Polycom VC systems to link to Cisco TelePresence

Two of the biggest makers of videoconferencing systems, Polycom Inc. and Cisco Systems Inc., have exchanged technologies so their systems can talk to each other for the first time.

It’s a move, industry analysts say, that will open the doors to the interoperability of videoconferencing systems, particularly for those with Cisco TelePresence systems.

On Wednesday, Polycom was the first to tout the benefits of the deal, saying that within months it will have implanted Cisco’s TelePresence Interoperability Protocol (TIP), technology in its equipment.

TIP enables Cisco multiscreen systems to talk to each other, but according to one analyst has been a barrier to companies with other platforms that want to link to Cisco systems because it only runs on Cisco TelePresence Sever. Similarly, those who only have Cisco infrastructure haven’t found it easy to connect to other manufacturer’s videoconferencing systems.

However, Polycom said that in a few months it will start spreading Cisco TIP connectivity in its bridges and other hardware — what Polycom calls its UC Intelligent Core of products — so customers can mix equipment.

“This has definitely been a sticking point with many of our customers,” said Jim Kruger, Polycom’s vice-president of strategic solutions marketing. “Many want solutions working together.

The benefits will start in the second quarter when Polycom makes software available to upgrade its endpoints to communicate with Cisco’s TelePresence systems through a Cisco server on point-to-point calls.

In the third quarter, Polycom’s RMX bridges, DMA 7000 multipoint management system will also be updated to enable connectivity with more than two participants, including TelePresence systems. The company’s CMA 4000/5000 management appliances will also be enabled.

Industry analysts have long been critical of companies that make proprietary videoconferencing equipment that hinders interoperability. Some of that has been erased with the move to equipment running the open SIP (session initiation protocol) standard. But for many the fact that TIP only runs on Cisco’s TelePresence Server (CTS) has been irritating.

As part of its purchase last year of Tandberg SA, Cisco transfered the rights to TIP to the International Multimedia Telecommunications Consortium (IMTC), a group of manufacturers working on equipment interoperability. But its efforts on TIP aren’t finished yet.

With Cisco and Polycom accounting for 85 per cent of the videoconferencing market, “one of them had to blink,” said Zeus Kerravala, senior vice-president of research at the Yankee Group, “and it was Polycom.”

While TIP isn’t a broadly-based standard yet, he added, this arrangement puts momentum behind it.

More importantly, he said, the Cisco-Polycom partnership will enable organizations to be confident of having multi-vendor environments.

“In a way, it allows Polycom to get into Cisco [customer] shops,” said Ira Weinstein, partner and senior analyst at Wainhouse Research. It’s very good news for organizations with Polycom’s RMX telepresence systems, he said.

It’s also good for organizations that are trying to choose a videoconferencing vendor, he added, for it gives them more options.

How Cisco will take advantage of the partnership isn’t clear yet, he added.

In a statement, David Hsieh, Cisco’s vice-president of emerging technologies, said the company is excited Polycom customers with TIP-enabled endpoints will be able to take advantage of Cisco equipment and capabilities. “We believe that there is market transition to the pervasive adoption of video, and customers want interoperability without compromise,” he said.

Polycom hasn’t finalized pricing for the Cisco TIP upgrade. Kruger said that customers on a Polycom maintenance agreement should be covered.