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Cisco Webex Edge connects data centers to the cloud

Cisco Webex Edge could help large companies reduce PSTN costs, while also improving audio and video connectivity through Webex.

Cisco unveiled a set of hybrid cloud services that will help companies with on-premises calling and video infrastructure take advantage of the Webex collaboration cloud. Cisco Webex Edge will reduce PSTN costs and improve audio and video connectivity for those customers, the vendor said.

Webex Edge Audio lets companies with Cisco Unified Communications Manager conduct Webex audio conferencing using a voice over IP (VoIP) connection, rather than the public switched telephone network (PSTN).

Users joining Webex meetings on a laptop can already use VoIP for audio connectivity. But connecting using a mobile, home or desk phone typically requires the use of the PSTN. Companies usually pay by the minute for PSTN dial-in and dial-out services.

Webex Edge Audio lets companies use their on-premises call servers to establish VoIP connections to the Webex cloud. That way, companies can avoid paying PSTN fees when employees connect to Webex audio using Cisco desk phones.

"It allows you to much more efficiently use your network resources, reduce the amount of calls you're taking in through the PSTN and, ideally, hopefully, save some money," said Irwin Lazar, analyst at Nemertes Research, based in Mokena, Ill.

Zoom offers a similar feature that lets large customers establish a Session Initiation Protocol connection to the Zoom cloud to avoid PSTN costs. Last month, the vendor expanded the service to give customers more flexibility over which calls get directed to which audio port.

Cisco plays catch-up with Edge Connect

The second feature of Cisco Webex Edge lets companies establish IP connections between their data centers and the Cisco collaboration cloud via Equinix Cloud Exchange. The feature, Edge Connect, will help companies avoid congestion, packet loss and jitter while using Webex, the vendor said.

Cisco's lack of support for such connections had concerned many prospective customers, Lazar said. Leading cloud infrastructure vendors, including Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud, have offered similar services for some time.

"Cisco is kind of late a little bit to the party to have this kind of offering," he said.

In a 2017 Nemertes Research survey of 50 large enterprises in North America, 35.7% of respondents reported using a service similar to Cisco Webex Edge Connect to link their network to their unified-communications-as-a-service provider.

Cisco seeks advantage with Video Mesh

The third and final feature of Cisco Webex Edge is Video Mesh, a service Cisco previously released under the name Hybrid Media Services. The setup lets companies conduct video conferencing through a combination of on-premises servers and the cloud.

The service could, for example, automatically direct video connections originating in a company headquarters to the on-premises servers, while connecting remote workers to the meeting via the cloud. Alternatively, it could start a session in the data center and overflow to the cloud if too many people join.

In a global Nemertes Research survey of 500 businesses this year, 41.7% of respondents said being able to conduct video conferencing on their networks was a "very important" or "vital" feature when evaluating cloud web conferencing platforms.

Cisco's Video Mesh appears to be the most advanced offering of its kind in the web conferencing market, Lazar said.

"[Cisco] is heavily focused on Zoom and Microsoft, and they are trying to figure out, 'How do we differentiate?' Having that on-prem video routing engine that allows companies to more efficiently use bandwidth is an area they can get out ahead with," Lazar said.

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