Cloud-Based Video Conferencing Makeover: Cisco
With CMR Cloud, Cisco is recommitting itself to the market for hosted video conferencing services.
This is the second in my trio of short blogs on the sudden activity in the area of cloud-based video conferencing services. The previous one was about LifeSize. The next one will be about Dimension Data and Teliris. But this time around let's look at Cisco. Same format as before: three sections that examine what each offered before when it comes to a hosted video conferencing service, what they'll offer next, and what the change means.
What Cisco offered before:
WebEx Telepresence (née Cisco Callway service), a hosted video conferencing service that Tandberg developed and Cisco brought to market in 2011. It is based on Cisco equipment deployed in Cisco-operated data centers and offered as a Cisco-provided service that channel partners resell.
There are two editions of the service, one just for Jabber clients ($29 per user per month or $300 per year prepaid) and the other a premium service for physical video end points ($99 per endpoint per month or $999 per year prepaid). Options include outbound voice dialing ($9 per month) and a bridge to support third-party video systems ($249-$499 per month depending on number of ports). Resolution is 720p on Jabber, or up to 1080p with the premium service. Dial-in telephone users are supported via the optional bridging service. Desktop sharing is also supported.
What Cisco will offer next:
Collaboration Meeting Rooms (CMR), which has three deployment options: Premises (both WebEx Meeting Server and telepresence components deployed on-premises), Hybrid (telepresence components on premises, WebEx as a service), and Cloud (both WebEx and telepresence as a service). Since this blog is part of a series about hosted video conferencing services, we'll focus the last one.
CMR Cloud is an add-on to the WebEx service, allowing WebEx to support room-based video conferencing systems. Like WebEx Telepresence, CMR Cloud is a cloud-based service hosted by Cisco. Both support Cisco and third-party standards-based video endpoints, high-definition video (720p30 in the case of CMR), and meet-me conferences.
Unlike WebEx Telepresence, CMR Cloud will be available globally (WebEx Telepresence was North America-only); connects up to 25 video conferencing mobile, desktop or room-based systems (WebEx Telepresence connected up to 9 video end points); supports scheduled conferences (WebEx Telepresence doesn't); supports immersive telepresence rooms (WebEx Telepresence, despite its name, doesn't); and actually uses the WebEx network as part of its delivery mechanism (WebEx Telepresence, despite its name, doesn't.)
CMR Cloud pricing has not yet been announced. Cisco will sell CMR Cloud both direct and through the channel. Awkward, but Cisco sells other stuff both direct and indirect, so no huge surprise there.
What it means:
First, with CMR Cloud, Cisco is recommitting itself to the market for hosted video conferencing services. WebEx Telepresence was central enough to Cisco's UC strategy for the company to rebrand it a couple years back and revamp the various plans that customers could order. But at some point, WebEx Telepresence was deemphasized and the service fell into obscurity compared with other Cisco offerings. With CMR Cloud, Cisco can take another shot at positioning itself as a viable provider of hosted video conferencing services, this time by associating its cloud-based video conferencing directly with its wildly successful hosted Web conferencing service.
Second, with CMR Cloud, Cisco will help WebEx resellers and providers of HCS-based services quickly and easily add a hosted video conferencing service to their portfolio. Rather than build their own service, they can resell Cisco's, bundling it with network, security, consulting, and other services. And providing a service that lets room-based video systems easily participate in WebEx sessions will help resellers and other Cisco partners deliver a clear value-add to their customers subscribing to WebEx through them. It will also let WebEx resellers better differentiate themselves from competitors selling Web conferencing services that cannot support room-based video conferencing systems.
Third, with CMR Cloud, Cisco will directly compete with partners, mainly telcos, that already have hosted video conferencing services in their portfolios or are in the process of developing them. There are at least two counterpoints to this "Cisco-competes-with-partners" concern. One is that Cisco has been competing with them since it launched Callway in 2011. So nothing is really new here. The other argument is that CMR Cloud will be positioned as a WebEx add-on, and WebEx doesn't compete directly against telcos' hosted video conferencing services. I see the reasoning, but whenever a vendor offers its own hosted service – in this case hosted video conferencing – it necessarily competes with providers that are also offering them. As Cisco – or any other vendor for that matter – builds out its portfolio of cloud services, it's going to compete with some of its partners that already offer them.
Fourth, with the introduction of CMR Cloud, Cisco will have two cloud-based video conferencing services that IMHO are not exactly complementary to one another. Rather, one is more scalable, has a more robust feature set, and is being promoted much more actively, while the other is less scalable, less feature-rich, and increasingly obscure.
Finally, at the risk of repeating myself, CMR Cloud is tied directly to WebEx. As CMR Cloud is currently positioned, a customer can't have it without also having WebEx. This has pros and cons.
Pros: There's a boatload of WebEx customers out there, and with CMR there will be a cloud-based way of connecting them to room-based systems. Cons: Not everyone is using WebEx, so Cisco seems to be limiting CMR Cloud's addressable market to businesses that either already have WebEx licenses or are willing to buy them in order to adopt CMR as a hosted video conferencing service. While some WebEx customers will appreciate CMR as an add-on feature, others will not necessarily want their room-based video conferencing service tied directly to their Web conferencing service. Cisco better have an option for non-WebEx customers or CMR Cloud may prove to be a rather niche product.