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Polycom delivers large-scale multipoint video conferencing

Polycom's new multipoint control unit and new media server deliver massive multipoint video conferencing bridges and massive video conference recording and streaming capabilities.

Just a week after Cisco Systems announced a deal to buy Tandberg for $3 billion, Tandberg's principal rival, Polycom, announced two new video and media infrastructure products aimed at providing enterprises with large-scale voice and video conference bridging, recording and media streaming capabilities.

The RMX 4000 is a multipoint conference platform, or multipoint control unit (MCU), of massive scale that can serve as a voice and video conferencing bridge for large enterprises and service providers. With 1,600 ports in a single chassis with a single management backplane and redundant power supplies, it can manage up to 160 simultaneous high-definition (HD) 720p video calls, 1,600 audio calls, or a combination of the two. This represents a doubling of the capacity of Polycom's prior top-line video and audio bridge product, the RMX 2000. The RMX 4000 also adds support for 1080p HD video conferencing.

Ira Weinstein, senior analyst and partner with Wainhouse Research, said the RMX 4000 is "all about scale," filling a gap in Polycom's product line for enterprises that want to manage massive video conferencing deployments, particularly a mix of telepresence, high-definition video conferencing and desktop video conferencing. The RMX 4000 gives enterprises an alternative to the Tandberg Codian Media Service Engine (MSE) 8000, an MCU that offers 180 ports of HD 1080p multipoint ports and up to 720 standard definition multipoint ports.

A unique aspect of the RMX 4000 is its new flexible port capacity feature. This allows an enterprise to allocate port capacity based on the endpoints users have. Other MCUs simply allocate a minimum number of ports to each bridge, regardless of whether the users on the bridge are using HD or standard-definition devices. With a more flexible port allocation, an enterprise can get more efficient port usage.

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"Video conferencing users are still operating in mixed standard-definition and high-definition environments," said Roopam Jain, principal analyst with Frost & Sullivan. "Polycom's architecture is based on 'flexible port capacity,' which gives users the most flexibility, capacity and lower price per port. A large number of video conferencing users today have devices with different resolution capabilities and place calls at various speeds. The RMX 4000 allocates resources based on the specific call requirements, providing greater capacity and cost-effectiveness, since it consumes less processing resources."

The RMX 4000 also solves the latency problems that Polycom customers would experience when they wanted to go beyond the capacity of the older RMX 2000. To do that, enterprises had to daisy chain -- or cascade -- video and audio conferences across multiple RMX chasses, forcing the calls to be processed between multiple management backplanes. With the larger-scale boxes, everything can be managed in one chassis, delivering better performance.

"The typical enterprise is going to have one central MCU," Weinstein said. "At some point, it may decide to distribute other MCUs in other locations, but this just gives them more power and capacity in a central location."

Polycom also announced a new large-scale media recording and streaming server, the RSS 4000, which can record up to 15 simultaneous streams of audio and video calls ranging up to 1080p HD video quality. The previous product, the RSS 2000, could record only two simultaneous streams.

"We're seeing a lot of people who are using their high-definition telepresence rooms as inexpensive high-definition recording studios," said Joan Vandermate, Polycom's vice president of marketing for video solutions. "So they're starting to produce things like training video, marketing and HR-type content. This is creating a demand for larger recording capacities than we previously had."

"There's a lot of interest in meeting capture," Weinstein said, "especially solutions like Polycom, which don't just capture content but … present it to you using a nice UI [user interface]. They give you a portal you can log into, and based on your login, it determines which content you should see and shouldn't see. It tracks usage and things like that. This is of great interest to a lot of enterprises."

Weinstein said the RSS 4000 is comparable to Tandberg's TCS (Tandberg Content Server), except that the TCS is strictly a media recording server. It doesn't stream video and audio as the RSS 4000 does.

"Tandberg's offering is slightly better integrated into its overall offering, which is a core part of Tandberg's value-add. They integrate everything together beautifully," he said. "One Tandberg device talks to another beautifully. Tandberg's offering is designed to capture video conferencing content. Polycom went a different route. It does all video conference recording, but it's also designed as your overall streaming solution, so it's a little more flexible."

Polycom sees two trends that are driving enterprises to demand the type of scale that the RMX 4000 and RSS 4000 offer, Vandermate said. Enterprises are expanding their use of immersive telepresence products, she said. This expansion isn't massive, but gradual. But even if an enterprise has just four telepresence rooms, the need to bridge those rooms with an MCU with the capacity of the RMX 4000 becomes critical.

Microsoft Office Communications Server (OCS) and other desktop video platforms are also driving the need for large-scale MCUs and media servers, she said.

"Think about the number of OCS clients out there in large enterprises," Vandermate said. "You might have hundreds or thousands or tens of thousands of OCS video clients on desktops. People haven't started adopting video desktop on a large scale, but once they do, the amount of multipoint potential when people use OCS video clients as a main form of communication will drive bridging requirements through the roof."

Both the RSS 4000 and the RMX 4000are currently in a limited beta release, but Polycom will begin shipping the product to customers in November.

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Shamus McGillicuddy, News Editor

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