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Cisco Flexes its Webex Muscles - September Release Wave Update

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on Unified Communications & Collaboration


Cisco Flexes its Webex Muscles - September Release Wave Update

By: -
19 Sep 2018

On Tuesday, September 18, Cisco announced a release wave focused on Advanced Meetings. This wave touches everything from the user experience to meeting hardware to network & transport and on to the Flex Plan. We received a pre-launch briefing from the Cisco product team and were impressed by the sheer volume of updates, enhancements, and sleek gadgetry included in this wave.  Here’s a quick summary of the high points that caught our eye, followed by our usual analysis:

  • Webex Meeting user experience – Announcing improved meeting workflow and integrations:
    • @meet (Nov ’18) – Add @meet to any meeting invitation schedules the meeting with the Cisco Webex Meeting service: works across Webex Meeting Cloud and on-prem Cisco Meeting Server deployments.
    • One Big Green Button (Nov ’18) – A new green button provides a consistent way to join a Webex Meeting - from PCs, mobile devices, and conference rooms - and works across both cloud and on-prem environments.
    • Microsoft Integrations (CY ’19) – Users can now join a Webex Meeting from a Microsoft Teams calendar via the Green Button. Webex Teams now integrates into Office apps like Word, PowerPoint, and Excel, providing in-app access to Webex Teams collaboration.
    • Google Integrations (Sep ’18) – Native Webex Meeting schedule and join experience, with Webex offered as an option in G Suite calendar and invitations (admin setup per-company or per-user).
  • Meeting hardware – Updated video system and meeting server lineup:
    • Cisco Room Kit Pro (Aug ’18) – Replacing the SX-80, this 4K room kit packs an Nvidia Tegra chip, onboard artificial intelligence and machine learning functionality, sports 50% more inputs and outputs, and targets larger conferencing rooms. List price: $29,900.
    • Cisco Room 55D, 70S, and 70D (Sep ’18) – Refreshed and updated with Cisco’s Intelligent Technology Foundation:
      • 55D – Dual 55 inch screens, List $44,900
      • 70S G2 – Single 70 inch screen, List $55,900
      • 70D G2 – Dual 70 inch screens, List $79,000
    • Webex Board features (Nov ’18) – New additions include pinch/zoom, ‘undo’, stickies, a bigger whiteboard space, and an integrated click-to-dial directory.
    • Cisco Meeting Server 2.4 (On-prem, Sep ’18) – Scales up to 700 HD ports (on the CMS 2000), adding improved meeting control for Skype for Business users, improved video layout controls, native WebRTC for Firefox and Safari users, and enhanced control for integrated app layouts.
  • Webex Edge updates – Audio and media routing option updates for Webex Meetings
    • Webex Edge Audio (Oct ’18) – Connect Webex Meetings to an enterprise’s Cisco Unified Communications Manager (CUCM) over the Public Internet. Users dialing into a Webex Meeting from a CUCM-connected phone or other device will not incur PSTN charges. The service also supports dial-back, using the enterprise’s voice network when connecting meeting attendees on the PSTN or cellular networks.
    • Webex Edge Connect (Oct ’18) – Cisco is partnering with Equinix to provide a direct peer network connection option between the Enterprise and the Webex Cloud. Effectively, all Webex VoIP, video, and meeting content remains on-net, bypassing the Public Internet.
  • Flex Plan updates – Expands Cisco Collaboration Flex Plan options (available now):
    • Added Solutions: Cisco adds Contact Center and BroadCloud as a Calling option
    • Webex Edge Audio: Now included in the Meetings subscription at no extra cost
    • Prem-based pricing: Cisco fine-tuned its pricing between cloud and on-prem deployments. Bottom line: subscriptions for on-prem Cisco Calling and Meeting deployments cost less than the same services deployed in the Webex Cloud.

What Bill Thinks

From my chair, this release wave highlights Cisco's deep expertise in the enterprise collaboration game - across the user experience, real-time networking fundamentals, and enterprise / IT needs - all enabled by the heavy lifting they've done on the Webex Cloud over the past three years. Cisco's riding a wave of recent updates to the Webex Meetings interface, creating a modern, intuitive, and video-first user experience. This update extends to create an enterprise-friendly and complete Webex ecosystem. Cisco managed to make it easier to schedule and join meetings across updated (and Apple-esque) rooms, PCs, and mobile devices with one green button and one scheduling workflow, regardless of a prem vs. cloud-based Cisco deployment. This continued focus on flexible prem/cloud/hybrid deployments is a hat-tip to enterprise reality - the cloud makes sense, but so does the prem sometimes, either by necessity or preference.

Cisco’s Webex Edge evolution is impressive and a reminder of the company’s deep networking expertise. Webex Edge Audio looks to lower PSTN charges without any incremental costs, for those enterprises using Cisco’s enterprise telephony platform. We’ve also been waiting for Cisco to extend its cloud to the enterprise WAN – and they’ve now done so with Webex Edge Connect. Once an enterprise peers with the Webex Cloud, they are effectively hopping directly onto Cisco’s global Webex backbone – a secure network purpose-built to handle a massive amount of real-time media. We know many ITDMs who continue to prefer on-net connectivity for all real-time-media, and this looks like a cost-effective way to deliver the highest quality of service for meeting traffic.

The Flex plan continues to evolve in the interest of the customer, now covering both on-premises and cloud-based services with a single and easy-to-understand subscription model (yes, I just said "easy-to-understand" in reference to Cisco licensing), with price points adjusted based on 'service ownership' - put the service in your datacenter, own the service and support, and don't pay extra for it. We also get the first peak at what we expect will be an impending wave of BroadSoft integration - with BroadCloud now officially added as an option to the Flex plan.

Shiny endpoints aside, I think this evolution all comes back to the Cisco Webex Cloud that now ties it all together - serving as the secure and intelligent anchor point for everything from authentication to administration to signaling to media distribution to secure content storage to license management and more. I don't think we could have seen this update even two years ago, without the single intelligent platform that is today's Webex Cloud.

If I saw any gaps, they were weighted towards the current provider-partners. When I roll this all together, its easy to see this update as a benefit to enterprises and Cisco, but today's Webex and HCS partner may see impending conflict. It’s now easier to stay on prem with Cisco, easier and cost-effective to leverage Cisco's Webex media network, and easier to buy more cloud-based telephony (hello BroadCloud!) without a third-party managing the experience. Sure, there's room to keep providing SIP trunks, resell licenses, manage rooms, and provide adoption services - but this is a distinct shift, certainly for the network-based providers currently reselling Webex and hosting HCS that generally prefer to sit in the middle, monetizing everything from hosting to support to global conferencing numbers to managed networks and beyond.

That said, we’re also witnessing Cisco’s participation – and enablement – of a sea-change in enterprise communications. We mustn’t forget that HCS partners can sell BroadCloud seats, the same as Cisco. The addition of BroadCloud as a Flex Plan Calling option will encourage some to add this public UCaaS service to their portfolio. If-and-when (likely when) Cisco adds connectivity and parity between calling platforms, HCS partners will have the flexibility to provision users against their private HCS cloud and BroadCloud within the same enterprise.

There is also the continued risk associated with devil-dancing: integration with Microsoft and Google is a short-term play as both vendors are working hard to displace Cisco Calling and Meetings from their customer's equation. Neither Microsoft nor Google are ready for this in the eyes of the average enterprise, but we know many ITDMs are happy to use Cisco Webex and Calling today while they let those respective ecosystems mature.  In some cases, Cisco will find the slick integration a short-term band-aid that is ripped off when the enterprise decides the Microsoft or Google platform can handle their end-to-end collaboration requirements.

Still, this update looks miles ahead in terms of a complete collaboration-ready ecosystem. And this is obviously an initial salvo from a new Cisco - leveraging the updated Webex Cloud and recently-acquired BroadSoft experience. If done right, Cisco could remain miles ahead for some time.