Polycom Expands RealPresence Video Platform With Cloud Solution

Polycom’s RealPresence CloudAXIS, part of a massive product rollout, lets users connect easily with colleagues and partners using Skype, Facebook and Google Talk.

Polycom is significantly expanding its video collaboration portfolio with a host of new and upgraded offerings, with the centerpiece being a cloud-based extension of its RealPresence software platform.

Polycom’s new RealPresence CloudAXIS Suite is designed to enable enterprise users to easily connect to colleagues, partners or customers who are using other video conferencing platforms—including Skype, Facebook and Google Talk—through a browser via private or public clouds. The software family is a way to expand the video collaboration capabilities of businesses while lessening the security issues that arise around corporate networks and data by making the connections outside the company’s firewall.

The CloudAXIS suite is Polycom’s most significant effort to address a key challenge to video collaboration—making interoperability between disparate communications platforms easy and secure. The new CloudAXIS solution creates what Polycom officials are calling a video collaboration as a service (VCaaS) environment that can be leveraged by enterprises to rapidly expand their video conferencing capabilities and by service providers that are looking to gain subscribers and add new revenue-generating services.

“This is all about … extending our capabilities,” Polycom CEO Andy Miller told analysts and journalists via Webcast presentation Oct. 8.

Jim Kruger, senior vice president of global solutions marketing at Polycom, told eWEEK that the unveiling of CloudAXIS and a number of other offerings—including new software and video conferencing endpoints—represent the company’s largest and most significant product launch in its 20-year history, and is aimed at addressing a number of key issues. Among those is the issue that the collaboration environment has become one of too many “video islands,” where vendors such as Cisco Systems and others offer all sorts of capabilities, but can’t interoperate well with each other.

There also are too many standalone apps, the total cost of ownership (TCO) is too high, and using these systems can be complex and difficult, Kruger said.

“You’ve got to make it simple,” he said. “We want to be able to easily connect.”

The CloudAXIS Suite is designed to make that connection and interoperability with other systems easy, in both B2B and B2C scenarios. The suite offers an intuitive user interface, Kruger said. When the suite is launched, the software quickly is able to determine who is actively online, not only from the host’s social apps, but also video apps such as Skype, Facebook and Google Talk. Those contacts are imported into the CloudAXIS directory, and the video conference host can then invite who they want in the conference by dragging and dropping their names.

When the host starts the call, those invited receive a hyperlink in the chat window of their social and video apps and, in a single click, are put into the video conference via their browser.

“This is all browser-based,” Kruger said. “There are no firewall problems.”

For enterprises, the CloudAXIS Suite enables them to overcome the challenges of interoperability and pervasive video, which will greatly expand their capabilities to collaborate with colleagues, partners and customers in a much more secure fashion, he said. Service providers will be able to expand the cloud-based services they can offer in connection with video conferencing, from recording and streaming to Web conferencing and various collaboration tools, such as digital whiteboards. They can also more easily hone their services for particular verticals, such as education and health care.

In addition, thanks to a new set of open APIs that Polycom announced in July, service providers can add on new and co-branded services and applications.

The CloudAXIS Suite will be available to enterprises in the first quarter of 2013. Trials for service providers are scheduled to begin around the same time.

Along with the CloudAXIS solution, Polycom also is expanding the capabilities of its RealPresence platform, including incorporating open standards-based Scalable Video Coding (SVC), a move that is becoming increasingly important as trends in the enterprise—such as bring-your-own-device (BYOD), mobile computing and social networking—drive up the number of devices, including smartphones and tablets, that are being used for video collaboration. According to Polycom, the new SVC capabilities will deliver three times the high-definition multipoint capacity of previous offerings, enabling greater scalability and better TCO. It also offers higher quality video and backward and forward compatibility.

The SVC support is available through software updates to various components of the RealPresence platform, including RealPresence Collaboration Server 7.8, Resource Manager 7.1 and Virtualization Manager 5.1.

The software updates also come with Polycom’s new endpoints, also rolled out Oct. 8 and aimed at rooms of various sizes. Polycom’s RealPresence Group Series 300, 500 and 700 are high-definition endpoints that offer a new user interface and 1080p performance, according to Kruger. Polycom’s RealPresence VisualEdge is an ultra-slim design—less than an inch thick—that offers desktop video with up to 1080p60 and a 27-inch screen. It also can serve as a PC display.

Polycom has updated its RealPresence Desktop software, with version 2.0 for desktops and notebooks (Windows and Mac OS X), and RealPresence Mobile 2.0 for tablets and smartphones (iOS and Android devices).

The vendor also is offering more than 20 new user updates to its Polycom UX (user experience), including a new user interface and better high-definition quality. The new user interface offers a variety of drop-down menus, smart menus that remember that last contact, easier and more intuitive navigation and a simplified new remote control.

Polycom’s SmartPairing technology in its RealPresence Mobile 2.0 can wirelessly connect Apple’s iPads to the Group Series endpoints, enhanced HDX series and VisualEdge solutions, enabling users to control meetings via the popular tablet and transfer a live video call from their iPad to a big screen with the swipe of a finger.

The company’s NoiseCancel technology helps eliminate unwanted noise—such as keyboard typing and paper shuffling—while ConstantClarity offers greater audio and video fidelity.

Polycom’s massive product rollout comes at a time when interest in video collaboration is still high, but sales are falling. According to analyst firm IDC, video conferencing revenue worldwide fell 10 percent in the second quarter—to $564 million—due in large part to the struggling global economy and slowing IT spending in the public sector. Polycom’s Kruger said he views the market at a “key inflection point. We see the market that, while it’s stalled … is still growing.”

CEO Miller agrees, saying during the Webcast conference with analysts and journalists that he expects the market to grow to nearly $12 billion by 2015.

There also is a significant shift under way in the space, away from large conference room-based hardware systems to software that enables users to collaborate on any device at any time, from smartphones and tablets to massive telepresence systems. The change has given companies such as Vidyo, which offers software-only solutions, some traction against their larger competitors, while both Cisco and Polycom are shifting their priorities to software, though not at the complete expense of their hardware businesses.