Cisco announces virtual desktops for video collaboration

Also upgrades videoconferencing endpoints and capabilities

Cisco today announced two new virtual desktop devices, more efficient virtualization software and more affordable videoconferencing endpoints, building on its line of video collaboration tools and capabilities for companies.

Both of the new small desktop devices will support VMware View 4.5 and Citrix XenDesktop and are expected to be available in March 2011. Each will be priced below $500, including a USB keyboard, mouse and client license.

In addition, Cisco said its previously-announced Cius tablet computer will support VMware View, Citrix Receiver and Wyse Pocket Cloud virtualization software and will interact with a Windows desktop in a data center. The Cius is also due out in March.

Desktop virtualization and thin client computers have been around for years and give IT shops greater control over data and security by centralizing computing functions, data and applications on data center servers instead of allowing end users to do so with desktops or mobile devices.

Cisco officials said that the growing use of video and videoconferencing in business collaboration required the vendor to offer virtualization products under a new virtualization architecture (called VXI, for Virtualization Experience Infrastructure) that effectively and more efficiently stores data and applications on data center servers to be called up to virtual desktops and mobile devices.

"Voice and video doesn't [traditionally] work well if running [over virtualization] in the data center," Cisco senior vice president of voice technology Barry O'Sullivan said. "We believe we've solved this with VXI."

One of the new virtual desktop devices is a standalone tower called the VXC 2200 that is less than 5 inches high. Cisco showed in one illustration that it can be placed next to a desk phone and a telepresence monitor, O'Sullivan said. The VXC 2200 has four USB ports and two video ports.

The other is an even smaller device called the VXC 2100. It fits on the back of a Cisco IP phone, which Cisco showed can be set up to work with a traditional desktop monitor and keyboard. It can be connected to two monitors and has four USB ports.

Each has a small embedded processor for decoding virtualization protocols, meaning that companies can keep data on data center servers, instead of a desktop or mobile computer, O'Sullivan said. Both are powered by Power over Ethernet.

Cisco introduced the virtualization client devices and the VXI architecture for thin clients from Wyse and others to support a range of collaboration technologies, including videoconferencing. Cisco designed the VXI to improve the density of virtual desktops on a server by 60%, he said.

VXI is available immediately, but Cisco didn't offer other details.

In addition to the desktop virtualization clients, Cisco announced two new videoconfererencing personal endpoints: the TelePresence EX60 and the TelePresence System 500 32-inch.

O'Sullivan said the EX60, with a 21-inch high-definition screen, will be "perfect for the knowledge worker" and can be toggled to serve as a desktop computer monitor. It will be available by the end of 2010 for $6,900. The CTS 500-32 has a 32-inch screen, and is designed for videoconferencing by executives in private offices. It can be wall-mounted or placed on a pedestal and will cost $23,900 when available by year's end.

Cisco also announced that all of its collaboration endpoint devices will be video-enabled and that voice and video will interoperate with Cisco Unified Communications Manager. This innovation means that a single call-control system can be used for videoconferencing as well as voice.

Another innovation combines Cisco WebEx with high-quality video, enhancing the current WebEx video experience. A new interface enlarges the image of the person talking in a videoconferencing session and allows flexibility in how attendees' images are arranged with documents being shared. Cisco also announced that the new WebEx Meeting Center with high quality video will run on the Apple iPad starting in December as well as on the Cius tablet when it's released.

O'Sullivan said Cisco is also working to make its videoconferencing tools interoperate with industry-standard endpoints, even those from competitors such as Polycom and LifeSize.

Critics have said that Cisco has created an ecosystem of products highly reliant on its own brand, to which O'Sullivan responded: "We want to drive video everywhere and the more video, the more bandwidth and the more networking. We want to have video be more pervasive so it interoperates with Polycom and LIfeSize.... We are the first to link video to virtualization. The only time we don't apologize about not being standards-based is when there's no standard and we're interested in creating one."

Zeus Kerravala, an analyst at Yankee Group, said Cisco does seem to understand that keeping its technology open to third-party gear helps it. "They do understand now that the more video there is, they will create a rising tide of video and all that network traffic is good for them," he said.

Kerravala said Cisco 's linking of virtualization with video and other collaboration applications and data recognizes that a Virtual Desktop Interface (VDI) is the "only way to deliver content consistently to the increasing variety of different endpoints."

Cisco is positioned well, Kerravala said, because it recognizes all kinds of applications need to run on all kinds of devices. "Their vision is to embed video in everything we have," he said. "They want to make video part of everybody's lives, so they control the endpoints, collaboration between Quad for the social networking portal, the Cius tablet, and more. They are stretching their lead on the rest of the industry."

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