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Hold the hardware: Vendors focus on software-based video conferencing

Enterprise adoption of desktop video is pushing more vendors, such as Polycom, to develop or improve their approaches to software-based video conferencing.

The low cost of deploying desktop video and its popularity in the consumer market are expected to fuel enterprise adoption of desktop video conferencing. That momentum is pushing more vendors -- including those best known for hardware-centric video architectures or other unified communications (UC) features -- to develop or improve their approaches to software-based video conferencing.

"There are cheaper software-based video [conferencing] solutions that are available at the desktop that many companies are looking at today" in lieu of conference room hardware, said Rich Costello, senior research analyst at IDC. "It's easier [with software] to change things or do upgrades, and easier for the vendors to add [new features] to their portfolios."

Polycom, a video conferencing vendor best known for its hardware heritage, recently outlined its plans to develop more robust software-based video conferencing clients and infrastructure. As part of that strategy, Polycom will partner with more mobile device manufacturers and social software vendors to integrate software-based video conferencing into tablets, smartphones and enterprise social networking platforms.

Siemens Enterprise Communications recently announced desktop video conferencing software for its OpenScape UC Server, and Web conferencing vendors such as Adobe Systems and Citrix Systems have also been vocal about their software-based video conferencing capabilities.

Vendors have been marching toward a software-based approach to UC for some time, and some video conferencing vendors, such as Vidyo, are already there. Enterprise UC pros and analysts often point to the popularity of consumer video conferencing tools -- Skype, FaceTime, Google's video chat -- as what's fueling the demand for more widespread desktop video conferencing.   

Enterprises are looking at software-based video conferencing to meet the needs of rank-and-file users, who must often collaborate in small groups for short-term projects, Costello said. One UC pro, an IDC client, recently chose Microsoft over Polycom specifically because he was looking for a software-based approach to video conferencing, Costello said. 

"Polycom needs to try to successfully capture that opportunity at the desktop with a software-based solution," he said. "I don't know if they can pull it off, but I think it's certainly a challenge they need to try."  

Polycom's software-based video conferencing: Clients and infrastructure

As part of its software strategy, Polycom will expand its roster of partnerships -- particularly in the realms of mobile video conferencing and video-enabled social networking -- which includes a new partnership with enterprise social software vendor Jive Software.

The two vendors are still "working out the details of what that [partnership] looks like," but they will ultimately develop a Polycom high-definition (HD) video conferencing client embedded in Jive's social networking application, according to Jim Kruger, senior vice president of marketing solutions at Polycom. That client will also be interoperable with room-based systems and potentially tablets, Kruger said.

"The vast majority of our development resources are [now] focused on software," Kruger said. "We have to have a really strong strategy around the software side of things ... [because video] is all becoming very software-oriented. We are shifting the company to put a lot more focus in that specific area."

Polycom's new software strategy isn't limited to clients. It is also partially a rebranding of what was formerly called its UC Intelligent Core platform -- now known as RealPresence -- which is a software package that runs on all of its endpoints and handles bridging, interoperability, resource management, virtualization, security and content management.

However, not all the changes are cosmetic. Polycom will introduce application programming interfaces (APIs) for the platform in the first half of 2012 -- enabling enterprises, partners and service providers to better integrate video conferencing into business applications. It will also open up the Polycom Developer Program at that time, providing access to full API documentation, sample code, test and demo systems, and support.

As video conferencing deployments expand, UC pros are looking for more robust management software that can help them better maintain heterogeneous environments, said IDC's Costello.

"[Enterprises] are really looking for somebody who's been in the industry that can actually manage all this stuff and operate it on a company's network," he said. "They're like, 'OK, we choose Microsoft video, we choose Siemens video, we choose LifeSize video -- and those are the endpoints. But how are we going to manage and bring this all together?' That is what [UC pros] see as the thing that really needs to be addressed here."

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Jessica Scarpati, Senior News Writer.

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