetics Research, Cisco, which acquired Tandberg in 2009, holds the No. 1 spot in overall enterprise videoconferencing revenue, having claimed 50 percent of the global revenue in 2010.

In recent months, however, Cisco's main rivals in the video space have begun to aggressively challenge the networking titan -- Polycom, for example, with an ambitious channel revamp and acquisition of HP's video unit, and LifeSize with the promise of greater integration between LifeSize's business and parent Logitech's. Smaller upstarts like Vidyo, whose lower-cost multiscreen 1080p60 telepresence has attracted plenty of attention, are also on the move.

Cisco, said Wyatt, worked to eliminate many of the initial headaches surrounding the Tandberg integration, including the merging of the channel programs and the new ordering process for former Tandberg products that was inaugurated on Jan. 31. Cisco now has about 1,200 partners selling videoconferencing products in its telepresence portfolio.

"Most of the growing pains and integration are behind us now," Wyatt said. "And I think our partners are incredibly excited for what we've done with interoperability, and what we're doing to simplify and tie a lot of this together. There's a lot of learning that's going on."

Video and collaboration have been bright spots in an otherwise difficult stretch of quarterly earnings reports for Cisco. Wyatt said that all of Cisco's video and telepresence products are growing, but there's been "exceptional" growth in the EX series, which are Cisco's desktop telepresence offerings.