Cisco Elbows For SMB Web Conferencing

Cisco Systems has announced plans to deliver a comprehensive Web and audio conferencing offering for small- to medium-sized businesses (SMB).

Cisco said it would use Macromedia’s Breeze and Flash platforms to deliver the service &#151 MeetingPlace Express &#151 which is designed to put conferencing features behind the corporate firewall for customers so they don’t have to buy it from outside vendors.

“One way of thinking about this is that we’re taking best-of-breed Web conferencing and best-of-breed, on-premise audio conferencing and deeply integrating them,” said Tom Hale, a Macromedia general manager and senior vice president.

Companies are moving away from separate vendors to provide audio and Web conferencing, Hale said, not only because of the security issues posed by conducting business outside their network but for the difficulties created trying to tie them together.

Putting everything under one roof lets you make changes in the Web interface, whether to mute one of the participants or change settings, from one location rather than using the individual settings.

Macromedia’s ubiquitous Flash player &#151 found on 97 percent of today’s desktops &#151 cuts down on the complexity issue. It alleviates downloading and installing client-side software through the conferencing service providers.

The cost issue is also significant, said Troy Trenchard, Cisco director of product management. Customers today pay for the separate services, the bandwidth, the number of users and toll charges, he said, but they’re not getting integrated services with corporate features like directory service or calendaring.

“What we’re seeing is a lot of people being attracted by the ability to bring that solution into their network,” he said, “either within their site or hosted behind their firewall, which allows them to experience significant cost savings in their telephony and to drive that productivity by having these things highly integrated.”

Cisco’s SMB offering is a Linux-based, rack-mounted server, available for up to 120 concurrent connections. It’s a scaled down version of the company’s enterprise-grade MeetingPlace conferencing technology, acquired in 2003 from the $80 million purchase of Latitude Communications.

Officials are working on incorporating the Breeze technology into the enterprise-grade offering down the road, to provide an easier migration path from Express, but Hale said the time frame is too far out in the future to comment.

Conferencing is one of the key components in Cisco’s Unified Communications vision for real-time presence-enabled communications. The company wants to provide one comprehensive suite encompassing conferencing, video, calendaring, e-mail, call control, security and directories.

Adapted from

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