Cisco to Buy Acano to Bolster Collaboration Portfolio

Cisco officials say Acano's technologies will help them in their drive to grow the number of meeting rooms worldwide that are connected via video.

Cisco Spark

Cisco Systems is looking to drive video conferencing into more meeting rooms worldwide and is buying Acano Ltd. to help push that effort.

The giant networking vendor on Nov. 20 announced it is spending $700 million to buy Acano, which offers an array of collaboration hardware and software that touches everything from video, audio and Web conferencing to unified communications (UC). Once the deal closes in the first calendar quarter of 2016, the Acano team will be brought into Cisco's Collaboration Technology Group, which is led by Rowan Trollope, senior vice president and general manager.

The acquisition reflects a larger push in the collaboration space to address the growing trend in businesses of smaller conference spaces that can be used by small groups of people, in the range of six to 10. Such "huddle rooms" are growing in popularity in companies, and video conferencing, and UC vendors are building out their portfolios to bring better collaboration tools to them.

In recent months, such vendors as Microsoft, Polycom, Logitech and Tely have made moves to bring video conferencing capabilities to these huddle rooms. For example, Microsoft this month enhanced its Lync Room System to be used in such spaces, while Polycom in October unveiled additions to its RealPresence offerings that make using technology in huddle rooms more intuitive and comfortable.

According to Polycom officials, there are anywhere from 25 million to 55 million such rooms worldwide, and only 2 to 4 percent of them are equipped with video collaboration equipment. The numbers are similar to what Cisco officials are finding. Only 10 percent of conference spaces are connected through video, and 1 percent of users have video systems on their desktop, according to Rob Salvagno, vice president of corporate development at Cisco.

Couple that with the expected growth in video over the next few years—Cisco expects IP video to be 80 percent of all global Internet traffic by 2019—and "we are at an inflection point in video adoption," Salvagno wrote in a post on the company blog.

The vendor is pushing to grow the number of video-connected rooms to 25 percent within five years, with people being able to connect easily to those rooms from any device or system. That's a key driver to the bid for Acano, he wrote.

"Acano's portfolio includes video and audio bridging technology and gateways to enable customers to connect different collaboration solutions from disparate vendors across cloud and hybrid environments," Salvagno wrote. "Together, Acano will help Cisco expand the interoperability and scalability of our collaboration portfolio—allowing customers to connect from anywhere, from a browser on a mobile device to the corporate boardroom, and now scaling to easily connect thousands of users across an organization."

Cisco has been aggressive in growing its collaboration business since Trollope took over the unit three years ago, both through in-house innovation and acquisitions. Over the past 12 months, the company has refreshed its entire endpoint lineup and reduced the number of endpoints from 65 to 17, simplifying the portfolio.

The result has been continued revenue growth—double-digit growth for the past four quarters, including 17 percent in the most recent one. The company has rolled out a new cloud collaboration platform and its Spark offering, an enterprise collaboration service that includes one-on-one and group messaging, file sharing and video calling. In August, Cisco announced a partnership with Apple in which Cisco optimized its networking gear for Apple's iOS devices and software. In addition, Cisco will streamline the way iPhones work with their desk phones and will enhance the experience iPhone and iPad users have when using them with Cisco's broad array of collaboration tools, including TelePresence video conferencing systems, WebEx online conferencing and Spark.

Cisco also has bought several companies to bolster its collaboration efforts, including Collaborate, Tropo and Assemblage.

Acano will help Cisco in such areas as interoperability and scalability, officials said. Acano has developed products that connect a wide array of endpoints and systems from multiple vendors, and its products will bring enhanced support for Microsoft's protocols and mobile browsers through WebRTC support. Regarding scalability, Acano offers dedicated hardware appliances and virtualized software for connecting tens of thousands of users and meeting rooms, and that can run in both cloud-based and hybrid environments, where customers have a mix of cloud and on-premise solutions.