I recall my first conversation with Rowan Trollope, Cisco’s senior vice president and general manager of Internet of Things (IoT) and applications, back in 2012. He joined Cisco to head up the companies Collaboration Business Unit, and it was clear from our first conversation that collaboration under Trollope would be markedly different than it had been.
The calling card for Cisco Collaboration has always been great technology, but the usability of the products has been mediocre. So, this became one of the primary focus areas for Trollope. For example, when a user receives an invitation for a WebEx meeting, he or she used to have to scroll all the way down to the bottom of the email and look for a hyperlink to click. Now there’s a big button at the top of the invitation that says “Join WebEx,” making the product significantly more usable, particularly for mobile users.
Over the past few years, the Collaboration group’s mission has been creating experiences that delight, and the result has been a number of Red Dot awards for design quality. Also, after many years of consecutive revenue decline, the group has seen the revenue steadily increase for well over two years.
Making meetings simpler
This week, the company announced Cisco Meeting Server, a product designed to make it simple for customers to use Cisco video room technology with third-party solutions such as Skype for Business, Polycom, Avaya, mobile clients and WebRTC video.
Cisco has had other multi-vendor solutions before, but the implementation required significant engineering work and the user experience was less than stellar, which works against the mission of the Trollope lead group. Meeting Server is based on the technology from the 2015 acquisition of U.K.-based Acano.
Cisco Meeting Server makes meetings significantly simpler, since it offers all of the tools a user requires to conduct a meeting with virtual attendees. Think of how many times you’ve been in a meeting where the video, web and audio conferencing systems were separate. This is why the first 15 minutes of every meeting tends to be wasted with the meeting organizer saying “who just joined?” or “who is on the bridge?” Meeting Server fulfills on the vision of an experience that delights with the following capabilities:
- Video conferencing: Meeting Server delivers high-quality video. That reduces electronic fatigue, makes meetings more productive and provides a consistent experience across room, desktop and mobile devices. The product offers flexible layouts and controls, so customers can configure it to their own personal liking.
- Audio conferencing: The solution includes audio conferencing that integrates with existing dial plans, minimizing the burden on IT.
- Web conferencing: Meeting Server also includes browser-based web-conferencing capabilities that allow workers to attend meetings while they are on the go. The product supports both guest access and user login, protecting the business.
- Cisco Meeting App: Meeting Server software includes easy extensibility to anyone’s mobile device via the Cisco Meeting App. The app enables all workers to experience exceptional video quality and fully participate in meetings or collaborative sessions. Users can control the meeting experience using app features such as layout control, mute/un-mute and the ability to add participants. IT support is minimized with Active Directory/Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP) integration.
- Interoperability: Meeting Server supports several standards, including H.264 AVC, H.264 SVC (Lync 2013), RTVideo (Lync 2010), WebM/VP8 (WebRTC) and High Profile H.264 (Polycom). The product delivers a consistent experience over the following connectivity options:
- Standards-based video endpoint
- Smartphone or laptop with Cisco Jabber client
- Cisco Meeting App (native or with a WebRTC-compatible browser)
- Skype for Business
- Scalable infrastructure: Many considered this Acano’s secret sauce. The product can achieve virtually unlimited scale through software by allowing meetings to extend across servers in different locations. In essence, the system aggregates capacity from all of the deployed servers across the globe to create a pool of resources. Each user is connected to his or her local server, then bandwidth is optimized across them to reduce costs. Servers can also be deployed in redundant configuration for high reliability. The result is an optimized user experience and simplified management of meetings at a lower cost because of bandwidth savings with maximum uptime.
- Recording capabilities: The lifespan of a meeting does not end when the meeting is over. Workers often need to review meeting notes or provide updates to participants who were unable to attend. Meeting Server includes recording capabilities to replay the conversation after the meeting has ended. The product uses standard MPEG-4 for simplified video playback via applications such as VBrick Rev.
- Customization capabilities: The product is highly customizable and enables organizations to change the look and feel to meet their business needs. A business can reinforce its brand by customizing the meeting experience and managing host and guest roles. The user experience can be tailored through customized meeting controls, or the meeting organizer can set up guest roles.
In addition to the above capabilities, Meeting Server has flexible deployment options as a virtual machine on a Cisco Unified Computing System (UCS) Server or spec-based hardware. The product is available through several purchasing options, including the following:
- Personal Multiparty Plus: A named host model that is part of Cisco Unified Workspace License (UWL)
- Shared Multiparty Plus: A shared user entitlement that is available à la carte or with the purchase of an endpoint
- Enterprise-wide license agreement for pervasive video for all
The ordering process for Meeting Server has been simplified, as well, through a three-step process where customers pick the endpoints and the appropriate licenses and then add the servers to support the solution.
Over the past few years Cisco has both talked the talk and walked the walk of making video and meetings simpler. Today, the company has three meeting products: WebEx Meeting Server, Spark and the newly announced Cisco Meeting Server. Each product is designed for slightly different purposes, but there is a lot of overlap between the three. It will be interesting to see how Cisco evolves or merges the three products as the lines of demarcation between the different types of meetings continue to blur.