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Cisco collaboration adds integrated endpoints, cloud meeting spaces

The Cisco collaboration portfolio has been revamped, with new integrated endpoints and cloud-based meeting spaces.

Cisco announced new personal collaboration endpoints, infrastructure updates and a cloud-based collaboration service at CiscoLive 2014 in an effort to make enterprise collaboration more accessible and integrated.

Some customers in the past have complained that Cisco's collaboration tools and technology have lacked integration, but Cisco has been working to simplify its portfolio through recent acquisitions -- including mobile and cloud-based collaboration specialist collaborate.com.

"Collaboration is more than just video, audio or data," said Peder Ulander, vice president of collaboration solutions marketing for Cisco. "We can take all of our assets, abilities and functions, and combine them together to make the office worker more powerful on a day-to-day basis from every room, desk and pocket."

Cisco collaboration tools: New endpoints, infrastructure simplification

A new line of personal video endpoints, the Android-based DX70 and DX80, balances Cisco's revamped hardware video conferencing product line, which was refreshed right before this year's Enterprise Connect with scaled-down telepresence and room-based offerings.

"At Enterprise Connect, we were about disrupting room-based video collaboration. Now, it's about personal, desktop collaboration," Ulander said. "We want to eliminate all the complexities around video, all the reasons why video conferences start late, and develop systems that people are going to actually use, without having to call IT every time."

DX70 and DX80 video collaboration endpoints

The DX70 and DX80 video collaboration endpoints combine a high-definition video camera and speakers for Web conferencing, as well as integrated business applications and Web browsing, into a single interface that is the size of a desktop screen.

The 14-inch DX70 touchscreen desk collaboration system can be used as an external display screen, and it has Cisco Intelligent Proximity for Mobile -- a feature that allows personal iOS and Android-based mobile devices to wirelessly sync and select Cisco endpoints when they are located near each other. This feature allows endpoints to share contacts and call history information. The DX80 is a 23-inch touchscreen system that is also equipped with Cisco proximity for mobile, as well as Intelligent Audio, a feature that filters out background noise, such as a homeworker's pet or a child, from reaching a collaboration environment, Ulander said.

With built-in audio and video capabilities, the DX70 and DX80 systems can replace standalone phones, desktop monitors and speakers, said Zeus Kerravala, principal analyst at ZK Research in Westminster, Massachusetts.

Both the DX70 and 80 can be used within shared work environments -- like the contact center -- because multiple users can store settings, contact lists and call histories on the same device via their login credentials.

Video endpoints weren't the only hardware Cisco debuted. The company also introduced its new IP Phone 8800 Series, an ergonomic desk phone with a 5-inch display. The 8800 series includes USB ports on select models for mobile-device charging, as well as Cisco Intelligent Proximity for Mobile Voice for importing contacts and call history and for pushing a voice or video call-in-progress from a mobile device to the desk phone.

Cisco made remote collaboration easier for mobile workers and management easier for administrators with the second iteration of its Collaboration Systems Release, or CSR, version 10.5.

The updates on the back end of Cisco collaboration include new administration features for servicing telepresence or voice connections, and security features like firewalling, Ulander said. "Historically, when an [employee] wanted to work from home, they had to sign in to a firewall. This updated release delivers the same functionality and security for collaboration tools to the home office from the user perspective, and better manageability from an administrator perspective," he said.

Cisco has had a lot of work to do consolidating and simplifying the different back ends that come with different acquisitions, said Art Schoeller, vice president and principal analyst at Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Forrester Research Inc. "When a software client like Jabber has to talk to three or four different back ends, it makes for a more disjointed user experience. Cisco has made progress with the 10.5 release," he said.

Collaboration in the cloud

As part of its effort to better integrate its collaboration products and services, Cisco unveiled the Collaboration Meeting Room (CMR) -- a cloud-based, private, video collaboration space hosted by Cisco in the cloud. CMRs will give any employee the ability to host ad-hoc or scheduled meetings. Users can join a CMR from any device, including Cisco video endpoints; third-party, standards-based video endpoints; desktops; mobile clients and soft clients -- like Microsoft Lync, the company said.

More on Cisco collaboration

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CMR is a personal user interface that sits in the cloud, and participants can join via either an email or text meeting invite. Businesses can provision an account to all employees, and pay for only what is used, Ulander said.

Based on the capabilities of WebEx, CMR boosts Cisco's video capabilities, along with voice and content sharing, Forrester's Schoeller said.

CMR attempts to ease the amount of effort required to figure out how to make separate pieces of collaboration technology work together. People often abandon such tools if they are hard to use, ZK Research's Kerravala said. "The odd thing about Cisco's collaboration portfolio was even though they have historically had great tools, you couldn't access all collaboration technology from every device," he said. "With CMR, no matter what device or endpoint someone is using, everyone will have the same experience. Cisco has created a lot more feature consistency with these updates."

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Gina Narcisi, news writer and follow @GeeNarcisi on Twitter.

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As one who well remembers the early video/VOIP integration done in the mid 90s (centered around IOS and the various flavors) part of me wants to call out some of the people complaining about "integration" and tell them they never had it so good ;). Still, device convergence is driving a lot of this, and while it's important for Cisco proprietary hardware to integrate cleanly, allowing other devices to do so seamlessly via software and public APIs would do even more to help bolster their position.
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