Cisco Pushes Software Solutions to Drive Collaboration Adoption

The company is offering new software that will make B2B collaboration more efficient and will integrate Cisco's TelePresence and WebEx platforms.

Cisco Systems, long known for its hardware offerings in everything from networking to communications, is rolling out a series of software offerings that officials believe will help drive business adoption of collaboration solutions.

Cisco officials, at the Enterprise Connect 2013 conference in Orlando, Fla., unveiled software products that push forward the notion of any time, anywhere, any-device collaboration, including solutions that help business deploy networking resources based on the needs of collaboration events, give network administrators greater visibility into the video traffic traversing the network, and integrate Cisco's TelePresence endpoints with its Web-based WebEx collaboration platform.

Thomas Wyatt, vice president and general manager of Cisco's Collaboration Infrastructure Business Unit, said a combination of software and hardware is the best way to create offerings that include everything, from voice and video to Web conferencing and desktop collaboration. Corporations are looking for solutions that enable employees to collaborate with anyone at any time, and over any device, from large TelePresence room-based systems down to tablets and smartphones.

"Our customers are demanding that these [collaboration features] become one single solution," Wyatt told eWEEK. "More of our customers are driving us toward a much more integrated solution."

The new offerings also come as more businesses are looking to leverage desktop video conferencing. According to Cisco's Visual Networking Index, enterprise desktop video conferencing worldwide will grow from 36.4 million users in 2011 to 218.9 million users by 2016.

"People are becoming more and more reliant on video," Wyatt said.

Cisco efforts dovetail with a continuing trend within the unified communications and collaboration market toward software solutions that enable greater collaboration capabilities on more devices. Businesses are seeing greater mobility in their workforces and are dealing with the bring your own device (BYOD) movement, which puts pressure on them to expand their collaboration solutions to include whatever devices their employees, partners or customers are using at the moment.

The software driving in the collaboration market will lead to greater and faster innovation, according to Zeus Kerravala, principal analyst with ZK Research.

"Consider what happened when computing moved from a hardware-dominated mainframe world to a software-dominated client server computing model," Kerravala wrote in a post on the No Jitter blog site. "All of a sudden the door was opened for any software vendor, large or small, to create applications that live on top of the underlying operating system. Computing was forever changed, and new capabilities we never dreamed possible were created.

"In fact, if you look across IT, software-based virtualization has redefined the world of computing and the data center as a whole. The only areas of corporate IT that haven't changed are the network and communications. Software-defined networks (SDN) has the potential to change the network and, it's my belief that UC is on the verge of such a transition."

Cisco will continue to look to build upon its hardware capabilities, but it's becoming clearer that new leaders in its collaboration business are pushing a strong software message, Kerravala said.

In their announcements March 19, Cisco officials said they are integrating software into their video infrastructure that can determine the type and amount of resources, from the number of ports to the amount of bandwidth, needed to support a collaboration session based on the endpoints being used. The software also can adjust those resources automatically.

The offering gives businesses as much as 70 percent greater use of their existing collaboration infrastructure, and enables them to scale their video capabilities in a cost-effective way. The capabilities will not only include Cisco products, but also any standards-based video endpoint—including hardware endpoints and software clients—which will help drive interoperability, according to Cisco officials.

In addition, the integration of TelePresence and WebEx, businesses can extend on-premises meetings to users outside the organization through their Web browsers. Users also can schedule a combined TelePresence and WebEx meeting via a single user interface. Being able to extend TelePresence meetings to external parties is a significant boost to expanding business-to-business (B2B) communications, Cisco's Wyatt said.

Cisco also is now shipping TelePresence and Jabber clients with embedded medianet software, which syncs the endpoints with the network and enables users to monitor the video traffic on the network from all endpoints, find problems with bandwidth and quality of service, and make adjustments.

At the same time, Cisco is making these infrastructure improvements available to system integrators, telecommunications companies and cloud services providers, enabling them to offer new services to their customers.