Polycom Ramps Up Cisco Competition with HP Video Collaboration Buy

Polycom is stepping up its competition with Cisco in the video collaboration space by buying HP's telepresence business, growing its partnerships with HP and Microsoft, and joining an interoperability consortium.

Polycom is buying Hewlett-Packard's video collaboration business and expanding its partnership with Microsoft as it looks to bolster its competition with Cisco Systems in the fast-growing visual communications market.

The moves, announced June 1, came at the same time that Polycom officials said they were partnering with a wide range of service providers-including AT&T, BT Conferencing, Global Crossing, Orange Business Services and Verizon-to create a consortium designed enable interoperability and connectivity across service provider networks. The goal of the OVCC (Open Visual Communications Consortium) is to enable greater business-to-business communication via telepresence and video collaboration technologies through disparate devices and over various networks.

In a Webcast news conference, Polycom CEO Andrew Miller said Polycom's goal is to meet the demand coming from business customers for better video collaboration tools, open networks and greater and easier video collaboration with their partners. For Polycom, the moves will quickly broaden its set of offerings and its potential customer base, and grow the company's ever-expanding list of partners, which executives said is a key differentiator as it competes with other vendors in general and Cisco in particular.

"Polycom clearly has Cisco in mind as it builds its video strategy," Forrester Research analyst Henry Dewing wrote in a blog post. "It plans to compete with Cisco by offering a broad, more open set of capabilities that even encompass interoperability with Cisco's own Telepresence Interoperability Protocol (TIP). With HP, Juniper, Microsoft, and others as partners, Polycom has aligned a remarkable cross-section of vendors to deliver open, cost-effective video (and broader unified communications) solutions that enable multivendor, cross-carrier, intercompany communications. Going toe-to-toe with Cisco is a daunting challenge, but Polycom is ready to take it up."

In the HP deal, Polycom is acquiring all of HP's visual communications business, including its Halo telepresence products, as well as its managed services. In addition, Polycom and HP are entering into a partnership where Polycom will be HP's exclusive partner for telepresence and video collaboration products. The two companies also agreed to put Polycom's video collaboration technology onto HP's webOS mobile platform, which will include future smartphones and the upcoming TouchPad tablet.

It is that strategic relationship that is key to Polycom, according to Roopam Jain, an analyst with Frost & Sullivan.

"Polycom already owns all the technology components that HP's video conferencing business brings to the table and probably in a much more robust way, so this is clearly a potential customer acquisition and market growth move," Jain said in an email to eWEEK. "That itself opens up immense opportunities for Polycom to get access to HP's vast distribution channels and sales team to sell Polycom gear to HP'S huge customer base. Considering that video conferencing despite all the hype remains a significantly under-penetrated market, think of the all the sales opportunities this could generate for Polycom among HP's current customer base that's already investing in networking, storage and managed services."

Polycom's Miller noted that HP's Halo products and managed services already touch 425 blue-chip customers in 36 countries. Shane Robison, executive vice president and chief strategic and technology office at HP, said the company is excited about the possibilities of Polycom technology on the webOS devices, which should have later this year.

"All of these platforms [including tablets and smartphones] are new opportunities for this joint venture," Robison said during the press conference.