Cisco Upgrades Hosted UC, WebEx Collaboration Solutions

The networking giant is extending the reach of its Hosted Collaboration Solutions offerings, while enabling businesses to deploy WebEx in-house.

Cisco Systems is expanding the reach of its broad collaboration portfolio, extending some elements farther out into the cloud while enabling businesses to bring other cloud-based solutions on-premises.

Cisco's new and expanded solutions, announced Oct. 16 during the networking giant's Collaboration Summit in Los Angeles, touch on numerous parts of its collaboration offerings, from TelePresence immersive video conferencing to unified communications (UC) to the WebEx online collaboration tool.

The announcement also highlights the breadth and reach of Cisco's portfolio, and the underlying features—from open standards to cloud features—that give the solutions a common foundation, according to Eric Schoch, general manager of Cisco's Hosted Collaboration Business Unit.

"At the end of the day, architecture matters," Schoch told eWEEK.

That becomes particularly important given the now-common trends that are rapidly changing the IT market, he said, such as the rise of mobile computing and bring-your-own-device (BYOD) initiatives in the enterprise, the role of video and the adoption of cloud computing.

"The cloud is not new to Cisco, and not new to Cisco collaboration," Schoch said.

The vendor is expanding its Hosted Collaboration Solution, which almost doubled the number of service providers and partners—adding 16 this year to bring the total to 34—that offer the cloud-based offerings. Among those partners are AT&T and Sprint. Cisco is looking to extend the cloud-based and "as a service" solutions that it and its partners can offer. The new offerings will be available in the fourth quarter, according to Cisco.

Included in the new Hosted Collaboration Solution 9.0 offerings is what Cisco is calling "rendezvous conferencing," an option through service providers that enables customers to run on-demand TelePresence meetings at any time, rather than having to schedule them ahead of time via a reservation.

In addition, Cisco is integrating TelePresence Exchange (CTX), enabling partners to better manage their infrastructure for TelePresence and video conferencing across their customer base. Through this integration, service providers can offer both without having to invest in new infrastructures for every customer. At the same time, the integration also enables users to simultaneously connect to multiple locations, with customers buying or leasing the endpoints and partners providing the back-end infrastructure.

In addition, the Hosted Collaboration Solution enables partners to manage multiple contact centers for customers, and offer customers a highly customizable Web 2.0 collaboration desktop that brings key information for call center agents into a single place, enabling the agents to work more efficiently.

At the same time, Cisco is bringing more UC tools to the cloud via its Hosted Collaboration Solution, including the Extend and Connect feature of its Unified Communications Manager, which now works with the vendor's Jabber client, which includes everything from instant messaging and presence to voice messaging and desktop sharing. Users now can bring third-party phones into the Cisco UC environment by inputting the phone number of the device into a Jabber client running on a Windows PC, and Unified Communications Manager will route voice traffic to that phone.

Cisco also increased when service providers can offer customers with IP multimedia subsystem (IMS) integration, enabling providers to connect mobile and enterprise networks, and offer voice over 4G data networks.

In addition, the vendor is enabling enterprises to deploy the WebEx online meeting technology on premises in a private cloud. With the WebEx Meetings Server, businesses can get the same capabilities that WebEx offered via a public cloud—including high-quality video, collaboration tools and clients for PCs and Macs, iPhones and iPads from Apple—on-premises. Thanks to an integration with Cisco's UC solutions, users can quickly move from a Jabber instant messaging (IM) session to a full WebEx meeting from the Jabber client, a capability that will be available in January 2013.

WebEx, which last year was rumored to be one of several businesses Cisco could sell, is seeing strong growth, according to the company's Schoch. The number of registered users has grown to more than 6.8 million as of August, a 30 percent increase from 2011. In addition, the number of meeting minutes are up 32 percent—to 1.8 billion minutes in August—and the number of meetings jumped 38 percent, to 9.6 million meetings that month.

Mobile client downloads have hit 2.7 million, with a 30 percent jump in the number of downloads onto Apple devices and an 11 percent increase for Android smartphones and tablets.