RealTime IT News

Cisco Elbows For SMB Web Conferencing

Cisco Systems has licensed Macromedia's Flash technology for a Web conferencing offering in the making, officials announced today.

Cisco said it would use Macromedia's Breeze and Flash platforms in order to deliver a comprehensive Web and audio conferencing offering for small- to medium-sized businesses (SMB).

MeetingPlace Express is designed to put conferencing features behind the corporate firewall for customers to they don't have to buy it from outside vendors.

"One way of thinking about this is we're taking best-of-breed Web conferencing and best-of-breed on-premise audio conferencing and integrating them deeply," said Tom Hale, a Macromedia general manager and senior vice president.

Companies are moving away from separate vendors to provide audio and Web conferencing, Hale said, not only because of the security issues posed by conducting business outside their network but for the difficulties created trying to tie them together.

Putting everything under one roof allows users to make changes in the Web interface, whether it's to mute one of the participants or change settings, from one location rather than using the individual settings.

Cutting down on the complexity issue is Macromedia's ubiquitous Flash player found on 97 percent of today's desktops. It alleviates the requirement to download and install client-side software through the conferencing service providers.

The cost issue is also significant, said Troy Trenchard, Cisco director of product management. Customers today are paying for the separate services, the bandwidth, the number of users and toll charges, he said, but not getting the integration of the services with corporate features like the directory service or calendaring.

"What we're seeing is a lot of people being attracted by the ability to bring that solution into their network," he said, "either within their site or hosted behind their firewall, which allows them to experience significant cost savings in their telephony and to drive that productivity by having these things highly integrated."

Cisco's SMB offering is a Linux-based, rack-mounted server, available for up to 120 concurrent users. It's a scaled down version of the company's enterprise-grade MeetingPlace conferencing technology, acquired in 2003 from the $80 million purchase of Latitude Communications.

Officials are working on incorporating the Breeze technology into the enterprise-grade offering down the road, to provide an easier migration path from Express, but Hale said the time frame is too far out in the future to comment.

Conferencing is one of the key components in Cisco's Unified Communications vision for real-time presence-enabled communications. The company wants to provide one comprehensive suite encompassing conferencing, video, calendaring, e-mail, call control, security and directories.

This is the second big win in as many weeks for Macromedia and its Flash platform. Earlier this month the company announced a partnership with Hewlett-Packard to deliver a Flash-based user interface for its carrier solution.