Videoconferencing gets cheaper, again

Polycom has a new videoconferencing suite, with its price and ease of use breaking new ground.

Polycom came to a realisation about video conferencing -- no matter how high the definition or how big the screen, it won't take off in wide-scale deployment until initiating a meeting is as simple as making a phone call and managing the system is just as easy.

That's the idea behind two Polycom products launched last week -- the Converged Management Application (CMA) and the RMX 1000, a video conferencing network server for small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) or branch offices.

The CMA is a video conferencing network management device that can run integrated systems ranging from desktop video to telepresence through one central point. In fact, that central appliance can control every component in the video network, including hardware and software endpoints, bridges and streaming servers.

"This is the heart of the video conferencing network," said Laura Shay, director of product marketing at Polycom.

The goal behind the CMA is to provide easier administration for IT managers. Using the device, IT administrators can do policy-based provisioning and bandwidth management, control call activity, manage directories and automate software updates for multiple systems.

The CMA also enables administrators to connect new employees to a video conferencing network application as easily as to a new email account or work station. And the CMA is based on the H.323 standard, which means it can manage video conferencing systems from multiple vendors. (The next wave of products will be based on session initiation protocol, or SIP).

In fact, the CMA can scale up to 5,000 seats, and companies can purchase it according to the number of seats necessary in the enterprise.

Partners can also push the Converged Management Application as a unified communications (UC) application. The CMA server can support the CMA Desktop application, which integrates voice, video and content, enabling chat and desktop video conferencing. The CMA server provides presence awareness so that users can be found in a directory, which will show if they are available or occupied. Users can click from the directory to launch a desktop video call using standard Web cameras or other devices, and they can call into a full-screen telepresence meeting.

"CMA creates a video conferencing world where people can easily call each other," Shay said. It makes a video call as "intuitive" or automatic as a phone call -- and that's what will make large-scale video deployment work, she said.

The application also allows users to visually share desktops during a call and control the camera on the other end of the call. For example, a doctor could call into a patient's room and control the camera on the patient's end for an examination, Shay said. Ultimately, because the CMA is standards-based, it will work with IBM, Avaya, Nortel and Microsoft UC systems.

Along with the CMA, Polycom launched the RMX 1000, a scaled-down version of the RMX 2000, a multi-point video conferencing bridge. The appliance brings together signals from multiple points, enabling the enterprise to act as its own service provider for conference bridging.

The RMX 2000 is for medium- and large-scale use, but the 1000 offers smaller companies and branch offices the same capabilities. Placing the servers in small branch offices of large enterprises "offsets bandwidth burden," Shay said. "It turns out it is more cost-effective to have a little bandwidth in 10 locations" than to have it centralized.

Fernandez expects the new products to play easily into partner practices. Polycom has "mapped out how to deploy" the new products, and it has learned that it can't "just build products and hand them off to partners." Fernandez said the company has made it abundantly easy to understand the deployment and management of the CMA and RMX 1000.

The Polycom CMA, which includes seat licenses for endpoints and CMA Desktop, starts at $20,000 and will be available in October. The RMX 1000 is currently available worldwide and starts at $21,600.

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