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Cisco drives enterprise video, digital television for business

Cisco unveiled a load of enterprise video products and applications -- including digital television for businesses.

Banking on a boom in enterprise video, Cisco Systems Inc. proclaimed Tuesday Video Business Day and made a flurry of product and application announcements -- including one that brings digital television into the enterprise.

Aside from the marketing blitz, the company dropped news of its 128th acquisition; the purchase of Danish video management startup DiviTech A/S.

Cisco kicked the day off with a webcast in which CEO John Chambers said video is "what brings to life our ability to communicate" and pointed to the importance of having one converged platform to deliver multiple enterprise video applications to virtually any receiving device.

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Two central product launches Tuesday were born of that convergence strategy. Cisco laid out the details of an upgraded Digital Media System (DMS) -- the 5.0 -- as well as an IP-based video surveillance application that will sit on a blade in the Series 2800 and 3800 Integrated Services Routers (ISRs).

The DMS 5.0 will act as one common platform, enabling the newly added broadcast and on-demand digital television for business, as well as digital signage and streaming desktop video.

Cisco Enterprise TV (ETV) will offer live and on-demand content over IP networks to digital displays. That means users will turn on a PC or video display, see a channel guide, pick the content they want to view -- whether it be an old meeting from a storage library or one that is ongoing -- and use a remote control to choose the content.

The same platform will enable the Cisco Digital Media Player (DMP) 4400, which sends content out to video displays for signage in retail stores or convention centers, for example. The platform also provides on-demand streaming video to PCs and other kinds of screens in the office setting. In addition, the player holds up to 4 gigabytes of local storage and has support for Adobe Flash 9 and H264, the high-definition video standard.

To further the platform's commonality, Cisco's recently released personal, one-screen telepresence system, the 500, can be plugged into the DMS so that various kinds of video can be integrated into a telepresence meeting, or so a telepresence monitor can be used for other purposes, like ETV, when meetings are not in session.

Using the example of a home improvement store, David Hsieh, senior director of marketing for Cisco's emerging technologies group, said a screen could be used in the retail outlet to promote supplies for bathroom reconstruction, for instance. Customers could press a button to request a three-minute video. If they then had more questions, they could push again to initiate a live meeting with a bathroom reconstruction specialist.

This way the retail chain doesn't have to have an expert in every store, Hsieh said. The chain could instead have a central call center of experts ready for instant conferencing with stores all over the country.

Cisco has hinted recently that it is integrating telepresence into the functions of unified communications (UC) partially to justify the hefty investment, and Melissa Webster, IDC's vice president of content and digital media technologies, confirmed. "You are going to see more integration over time of telepresence in different forms," she said, adding that, ultimately, those forms will be leveraged through a common platform.

Pulling IP television into a bundled video mix could enable partners to more easily move enterprise video applications that were once a hard sell. Juma Technology, a New York-based systems integrator that offers enterprise video products from Cisco and other vendors, put together a distance learning program using IP television a couple of years ago.

"At that point it was a niche market, and it was something we hodgepodged together," said Joseph Fuccillo, Juma's chief technology officer. "Enterprise customers have a level of discomfort when they have all different pieces put together. They don't want to buy a hot rod, they want to buy a packaged sports sedan," he said. Cisco's bundled enterprise video applications enable the whole package, he said.

Cisco also launched a network-based IP "video surveillance solution" Tuesday, which will be placed on a module on the Cisco ISR. Martin De Beer, Cisco's senior vice president for emerging technologies, said cameras can plug directly into the router and enable users to manage video streams across the network. Both traditional analog video cameras and IP cameras can be used in the system, so users don't have to dump all of their existing technology.

"In the past, surveillance video was only used by the security department," De Beer said. "Once it becomes available on the network … the marketing department can get access to it." From there he expects surveillance video to be used to track customer shopping trends. For example, the marketing department could use it to watch the way consumers move through a store looking at displays.

De Beer also expects the surveillance systems to sell well to municipalities and other kinds of government for public safety and border patrol.

The video surveillance package includes a video gateway, which provides video encoding, as well as a management and storage system that allows users to archive and manage the video across the network.

Partners are hoping that now the time is right for IP-based video surveillance.

"We had an IT surveillance practice, but we backed away because facility managers weren't comfortable with IP, and it wasn't their network," Fuccillo said, adding that there also weren't many IP cameras available at the time. "Now the pendulum is swinging."

Cisco's acquisition of DiviTech is more of a play for carrier customers, since the company offers software that allows them to centrally provision, manage and deliver content -- whether it is live broadcast or on-demand. Ultimately, though, the technology could benefit enterprise television too.

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