Cisco’s InfoComm Announcements – What Were They Thinking?

Cisco made a big deal about a set of Telepresence announcements on June 14th that in any other industry would have been labeled as “bug fixes” and “playing catch up”. These announcements put into question how much in touch is Cisco with the industry or perhaps, Cisco thinks that their customers are unaware of what is going on in the market outside of “CiscoVille”.

According to Cisco: MX200 is Priced to Scale

Cisco introduces an HD videoconferencing room system endpoint for $21,600. At that price, it includes a 42” screen delivering 720p at 60 fps. What is amazing is that every other significant videoconferencing room system manufacturer has had lower priced, higher performance solutions available for years!

OK, it will natively connect to a $300,000 Cisco TP room without transcoding. But recognize that there is NO IMMERSIVE experience when the MX200 is involved in the meeting. It is just an HD videoconferencing room system. And if you want 1080p, rather than 720p, that upgrade will cost you even more!

To be fair, the real value is that it includes a monitor stand and is ready to run in just 15 minutes. For that wonderful convenience, Cisco views that its customers are willing to pay a tremendous premium for a run-of-the-mill HD videoconferencing room system. What game do they think they are playing?

According to Cisco: Telepresence Conductor Simplifies Multiparty Video Communications

Cisco customers have really needed this product for a long time—too bad that they still need to wait for the scheduled release in December. With this announcement, Cisco is admitting to the following:

  1. Customers want to have ad hoc meetings without having to schedule infrastructure resources.
  2. A hardware-based infrastructure creates a fixed limit on the number of multiparty participants.
  3. Smart meeting organizers reserve more hardware ports than they require just in case additional participants need to join. This practice guarantees unused, but yet unavailable hardware ports.
  4. A “switching” videoconferencing infrastructure architecture for telepresence combined with a “transcoding” MCU architecture for rooms and desktops causes an administrative nightmare.

People who use web conferencing, audio conferencing or VidyoConferencing will wonder how on earth anyone lives with these needless restrictions. Well, Cisco has realized that this complexity is getting unbearable for their customers, and risks Cisco’s ability to be competitive. In the very near future, Cisco customers will find more videoconferencing users who want to connect from personal devices—personal computers, tablets or smartphones—so Cisco has announced that Conductor will fix these problems. That is good news for 2012 planned upgrades.

If you look below the surface of Conductor to understand the problem it tries to solve, you begin to see the complexity caused by having different video infrastructure architectures.

  1. Cisco gives you a “switching architecture” for ensuring the low latency telepresence experience for the CTS Series endpoints.
  2. A more affordable “MCU architecture” provides transcoding to attach endpoints to a multiparty video conference, but needed ports may not be available.
    - A customer may have different MCU versions with some having SD hardware ports, and others having HD hardware ports that must be matched to the meeting requirements
    - MCUs may be physically located in a different geography than where the resources are needed at any time during the day.

So Cisco’s solution to addressing the administrator’s nightmare is to sell the Cisco Telepresence Conductor and remove the administrator from having to handle all of the choice management complexity. Since the hardware was inherently underutilized prior to Conductor, Cisco hopes that a customer can justify this new purchase on the basis that Conductor will hopefully better utilize the legacy architecture resources. Cisco realizes that without Conductor this nightmare is not sustainable as administrators face increased demand for more multiparty connections as users move to personal communication devices.

What is most surprising is that Cisco views these announcements as wonderful news for the industry! Putting a Band-Aid on Cisco’s high cost, high complexity, multipoint infrastructure with additional costly add-ons is not something most companies would proudly announce. But Cisco must view that with enough positive spin, customers will continue to be happy to buy Cisco, and pay more knowing that they are making the SAFE choice. But beware, not everyone plays CiscoVille (apologies to Zynga if this analogy is upsetting)

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Marty Hollander

Marty Hollander is Vidyo’s Senior Vice President, Market Development. With more than 20 years of high-tech marketing experience, Marty specializes in developing lasting strategic assets through creative market development. Previously, Marty served as Vice President of Marketing at Cemaphore Systems, Latitude Communications (later acquired by Cisco) and ProactiveNet (later acquired by BMC). He also founded CollectiveSpace and IntelliCorp, where he played a variety of executive roles. Marty has also held senior level positions at Silicon Graphics and Storm Technology. Marty earned an MBA from Stanford University as well as an MS from Carnegie-Mellon University.

 

Latency Matters

Sometimes people use the expression “timing is everything” very loosely, but when it comes to real time video communication, this colloquialism rings true. It is both irritating and frustrating when you are trying to have a meaningful exchange with someone and you end up with pregnant pauses between the time that you say something and the other end receives it. The results: frequent air-time collisions and lip sync so bad you feel like you’re conversing with a ventriloquist. This delay between transmit and receive is known as latency.

Latency has long been one of the most significant factors inhibiting video conferencing adoption. Those who struggled through it, did so for years because there were no alternatives. There are several contributing factors to the “glass to glass” latency in a video conferencing system, including network traversal, endpoint encode and decode, and, the greatest source of latency, the transcoding MCU. Now, however, with the arrival of a new class of solutions that have eliminated the need for transcoding, including Vidyo’s personal telepresence, end users have options and are beginning to demand more natural interactions from their visual communications experiences.

At the Visual Communications Industry Group’s first annual conference in Ft. Lauderdale, FL this week, Bob Dixon of the Ohio Academic Resources Network and Ben Fineman of Internet 2 hosted a session on Desktop Collaboration Tools. Vidyo and three other vendors were invited to participate in the session to provide a live demonstration of their desktop solution, have a couple customers join via their tool to talk about their use cases, and give a brief presentation regarding the solution.

Tandberg withdrew from the event citing that they wouldn’t have anyone in the area to do it… When Polycom gave their demonstration and presentation. Latency. Like Tandberg their dependency on the transcoding MCU for multipoint conferences puts them at a disadvantage in terms of performance.

Users in the audience, after suffering through the latency issue for years, were quick to identify it and were effectively demanding a higher quality solution. In short, they were looking for Vidyo. Happily, they found us on the show floor and in our presentation on scaling video conferencing deployments. And soon, they’ll find us in their network, where their MCU used to be.

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Related Links:

- Visual Communications Industry Group’s Website
- Vidyo’s YouTube Channel
- The International Business Time’s Article: Cisco Home Telepresence Rumors Fuel Speculation, Doubt