Dissecting The Latest Announcements From Cisco And Polycom

Having attended analyst events by Cisco and Polycom in the past month I'd like to share my key takeaways from the announcements for the companies' positions in the videoconferencing and collaboration software markets. 

POLYCOM
CEO Andy Miller called October 8 the "most important day in Polycom history" when the company made a wave of announcements on products it will release over the next six months:
  • Cloud AXIS, a browser-based videoconferencing service promises to simplify connectivity. Videoconferencing in a browser window without the need for any downloads will help promote adoption. It could also make other enterprise videoconferencing initiatives — B2B, desktop-to-room connectivity, and BYOD — easier to achieve. We can see the promise of browser-based connectivity in BlueJeans' introduction of the technology, where it already accounts for 25% of endpoints on calls using the service
  • SVC and multi-stream videoconferencing architecture lower the cost per port. Room-based videoconferencing vendors are under growing pressure to provide alternative deployment options to the expensive transcoding MCU. By supporting the SVC codec as well as interoperability with mainstream AVC, Polycom can offer the best of both worlds. Also, Polycom is using the same flavor of SVC as Microsoft in Lync 2013, maintaining the synergy of a Polycom + Microsoft strategy.
  • Software MCUs on standard servers will simplify deployments and improve manageability. Software MCUs will combine functions — MCU, gateway, content server, and desktop client server— that buyers have had to deploy through multiple appliances. Virtualized software MCUs will allow buyers more control in scaling their videoconferencing capacity to support more endpoints in their environments. 
Polycom made other announcements, including an improved UI across the portfolio. Whether or not the products and architectural changes announced have a transformative effect on the industry, Polycom customers will benefit from the bandwidth savings of SVC, continued interoperability with Microsoft, and having more choice as far as deployment models. I'm most interested in the potential of CloudAXIS as a desktop and mobile videoconferencing client to facilitate any-to-any connectivity with enterprise class security and controls.
 
CISCO
I'm always impressed with how Cisco incorporates imaginative projections of the future of work and how technology can transform business into its messaging. However, this year's Collaboration Summit was less about making big announcements and more about providing an update on Cisco's progress in the collaboration suite market. Cisco emphasized it is:
  • Maintaining its technology leadership in real-time and archived video. Many attendees got their first look at the H.265 codec, which Cisco showed at 50% bandwidth savings over H.264 AVC in 720p30. H.265 will generally start making its way into commercial products in 2013 (Not a statement on Cisco's timeline). There was also an impressive demo of the speech-to-text and analytics capabilities in Cisco's Show & Share video recording and streaming solution, which promise to help viewers navigate and search recorded video as effectively as we do with text today. 
  • Putting a strong emphasis on the cloud collaboration services. Cisco has doubled its number of Hosted Collaboration Suite (HCS) partners and increased the number of customers using the platform. It continues to make progress in bringing together an integrated solution on a common architectural platform and now has three applications in the cloud: Jabber, Webex Meetings, and Webex Social (formerly Quad). Interestingly, in line with its goal of introducing cloud and on premises versions of its software that are at parity with each other, Cisco also filled a gap in the portfolio with Webex on premises for the first time.
  • Positioning more strongly to displace Microsoft Office 365. Extending the Webex brand to Cisco's other collaboration workloads was a strong statement of intent to deliver an integrated collaboration suite in the cloud. Building on its strengths in real time collaboration, Cisco is adding asynchronous collaboration with Webex Social and the future release of Webex Files for file sync and file sharing. Webex Social even now has a feature to help manage collaborative document editing in Microsoft Office. I have no doubt Cisco will continue to make good on its promise of bringing together an integrated collaboration suite. 
Cisco faces a difficult battle in the collaboration suite market against Microsoft's dominance with SharePoint-Yammer and its advantage of seamless integration with Office. There was a lot of discussion during the summit on the battle among vendors to "win the workplace." A significant challenge for Cisco is that cloud email — the one workload it doesn't deliver — is the impetus for many enterprises to go to Office 365 or Google Apps, and is the foot in the door for those vendors to deliver other cloud applications. On Cisco's side however, we expect firms to increasingly look beyond commodity collaboration workloads like email as they become more comfortable with the cloud.