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)


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.


4 thoughts on “Cisco’s InfoComm Announcements – What Were They Thinking?

  1. Don’t forget SVC alone won’t save telepresence’s resources and network infrastructure. Thus, service providers are looking closely on MCU resources management in terms of REAL capabilities needed for customers. Have you heard about VaaS story?

    If you don’t control your network, you will blow your customer’s brain up sooner or later.


  2. Jose,

    As far as I know, all telepresence vendors use special equipment to perform switching and do not use the MCU for their “immersive” rooms. They may use an MCU to enable legacy room systems to interoperate with their TP rooms.

    Teliris is a Vidyo partner who has licensed our SDK and built a telepresence solution that can now use non-QoS networks yet delivers immersive quality. They compete with Cisco using the savings on network costs as one of their advantages.

    We agree with you–videoconferencing consumes network bandwidth. The beauty of a Vidyo solution is that you can buy non-QoS bandwidth. Since this can be much lower cost than a separate high QoS network, the savings can be so substantial that for the same price an organization spends today on an MPLS network for videoconferencing, they can buy much more general purpose capacity and enable many more to benefit from VidyoConferencing from their personal communication devices!

  3. Marty,

    I have read this blog post several times since you originally posted it and I am still trying to grasp the point of why Vidyo cares about a relatively minor announcement by Cisco. But since there are stones being thrown, I would like to correct a few of your statements:

    “As far as I know, all telepresence vendors use special equipment to perform switching and do not use the MCU for their “immersive” rooms. They may use an MCU to enable legacy room systems to interoperate with their TP rooms.”

    [SKL] Partially true. If you are talking about about the CTS products then you are correct (partially again) only when using the CTMS for multipoint switching. If the Codian Telepresence Server is used then it absolutely uses a “MCU for their ‘immersive’ rooms”. Both are viable architectures. If you are talking about the T3, then no the Codian is the solution and that is still a MCU.

    “… built a telepresence solution that can now use non-QoS networks yet delivers immersive quality.”

    [SKL] This is a dangerous statement. No packet loss algorithm (even Vidyo) can deal with massive packet loss and since there is no QoS you really cannot guarantee the packet loss will be less than 20% which is the claim to fame of your website videos. I realize this sounds good in marketing, but in the real world I think this is very bad advice for customers that are spending their money on your (or any of our) products.

    “The beauty of a Vidyo solution is that you can buy non-QoS bandwidth…”

    [SKL] Again I think this statement is not taking your customer’s goals in mind. In fairness when I was responsible for the video network at TANDBERG (before moving to PLCM) we ran our global network on plain old AT&T internet with no QoS using H.264 Baseline Profile and it worked fine – no glitches. But I wouldn’t recommend that as a design principle, we were just fortunate.

    All applications (including video) require planning and correct deployment to be successful. Advising that your customer shouldn’t worry about the upfront work of capacity planning is not the right advice for someone that is looking to yoru company for expertise in helping them to be successful.

    Again, I really do not understand the point of this post. Your crusade on transcoding really doesn’t make sense in a world of Skype, Lync, Facetime, ‘legacy vtc’, etc. If anything, the need for transcoding (you call it MCUs) is going to increase as more players make there way into this maturing market. There will be more need for interop, not less.



  4. With havin so much written content do you ever run into any problems of plagorism or
    copyright infringement? My blog has a lot of completely unique content I’ve either authored myself or outsourced but it appears a lot of it is popping it up all over the internet without my agreement. Do you know any solutions to help protect against content from being ripped off? I’d definitely appreciate it.

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