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Polycom's Recent Announcements - A New Direction for the Company

09 Oct 2012 | by Roopam Jain
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At Polycom’s strategy day yesterday at the NASDAQ Marketsite, the Polycom executive team came out in full force to talk about the company’s new direction. After a lull of almost two years when it seemed like Polycom’s R&D engine had slowed down, the company has announced a set of bold new products and enhancements that hit on all key themes – cloud, browser based access, connectivity with Skype and GoogleTalk, and an improved user experience. All these areas strike a chord with anyone who uses video conferencing for business which, as it stands today, continues to be ridden with usability issues.

With these announcements, Polycom takes a direct shot at its competition particularly Cisco and market disruptors Vidyo and Blue Jeans. The details behind the new products including pricing are missing and will trickle in over the next several weeks and months. While there was a barrage of new information that left our heads spinning, what is getting the most attention is the CloudAxis Suite. With CloudAxis, Polycom provides a web interface from where Polycom users can connect with their contacts on commonly used video chat apps such as Skype, Facebook, or Google Talk and import those contacts into a global directory. This is a significant announcement extending the reach of traditional videoconferencing to a wider installed base and for new B2B and B2C applications.

Polycom’s competitor Blue Jeans currently offers interconnectivity between legacy videoconferencing systems and Skype, GoogleTalk etc. in a cloud-based model. Polycom is extending its solutions for any to any connectivity and offering flexible deployment models around it. CloudAxis will enable Polycom’s service provider partners to deploy video and web based collaboration as public and private clouds. Polycom also announced that it will launch a new VCaaS offering, powered and hosted by Polycom, which will be resold by service provider partners for customers that want to deploy an Opex-based model. Polycom emphasized that it will sell the service only through its channel partners to prevent any channel conflict.

Polycom is also introducing a new product called the RealPresence Collaboration Server 800s which essentially transports its videoconferencing bridge RMX ‘s capabilities on to general purpose servers for mid-market customers. The Polycom announcement refers to it as virtualized video collaboration. However, it should not be in any way confused with true virtualization of multipoint capabilities. Nor is it a standalone software-based bridge yet and remains a hardware appliance. In the future, it may be virtualized and licensed as software. When it comes to virtualization, Polycom’s competitor LifeSize has made a concerted move and offers LifeSize UVC MP which is a virtualized MCU that users can buy by the port.

Polycom is adding SVC support to both RMX and Collaboration Server 800s. The key market differentiator for Polycom is that it is supporting SVC and AVC on the same physical server (no gateways required) and offers native integration with Microsoft Lync. Additionally, Polycom last week announced that it is licensing its SVC implementation to ensure interoperability. Having a freely licensed specification that Polycom, Microsoft, and other vendors in UCIF can implement will be good for the market and will prevent formation of several "SVC islands" that can further hinder interoperability. In the SVC arena, the battle between Polycom and Vidyo is just beginning, and it will be interesting to see how it plays out. It is important to note that Polycom did not announce a standalone SVC media router which Vidyo offers. Instead, Polycom is software enabling SVC on RMX and Collaboration Server 800s and offering hybrid SVC/AVC. While this will raise the HD capacity 3x and bring down the cost per port significantly, it will not make Polycom’s SVC port price as attractive as Vidyo’s.

Among other announcements Polycom is introducing a new UI and user experience enhancements including the cool SmartPairing software, a new desktop client, and a new line of room systems. Andy Miller in his presentation talked about the strength of Polycom’s partnership with Microsoft and the power of their joint solution. This was aimed to diffuse concerns around Microsoft’s possible direction in the future with Skype, which some believe will remove the need for partner solutions. Sudhakar Ramakrishna talked about open standards-based approach being a key differentiator for Polycom. His statement around the new products being H.265 ready and being backward and forward compatible was broad but nonetheless relevant for customers that are looking at what’s next in video collaboration.

The products from Polycom’s announcements are out by several months and some will be available in Q1/Q2 2013. It almost seems like Polycom announced its six to nine month road map which leaves us wondering if that could lead some end users to hold off on current purchases. Also a lag of several months between announcing the products and actually making them available gives competition time to come in and make real products available.

As Polycom changes gears and moves towards cloud and software-based solutions, it will expand its go to market model from traditional hardware-focused video conferencing channels to broader collaboration SIs and VARs. Polycom would need to evolve its channel strategy carefully without alienating its traditional video conferencing VAR base and ensuring that customers continue to get the support and hand holding that most video conferencing deployments need.

Everyone agrees today that video conferencing is changing at a fast pace. It is moving from hardware intensive high priced solutions to video over iPads and web browser based clients, which is how a bulk of users will connect in the future. But how to deploy and manage secure business quality video conferencing to a large group of desktop and mobile users, without breaking the bank and blowing up the network, remains a key real-world challenge for users today. That’s where I think the current video conferencing vendors can create long term value and sustainable business models. Polycom’s announcements are a step in that direction and a significant evolution for the company.

The video conferencing space is clearly heating up. Without all the technology and pricing details behind Polycom’s announcements, it’s difficult to say to what extent these will be true game changers. However, directionally it all makes sense. Polycom was successful in making a big splash yesterday. It achieved what it intended to do - show to the market and users that it plans to continue leading in the video collaboration market and is willing and nimble to change the direction when needed. That in itself is a big message – the rest lies in execution.

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