Cisco Morphs TelePresence into a Cloud Service

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Cisco is accelerating channel enablement plans to push is avant garde TelePresence high-definition video collaboration platform a cloud-based service, freeing customers from deploying expensive infrastructure. It’s a good idea, but the bigger question is whether it will be enough to stave off low-cost rivals already in market?

Anyone who has ever seen Cisco Systems Inc.'s TelePresence in action marvels at the video and audio quality, as well as the collaboration features, that make conversations happening at different points around the world feel like their happening at in the same room.

Likewise, anyone who’s ever seen the price tag associated with TelePresence is equally dismayed. The cost for a single TelePresence conference room can top $300,000. The supporting infrastructure, staffing support and maintenance costs only amplifies the total cost of TelePresence ownership.

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Cisco is looking to address some of the cost issues with the recently announced Cisco TelePresence Exchange System, a combination of technology and Cisco-certified architectures that allow service providers – mostly telecom  carriers – to develop hosted TelePresence infrastructures that can be delivered as a service.

“Customers now have more choice in how they consume visual collaboration with Cisco TelePresence-as-a-Service (TPaaS). Cisco TPaaS places the Cisco TelePresence infrastructure in the cloud, powered by Cisco’s best-in-class architecture and network and managed by trusted Cisco certified partners. With this as-a-Service offering, there are even more flexible options for the deployment of telepresence and the acceleration of business impact through video,” wrote Mark Bissell, senior director of product marketing in Cisco’s TelePresence-as-a-Service product group, in his blog.

The idea of Cisco TelePresence as a service is hardly new. The concept was actually floated when the product debut in 2006; some partners considered creating a network of TelePresence centers and offering access to the video meeting technology in the same way that Kinkos has meeting rooms for traveling business executives.

TelePresence as a Service (TPaaS) has several advantages, in that it removes the high expense of enterprise-class video conferencing deployments and their associated support and maintenance costs. It also creates bridges between endpoints of varying quality, meaning that a TelePresence room can link to a mobile device or PC with low-quality cameras and connections (this is something Cisco has offered for some time through crossover technology with WebEx). And it rolls up TelePresence expenses with carrier connectivity costs.

Some carriers and service providers see potential for taking TPaaS to market through their respective channels. Downstream solution providers conceivably could offer the service to their customers by reselling contracts and adding value through the sale and support of on-premises equipment.

In a recent conversation with Channelnomics, Cisco Americas channel chief Wendy Bahr listed TelePresence as a cloud-delivered service as strategic opportunity for solution providers and one of Cisco’s channel development focal points in the coming year.

While TelePresence as a service is a good idea, the bigger question is whether it’s enough to stave off rising competition in video conferencing and collaboration.

Even as a service, Cisco TelePresence still carriers a high cost in the on-premises equipment for customers who want the full breadth of features and experiences. Putting the infrastructure in hosted environments reduces costs, but it’s unclear if it’s enough to spur widespread adoption.

Working against Cisco even if the cost issue is removed is the high volume of video collaboration competition in the market.

  • Avaya is pushing various versions of its telepresence and video collaboration technology through the channel.
  • LifeSize offers on-premise and hosted versions of its high-definition video technologies.
  • Citrix’s Go-To-Meeting continues to expand its video features and capacities.
  • IBM’s SameTime offers video and chat options for virtual meetings.
  • Microsoft is stepping up efforts to integrate Skype with the Lync Communicator Server.
  • And Chinese rival Huawei Technologies sees an opportunity to disrupt Cisco with low-cost, comparable quality products.

Cisco isn’t even free of competition within its own portfolio. As TelePresence comes out as a service, it will compete with Cisco’s WebEx virtual meeting services. While TelePresence is widely used within Cisco, WebEx is mandatory for nearly all Cisco internal meetings.

TelePresence has always been impressive. Unfortunately, it’s never disrupted the general communications market, even though it may have inspired a number of new collaborative technologies. TelePresence as a service seems interesting, but may prove a longshot amid a market awash in lower-cost, good-enough alternatives.

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