• 03/18/2014
    3:56 PM
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Cisco Puts WebEx On Chromebooks

Cisco revamps its videoconferencing lineup with a Google partnership, new products, and lower prices, the company announces at the Enterprise Connect conference.

Cisco WebEx and Cisco Unified Communications are now available via Google Chromebook browsers.

The arrangement is part of Cisco's ongoing strategy to simplify collaboration among users, making corporate videoconferencing as easy to use as a commercial or personal app, Rowan Trollope, senior vice president and general manager of the Collaboration Technology Group at Cisco, said in a keynote presentation at Enterprise Connect in Orlando, Fla., on Tuesday. The vendor also has cut prices an average of 45% across its product line.

"Users want to have great technology and a consistent experience across platforms," Trollope said. "The industry has not lacked low-cost solutions. You can get lots of low-cost solutions on the market today, but you have to make tradeoffs. It's a shameful fact that only 7% of meeting rooms in the world have video equipment in them, have collaboration equipment in them. That means 93% of them are only able to connect to other people with voice."

Rajen Sheth, director of product management for Chrome for Business and Education at Google, said that, since more than 5 million companies use Google apps and Chromebooks accounted for about 21% of the commercial US laptop market in 2013, Google and Cisco expect their collaboration to encourage more business users to tap into videoconferencing in order to communicate. The two executives conducted a proof-of-concept demonstration of Chrome running WebEx during Trollope's keynote address at Enterprise Connect, an event conducted by UBM Tech, InformationWeek's parent company.

[Don't put the brakes on BYOD; enjoy the ride. See Mobile Strategy: How & Why To Go Faster.]

Trollope said WebEx is completely redesigned to be native in Chromebook. Users can join a WebEx meeting directly from their calendar or begin a session via contacts or the Google People widget, for example. Cisco UC capabilities -- such as messaging, click-to-call, Cisco presence, and fax -- appear next to Gmail on Chrome's interface.

This partnership is part of Cisco's drive to simplify telepresence and make it more user friendly, Trollope said. While on stage, he unpacked a shipping box and set up a Cisco Telepresence SX10 Quick Set all-in-one unit to demonstrate the system's simplicity. The SX10, which sells for about $1,500, is controlled via a remote or smartphone equipped with Cisco's Proximity app.

Figure 1:
Cisco's Rowan Trollope demonstrates the TelepresenceMX700 at Enterprise Connect.
Cisco's Rowan Trollope demonstrates the Telepresence
MX700 at Enterprise Connect.

To address boardroom users' needs, Cisco showed the dual-screen Telepresence MX700, featuring two 55-inch high-definition displays. The design came out of Cisco's 2010 acquisition of the videoconferencing specialist Tandberg, Trollope said.

"When you go into a room you feel like you want to use it, not 'That looks complicated. Let me call someone in IT,'" he said in the keynote.

The MX700's software uses advanced facial detection and other capabilities to frame the remote speaker automatically, and it zooms in to focus on people, not empty chairs. Users control the device with a remote or their tablet. It supports H.264 and is H.265-ready, allowing it to deliver high-definition images at half the bandwidth, Trollope said.

Reuben Goodwin, an attendee at Enterprise Connect, said he found the small form factor and simplicity appealing. "The best part? No manual. If a user needs to read a manual, they just want to forget about it," said Goodwin, a telecommunications analyst at Health Alliance Plan, which is investigating boardroom teleconferencing systems.

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A nice addition

I have to say that this is a nice tool and it could go a long way with current Chromebook owners but I don't know if this is going to drive many more people to use Chromebooks.  Google has a lot of ground to make up in the image building of ChromeOS so it is nice to see them expanding the native functionality but I think they are still going to suffer from the image of being a think client like device for some time to come.

Re: A nice addition

Yes, I doubt it would be THE reason someone would switch to Chromebooks, but I have to say it was lightening fast and a great tool for those already on or planning to use Chromebooks at their home or business. In fact, the videconferencing connection was so fast that you could hardly see the connection being made during the demo! The execs discussed it and, within a second or so (unscientific timing), the Chromebook connected to Cisco's videoconferencing system and the group in Virginia. That said, if Cisco doesn't expand to other platforms and browsers it will severely limit its market.

Re: A nice addition

In an environment that has moved to cloud based applications and services the Chromebooks are an attractive option so it is nice to see them making progress.  I can't say that I'm at the point where a Chromebook could take over for any of my daily devices but in the next few years that is a very real possibility.  I have one legacy application that I can not move to a web interface or cloud based solution but when I can that will be a tipping point for losing the fat client model.

The teleconferencing addition does make me want to pick up a Chromebox and try it with our VCS via Vidyo to see how it stacks up.  This might be a solution for our smaller offices where a full sized teleconferencing codec is overkill.


Re: A nice addition

This system does look attractive for SMBs, home offices, and mobile workers who don't run the type of legacy app you mention, @Sane. I imagine Chromebooks are just the beginning and Cisco/Google plan to expand the partnership so users can access the same performance and capabilities on Android tablets or the Chrome browser running on other devices too, at some point. That's just my opinion. This was not addressed at the conference and I did not speak to execs from either company after the keynote.

Re: A nice addition

Yes it does seem like the Chromebooks are just the beginning.  Doing a little research on this I turned up Google's Chromebox teleconferening solution.  It is aimed at smaller companies who can't pull off a larger traditional solution.  We build these solutions all the time so it's something I'm very familiar with.  If they can take what they are doing with the Chromebox and move it into a browser based or tablet solution it is going to be very disruptive to the teleconferecning market and to Cisco's larger more expensive units.

Re: A nice addition

Do you think it would impact the low-end of the market too -- Skype, for example? If the price is right, perhaps SMBs and SOHO would switch to the Google option if it had more benefits -- higher quality, much faster connection, reliability vs. Skype? Or am I way off here?! :)

Re: A nice addition

I think for smaller companies this is very attractive.  The Chromeboxes are inexpensive and with Vidyo you can connect your sessions to the more traditional videoconferencing systems.  It gives you a big company feel for a small investment.   I've talked to folks from a few smaller companies who use Google+ and Skype only because they don't want the expense of a dedicated system but they feel like Skype is videoconferencing on training wheels.