When San Jose, Calif-based Cisco closed on its $700 million acquisition of London-based video infrastructure and collaboration software vendor Acano in January, it stated it wanted to "drive video everywhere." 

This week it looks to make good on that promise, with the availability of Cisco Meeting Server, based on the software acquired from Acano.

The tool acts as a bridge between Cisco's video conferencing tools and other vendor's tools, including Polycam, Avaya and most importantly Microsoft's Skype. Meeting Server can also provide links to video rooms via client or a WebRTC-enabled browser.

According to Rowan Trollope, senior vice president of the Collaboration Technology Group at Cisco, this is “the first product to come of this incredible meeting of the minds, and provides Skype Business Users with a connection to Cisco video rooms."

A Focus on Collaborative Interoperability 

Trollope stopped just short of reprimanding Microsoft for forcing Cisco to release Meeting Server in a blog post announcing the release, "Cisco Meeting Server .... fixes problems created by certain vendors (I mean you, Microsoft) whose technology hasn’t always played well with others."

At a time when collaboration tools are dime a dozen, interoperability comes at a high premium — and any company that can meet its customers demands for smoother collaboration puts itself in a strong position. Meeting Server provides such a service by allowing Skype users to communicate and participate in a much wider enterprise collaboration world than it currently can. 

Trollope explained in the blog post: “Frankly, collaboration technology has been causing some big problems for people who are just trying to connect and get their best work done. That’s why I came to Cisco — to radically reinvent business communications for the 21st century."

Skype Doesn't Play Well With Others 

Trollope's specific calling out of Skype isn't without reason. For all of the developments and updates Microsoft has made across Skype and Skype for Business, it still doesn’t work with other platforms.

This is a problem for Microsoft, because despite high enterprise traction for Office 365 with Skype, applications from Citrix and Cisco, among others, boast a massive presence in the enterprise. And the result?

“'Can we Skype?' 'Can you get to a telepresence room?' 'Will you be on your iPhone or in front of your laptop?' Cisco Meeting Server makes such questions a thing of the past as it lets whoever you’re meeting join with whatever they choose,” Trollope wrote.

Cisco's Bumpy Switch to Software 

At the time of the Acano buy, Cisco research estimated that less than 10 percent of the conference rooms in the world connect via video and only one percent of users have video systems on their desktop.

But the growth of the mobile workforce is forcing some changes. Cisco reported 17 percent annual growth in its collaboration technology business in the first quarter of its 2016 financial year.

While video calling across systems is the main advantage of Cisco Meeting Server, it also provides:

  • Better bandwidth use: Video conferences connecting multiple offices have at times led to high bandwidth bills. Cisco Meeting Server optimizes bandwidth use between sites, keeping costs at a minimum
  • Reduced costs: Cisco Meeting Server works best with lower-cost, standard Cisco UCS hardware
  • Scalable meetings: The product can support organizations with only a few users to global enterprises with tens of thousands of users

This is just the latest move in Cisco’s transition from its hardware roots to a more software-based business, a transition that's come with some growing pains. 

According to a CRN report earlier this week, Cisco is expected to lay off 14,000 employees or 20 percent of its workforce within the next few weeks. While Cisco has not confirmed the job cuts, its fourth quarter 2016 results are due on Aug. 17 at 4:30 pm ET — Cisco has an established history of making these kinds of announcements at the end of the fiscal year.