Cisco Raises the Bar on Collaboration
The breadth of Cisco's portfolio has always been a significant differentiator; now they bring a tremendous amount of flexibility to customer choices as well.
Cisco's annual Collaboration Summit was held in LA (home of the Stanley Cup Champions) this week. Typical of Cisco events, the company unveiled a smorgasbord of announcements. One could certainly debate Lync versus Cisco for presence or Polycom versus Cisco for video, but there's no debating the fact that Cisco can deliver the broadest collaboration experience (voice, video, social, desktop, conferencing) in almost any way the customer wants to consume it, whether it's cloud, virtual, premise-based or mobile.
The announcements I found worth noting were the following:
WebEx goes premise. WebEx remains the market leader and has become the de facto standard for web-based meetings. The company gave out a number of stats around the growth of WebEx, and the usage of this product continues to go through the roof.
However, there are customers who are worried about using a public cloud service for sensitive information because of regulatory issues or just plain old corporate paranoia. For this audience, Cisco is offering WebEx Meetings Server, where any company can now have their own internal, private-cloud version of WebEx. From what I understand, public WebEx and WebEx Meetings Server are at feature parity, meaning customers lose nothing by choosing the premise-based version.
Cisco also discussed the expansion of WebEx to be more of a "suite" versus a product; they've already renamed Quad as WebEx Social, and have a secure file-sharing product coming called WebEx Files. Files is an obvious extension to the virtual meeting product, but it's Social that has me intrigued. From a product perspective, Quad/Social is a great enterprise social networking tool, but the awareness of it remains relatively low. The association to "WebEx" certainly can't hurt, but just because customers use WebEx for meetings doesn't mean they'll think of the same brand for social.
The Social product is strong enough to make Cisco a market leader, but the company will need to find a way to make more users aware that the capabilities are there. Personally, I'd offer every user that attends a WebEx meeting a free Social account for a year or so to get people to use it. It's a strong product and the success will ultimately come down to execution.
The expansion of HCS. There isn't a service provider out there today that isn't building a robust set of cloud solutions. Most of the SPs are focusing on offering UC as a service (UCaaS) as their anchor application, which makes sense since that's an area of strength for service providers.
Cisco rolled out Hosted Collaboration Solution (HCS) to enable their service provider partners to quickly roll out a robust hosted UC solution. The newest release of HCS, version 9.0, brings a feature called "rendezvous conferencing," which is an option that allows customers to run TelPresence meetings "on demand," as well as traditional scheduled ones. Additionally TelePresence Exchange (CTX) is being integrated into HCS, enabling customers to connect to a broader number of external constituents. One more interesting addition to HCS is the "Extend and Connect" feature, which enables a multitude of consumer devices to be connected to HCS through Cisco's Jabber client.
The H.265 demo. There was no actual press release or public mention of this, but during one of the breakouts, Cisco did the first demonstration I've seen for H.265 video. H.265 should bring a more consistent experience to video, since it compresses the traffic more efficiently. Cisco had a bandwidth meter running above an H.264 and an H.265 session and the quality of the two was identical, at least from where I was sitting. The big difference, though, was that the H.265 stream was using about half the bandwidth of the comparable H.264 video stream. Does this solve all the world's video problems? Hardly, but the lower bandwidth requirement does move us closer to ubiquitous video, as now more video streams can be delivered to more devices.
During the demo, the SVC versus AVC argument came up as well, and there's an SVC and non-SVC version of H.265, so that challenge still remains. Personally, I'm a huge fan of what SVC can bring in terms of flexibility and usability. The big problem with it, though, is that many of the current implementations of SVC are highly proprietary and closed, so while they bring more features, they also create more islands.
During the demo I did ask Cisco about this and whether H.265 would simply create yet another island of non-interoperability. Cisco's answer was the right one, as they claimed to have pushed H.265 into standards for ratification in 2013, and they'll let the standard evolve that way.
Only time will tell whether Cisco will implement purely a standards-based solution or add proprietary features, which would have been their past MO. However, I've said this before: I think Cisco's mindset has turned a corner when it comes to the value of standards-based interoperability and the rising tide it can create. Folks like OJ Winge and Davie Hsieh have been strong advocates for it internally, and that seems to have paid off.
It was great to see the expansion of the Cisco portfolio, as now customers can buy almost any UC feature any way they like. The breadth of Cisco's collaboration has always been a significant differentiator, but now they bring a tremendous amount of flexibility to the choices customers can make as well.