Cisco, Google to Bring WebEx to Chromebooks

The companies say the need to enhance collaboration capabilities on Chromebooks comes as the devices gain traction in the enterprise.

Cisco Systems is working with Google to bring its WebEx collaboration technology to Google's Chromebooks.

In his keynote address March 18 at the Enterprise Connect 2014 show in Orlando, Fla., Rowan Trollope, senior vice president of Cisco's Technology Group, announced the networking giant will work with Google to jointly develop products that will leverage Cisco's collaboration capabilities with Google's increasingly popular Chromebooks and productivity apps.

The partnership with Google is part of Cisco's larger effort to extend the reach of its unified communications (UC) portfolio across all devices and Web browsers, including Windows-based PCs and Apple Mac systems. Partnering with Google to enable WebEx on Chromebooks makes sense given the device's increasing popularity in the enterprise, according to Trollope and Rajen Sheth, director of product management for Google's Chrome for Business unit. According to Sheth, Google has seen a tenfold increase in Chromebook sales in recent years, and Chromebooks now account for 21 percent of all commercial laptop sales in the United States.

The partnership will put more pressure on the likes of Microsoft, which not only competes with Google in the productivity application space but also with Cisco with its Lync UC platform. Trollope said during a question-and-answer session with journalists after his keynote that Cisco's intention is to have a large field of operations for WebEx and other collaboration tools.

"Our intention is to be everywhere, but we want to have a … better experience on Chromebooks," he said. "We wanted to create a better experience on Chromebooks than you can get anywhere else."

Google already integrates Cisco's UC technologies into its Google Apps lineup, according to Sheth. The two companies will continue to optimize that integration in the future, but the big step is Cisco's embrace of Chromebooks. The two executives were on stage together demonstrating a prototype of WebEx running on a Chromebook, enabling the user to easily link into a Cisco telepresence session.

"Chromebooks are designed to make computing easier and better for everyone. Businesses of all sizes prefer their low total cost of ownership, central web-based management console and built-in, strong security mechanisms," Saswat Panigrahi, product manager at Chrome for Business, said in a post on the Google blog. "They're also great devices for collaborating from anywhere, any time. Today we're adding another tool for businesses to connect on the go."

Neither Trollope nor Sheth would say when users can expect Chromebooks with the WebEx capabilities to hit the market.

The announcement of the Google collaboration came after Trollope showed off some of the new video collaboration systems the company unveiled a week ago in the run-up to Enterprise Connect. The Cisco executive demonstrated the TelePresence SX10, which essentially can quickly turn any flat-panel display that are usually found in smaller meeting rooms into high-performance video conferences. In addition, he showed off the TelePresence MX700 aimed at midsize enterprises that features Cisco's new SpeakerTrack 60, a dual-camera system that can automatically detect the active speaker in the room and zoom in on that person.

During his keynote, Trollope reiterated his message from earlier in the month—that video collaboration doesn't have to be a tradeoff between price and performance. Cisco is the world's top video conferencing vendor, with 44.3 percent of the market, according to IDC analysts. But it and other established players, including Polycom, are being challenged by a range of smaller vendors like Vidyo and Blue Jeans Network that are offering lower cost cloud- and software-based solutions.

Cisco also is pushing such offerings, but Trollope and other officials are stressing the importance of systems in offering the best user experience. He noted that Cisco has cut the pricing for its range of video conferencing solutions by as much as 45 percent.

"What I want to do is bring this great user experience everywhere, to every [company], every room, every pocket," he said. "You can get low-cost solutions on the market today, but you have to make tradeoffs."

Trollope also noted the need to greater interoperability between vendor solutions to ensure the best user experience.