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A New Day for Cisco – Microsoft Video Interop

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Video interoperability
Image: Elnur - stock.adobe.com
The announcement from Cisco and Microsoft that video interoperability would soon be available between Cisco Webex Meetings and devices and Microsoft Teams is a welcome declaration to the entire industry. No Jitter’s Beth Schultz covered the basics of the announcement on Monday; in this post, I’m going to go into a bit more detail on how video interoperability is actually going to work between Microsoft and Cisco.
 
Video interoperability will be available in two different ways:
  1. A Microsoft Cloud Video Interop gateway developed by Cisco
  2. Direct interoperability between meeting services and endpoints
Here’s how these two methods work.
 
The Microsoft Cloud Video Interop Method
When Microsoft Teams launched, the video interoperability available between Cisco video endpoints and Skype for Business didn’t carry over: Teams wouldn’t support any non-Microsoft endpoints. In 2018, Microsoft announced Cloud Video Interop (CVI), which was a way for “qualified” third-party solutions to enable video interoperability between legacy video endpoints. At the time, only Polycom (now Poly), BlueJeans, and Pexip were given the green light to offer “qualified third-party solutions.” The industry was shocked that there would no longer be video interoperability between Cisco and Microsoft, particularly given that Cisco had purchased Acano, which morphed into Cisco Meeting Server, and this was a solution that provided video interop with Skype for Business.
 
CVI is enabled when a Microsoft partner deploys a signaling and media gateway in the Azure cloud. This gateway, developed as a series of microservices, converts the signaling and video streams from SIP and H.323 video endpoints into streams that are compatible with Microsoft Teams.
 

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Microsoft Cloud Video Interop gateways from Cisco, BlueJeans, Pexip, and Poly enable SIP and H.323 video endpoints to interop with Microsoft Teams.

The Cisco gateway for Microsoft Teams will first support interoperability with Webex Meetings (Cisco’s cloud-based meetings solution) and later with Cisco Meeting Server (Cisco’s premises-based video meetings solution). To enable the solution for users, there will need to be some configuration done in the Cisco Webex Control Hub and within Microsoft Teams’ admin settings. After that, the big green button on the Cisco Touch 10 control panel for one-touch meeting joins will connect a Cisco video endpoint via Webex Meetings into a Microsoft Teams meeting.
 
Cisco’s CVI gateway for video interoperability with Microsoft will be available in early 2020, and it will not incur extra subscription costs.
 
Cisco – Microsoft Teams Interop via WebRTC and Chromium
The second way Cisco Webex Room and Microsoft Teams Room endpoints will interop is via WebRTC and the Chromium browser. Cisco Webex Room endpoints – the Room 55, Room 70, Room Kit, and Room Kit Mini – will be equipped with the Chromium browser and will connect to a Microsoft Teams meeting using the Microsoft Teams web client that supports WebRTC. These endpoints will have most of the functionality one would expect in a Teams meeting, including screen sharing, a view of the roster, etc.
 
In a similar manner, Microsoft Teams Room Systems will support Webex Meetings via the new Edge browser, which is also built on top of Chromium. Microsoft Teams Room Systems will launch the browser when the meeting join button is clicked, and these systems will have full meeting functionality in Webex Meetings, including screen sharing and the ability to see the attendee roster.
 

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Both Cisco and Microsoft endpoints will run Chromium-based browsers relying on WebRTC for video interoperability between them.
This Chromium-based Cisco-Microsoft video interop solution will be tested in Q1 of next year and generally available sometime in Q2.
 
Good News for Zoom and Neat
Microsoft also announced that it would support interoperability between Zoom and Microsoft Teams using each other’s WebRTC/Chromium web clients. Since Cisco also supports this joining method, Zoom Rooms and devices, Cisco Webex Room devices, and Microsoft Teams Room Systems and devices will all be able to interop.
 
At Ignite 2019, Microsoft M365 Corporate Vice President Jared Spataro, made this three-way video interop announcement in a Teams breakout session, showing the following screen shot from a Microsoft Teams Room System display.
 

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Microsoft Teams Room Systems, Cisco Webex Room devices, and Zoom Room endpoints will all support video interop with each another, along with one-button meeting joins.
 
One side note on the Zoom interoperability is that the new Zoom-dedicated Neat.no device announced at Zoomtopia can be used in huddle rooms that need to have interop with Microsoft Teams and Webex Meetings.
 
Connecting the Dots for Poly
When Poly announced its Studio X series of video bar endpoints, there was no mention of future interoperability with Cisco Webex or Cisco endpoints. With this announcement between Cisco and Microsoft, Poly’s Studio X endpoints, plus any endpoints from Crestron, Logitech, and others that support Microsoft Teams Rooms software will also be able to connect into Cisco Webex Meetings. Poly hasn’t confirmed the Cisco interoperability, but it only makes sense given that the company is focusing on multiplatform interop. Furthermore, Studio X devices support standards-based SIP and H.323 video streams, and they’re Android-based. So, a WebRTC-capable browser will certainly be available for them, and with a little work, one-button joins with Cisco Webex Meetings can be easily enabled.
 
Big Steps Toward Collaborating
This video interop between Cisco and Microsoft (and now Zoom) is a one small step for these companies, but a giant leap for our industry. It reaffirms the belief that some of us were advocating a few years ago that WebRTC would significantly change the industry.
 
Furthermore, the relationships between the biggest collaborator platforms in the collaboration space are apparently thawing. This interop makes so much sense for both Microsoft and Cisco customers and will, in a sense, liberate them! It likely really helps that Sri Srinivasan, SVP/GM for Cisco Webex Meetings, Teams & Devices, has very strong ties to Microsoft given that he was the CTO for Microsoft Dynamics prior to joining Cisco. According to Sri, we should look for much more collaboration in the future between Cisco and Microsoft. He quipped, “We’re just getting started!”