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Cisco, Citrix Do Video Via Virtual Desktop

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Cisco Systems Wednesday announced new technology to deliver high-definition video and voice through a virtual desktop infrastructure which sends the signals from one endpoint to the other, bypassing the data center and reducing the high CPU processing and bandwidth that makes for subpar video. Cisco is also entering into a "strategic alliance" with virtual desktop provider Citrix to tightly integrate the Cisco technology, called Virtual Experience Infrastructure (VXI) with the Citrix XenDesktop virtual desktop platform.

The VXI product line, being rolled out this quarter and early in 2012, consists of the VXC 6215 thin client, a small tower that plugs into a desktop computer, and the VXC 4000 software appliance that runs on a computer with a Microsoft Windows XP or Windows 7 operating system. The VXC 4000 also integrates with Citrix's HDX desktop virtualization that delivers enterprise applications on any device or any network. The alliance will also involve wide area application services (WAAS) technology being optimized for Citrix XenDesktop.

Cisco says existing video and voice communications on virtual desktops are hampered by the fact that the signal travels from one endpoint to the data center where it makes a "hairpin turn" back out of the data center to the receiving endpoint. In a demonstration video, Cisco showed that this technology gobbles up 45-50% of CPU cycles and 100 megabits per second (Mbps) of network bandwidth and still results in inferior video and audio quality. With VXI, CPU usage drops to the range of 3-5% and bandwidth consumption drops to kilobits instead of megabits.

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With VXI, the only information about the call that is going to the data center is a few kilobytes of information for signaling, explained Phil Sherburne, VP of enterprise architecture and systems at Cisco, who hosted a TelePresence videoconference with reporters scattered throughout North America. The voice and video are encoded and transmitted over the network using more natural protocols like real-time transport protocol (RTP) to the receiving endpoint. The result is a significant reduction in bandwidth and CPU consumption because the encoding and decoding is taking place at the end points.

"What this leads to, and what we're really excited about, is enterprise-grade voice and video based on Cisco UC for that virtual desktop environment," said Sherburne.

While Cisco's VXI technology will also run in a VMware View desktop virtualization environment, Cisco's relationship with Citrix is deeper, involving joint technology development for the VXI-Citrix platform, a closer go-to-market partnership between the two companies with channel partners and the alignment of Cisco Wide-Area Application Services (WAAS) with XenDesktop. Cisco will also gain access to the Citrix high-definition user experience (HDX) protocols to integrate with its technology.

"Customers have given us direct feedback that what they would like is for Citrix to do everything that it does really well and preserve the opportunity for Cisco to do everything it does extremely well," said Dave Frampton, VP and general manager of the application delivery business unit at Cisco, who is in charge of the WAAS application optimization portfolio. "By opening up and getting access to the HDX protocols, we can improve the user experience across all this range of end user devices."

The TelePresence news conference included comments from Cisco customers, including Brian Kachel, director of global network services and core IT at Quintiles, a medical, biotechnology and pharmaceutical research organization based in Virginia.

"This [VXI] capability will allow me to leverage the investment in WAAS and further optimize this network traffic and provide a consistent experience for the end users without having to do costly bandwidth upgrades," Kachel said.

Cisco said the VXC 6215 thin client will be available for order in the current quarter and begin shipping in the first quarter of 2012. The VXC 4000 software appliance will be available as a voice only system in the fourth quarter, with video capability to be added sometime in 2012.

While initially the software appliance will run only on desktops running Windows XP or 7, Cisco plans to add support for other mobile operating systems, such as Apple iOS for iPads and iPhones, and Google Android, though a Cisco spokesperson was vague about when or on other specifics.