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Cisco Meeting Server connects Skype for Business and Cisco video

The new Cisco Meeting Server delivers integration between the company's on-premises video conferencing hardware and Skype for Business.

Cisco has introduced an integration server that lets Skype for Business users join a meeting held on an on-premises...

Cisco video conferencing system.

Cisco Meeting Server, available starting this week, manages the communication protocol differences between the Microsoft unified communications (UC) software and Cisco's TelePresence systems. The new technology stems from Cisco's $700 million acquisition of Acano last November.

In March, Rowan Trollope, head of Cisco's collaboration technology group, told attendees at the Enterprise Connect conference in Orlando, Fla., the company was committed to interoperability between its video systems and those of rivals. This week, Trollope depicted Cisco as the interoperability problem solver, while Microsoft continued down a proprietary path.

"[Cisco Meeting Server] fixes problems created by certain vendors -- I mean you, Microsoft -- whose technology hasn't always played well with others," Trollope wrote in a blog post.

Trollope's criticism aside, Cisco has no choice but to ensure support between its on-premises systems and other vendors' communication software. Without multivendor support, companies would have difficulty justifying the cost of expensive Cisco hardware, if it was limited to communicating with only other Cisco products. While Microsoft's Skype for Business is one of the most widely used video conferencing systems, many companies also have desktop and mobile communication software from other businesses, such as Polycom and Avaya.

Energy company Exelon using Cisco Meeting Server

U.S. energy provider Exelon Corp., which had $30 billion in revenue last year, is an example of the importance of interoperability between Cisco hardware and Skype for Business. Chicago-based Exelon does business in 48 states and Canada, and it uses video conferencing to reduce travel expenses, said Andy Heintz, manager of video and wireless engineering.

In 2014, Exelon picked Acano technology to connect the energy company's 40,000 Skype for Business users with roughly 400 Cisco TelePresence MX Series and SX Series video conferencing systems. The company completed the rollout of Acano in May of this year.

Fully, 95% of Skype users are taking advantage of video conferencing through the Acano system, Heintz said. The remainder has been allowed to stay on legacy systems until Exelon pulls the plug in mid-September.

Exelon partners and customers that use Skype for Business can also join meetings, Heintz said. Exelon emails an invitation containing a link that launches Skype. All participants have access to video and audio, and they can share content.

"As far as having meetings efficiently without wasting a lot of travel dollars, it's a great tool for us," Heintz said of Meeting Server.

Cisco Meeting Server negotiates protocol differences

Under the covers, Cisco Meeting Server translates the protocol differences between Cisco and third-party products, said Snorre Kjesbu, head of Cisco's video endpoint division. Meeting participants on Skype or other products can share content.

Also, people joining meetings have layout options for gatherings with a large number of participants. For example, the video focused on people conducting the meeting could be in a larger window, along with the presentation, Kjesbu said.

In a one-rack unit, Meeting Server supports up to 96 high-definition video users, 192 standard-definition calls or 3,000 audio calls. People with devices running a WebRTC-supported browser, Microsoft Windows, or Apple OS X or iOS can join a meeting. Cisco also provides management tools for configuration and troubleshooting.

Enterprise-wide licensing for Cisco Meeting Server is available on a per-user basis.

Cisco is not the only UC vendor boosting integration between its products and Skype for Business. Last year, Polycom released an application that improved content sharing between the company's RealPresence Group Series video conferencing system and Skype for Business.

Next Steps

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