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3/31/2009
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Fredric Paul
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Cisco Opens Up Unified Communications And Telepresence To Multivendor Solutions

Lack of interopability between vendors' systems has long been a thorn in the side of both Unified Communications and Telepresence. At VoiceCon this week, though, Cisco is moving to let its products work better with vendors -- and that could help spur interest in both technologies, especially among smaller companies.

Lack of interopability between vendors' systems has long been a thorn in the side of both Unified Communications and Telepresence. At VoiceCon this week, though, Cisco is moving to let its products work better with vendors -- and that could help spur interest in both technologies, especially among smaller companies.Laurent Philonenko, vice president and general manager of Cisco's Unified Communications business unit, told me that Cisco is trying to break down the silos between collaboration applications and devices with new interoperability and integration for third-party applications such as Microsoft Office Communicator and devices like the iPhone. Philonenko acknowledged that when you put technology in silos, "it doesn't really work." I couldn't agree more.

Sharing Unified Communications On the UC front, Cisco announced new desktop integration for Cisco and Microsoft clients, tightened WebEx's UC integration, and also introduced mobile management for contact centers.

Cisco UC Integration for Cisco WebEx Connect & Microsoft Office Communicator (MOC) is designed to offer seamless, native collaboration with Cisco UC. You could use MOC for presence and IM, for example, but also use Cisco call control with Unified Communications Manager.

It's all based on Ciscos Unified Client Services Framework (CSF) middleware abstraction layer that can interface with Cisco or third-party apps on whatever desktop client you choose. Eventually, Cisco plans to presence and messaging as well as APIs to allow integration with vertical applications such as Sametime. Availability is expected later in 2009. Pricing has not yet been announced.

If you ask me, this kind of interoperability -- and, frankly, much more -- is going to be required if UC is going to catch on with small and midsize businesses. It's unrealistic to expect companies to rip up their existing systems and install brand new everything to get these capabilities. But if companies can leverage their existing infrastructures for UC, they might actually give it a shot.

Sharing Telepresence In Telepresence, Cisco unveiled "any to any video collaboration" and "high-definition interoperability" to let Cisco TelePresence sessions include video from any standards-based (H.323) HD videoconferencing system (but not HP's Halo) as well as standard definition video conferencing, WebEx, and desktop video applications like Microsoft Office Communicator. The HD components are expected to be available in the fourth quarter of 2009.

CiscoShare1 Cisco Telepresence Interoperability

This is a big step, as it vastly extends the universe of devices and players that can communicate with each other -- including cheaper systems often used by smaller companies. And it represents a big shift for Cisco, which had focused on the quality of its solutions, not their ability to communicate with a wide range of users.

Other Telepresence announcements included TelePresence Extended Reach, which is intended to spread the technology to smaller companies by delivering HD-quality 720p resolution over 1.5Mbps (T1) Internet connections.

Cisco also announced the Cisco TelePresence System (CTS) 1300 Series -- with one 65-inch screen and three cameras -- for use in standard conference rooms with up to six participants. The unit is expected to cost around $80,000 when it becomes available in the next few months. That's considerably less than the full-scale Cisco Telepresence Room setups.

Finally, Cisco is hoping to extend the usefulness of Telepresence rooms with TelePresence Event Controls and Recording Studio, a set of controls designed to make it easy to create and host various kinds of events and make video recordings.

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