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IBM Serves Up Cisco TelePresence Service

IBM on Wednesday debuted a new managed telepresence service for companies that want to take advantage of Cisco's high-definition video and voice-conferencing technology, but don't want have to deal with all the pesky maintenance and support issues the high-end equipment requires.

Cisco's (NASDAQ: CSCO) TelePresence suite -- which can range from a single camera and monitor up to multiple cameras in dozens of worldwide locations with images displayed on enormous screens with duplex and directional sound -- was first introduced in 2006, but IBM (NYSE: IBM) was actually test-driving the technology long before it was released as a commercial product.

"We have been experiencing the value of this technology for years," Marisa Viveros, vice president of IBM's integrated communications services group, told InternetNews.com. "We've been working with Cisco for a couple years doing design, consulting and integration. Now we're delighted to offer this managed service where we can integrate, operate and maintain this technology for our clients."

Viveros said new customers can now expect IBM services group to provide proactive and reactive maintenance, including upkeep on all the cameras, monitors, conference room furniture, IP handsets, telecommunications equipment and software needed to pull off a multi-continent video conference.

"We've been using this technology for business reviews, executive meetings and education sessions for some time," Viveros said. "Our clients are seeing similar value, particular in terms of collaborating on research and development projects. In HD, you get immediate feedback of body language and facial expressions."

IBM boasts more than 250 technicians certified on Cisco TelePresence. The concierge service, Viveros said, will be especially helpful to new or existing customers who just can't seem to get the system up and running just as the conference is about to begin and the adrenaline is flowing fast.

As any CEO of a major airline or hotel chain can attest, the moribund economy represents a fantastic opportunity for tech firms offering a thrifty alternative to business travel. Networking vendors, as well as companies that combine collaboration and video software functionality, are particularly well positioned.

Gartner earlier this year predicted that high-definition based video meeting technology will replace more than 2.1 million airline seats each year, erasing roughly $3.5 billion in travel and lodging expenses for large businesses.

"The challenge of the current economic conditions demands that every organization revisit the need for face-to-face meetings," said Gartner analyst Steve Prentice. "Companies should put aside previous prejudices and bad memories of older video-conferencing services and seriously investigate these new technologies."

Cisco said it expects to save at least $174 million in fiscal 2009 by using its own collaboration and TelePresence product.

Cisco competes with the likes of Polycom, Tandberg and LifeSize in the fast-growing telepresence market.

IDC analyst Abner Germanow told Interop attendees this spring that 2009 would be "the year of the great enterprise video experiment," with companies embracing "Skype to full telepresence and everything in between."