Polycom today announced:

  • Its intention to acquire HP’s Visual Collaboration Business — adding to the rich set of endpoints and capabilities Polycom has developed internally.
  • The formation of a group of service providers to be called the Open Video Communications Consortium (OVCC) — dedicated to making intercompany video communication as easy as intercompany telephone communication.
  • The continuation of joint development and go-to-market activities with Microsoft.
  • A two-for-one stock split.

Polycom has really come out of the gates running this year — acquiring Accordant’s archived video solutions and now HP’s real-time video solutions in just one quarter. The belief in video is palpable and real in all of Polycom’s actions — from its acquisition strategy to its daily routines. I was pleasantly surprised recently when I found it simple to connect via video with Polycom’s Analyst Relations Director Avi Orenstein just by typing his email into the address screen on a standards-based video endpoint I was testing. Technical kudus go to Polycom and Cisco (the device was a Cisco EX 90), but the fact that Avi took the video call in stride and we were 2 minutes into the conversation before he asked how I connected tells me Polycom really lives the catchphrase “Video is the new telephony,” making it a credible vendor to deliver that promise to market.

The acquisition of HP’s Visual Collaboration Business Unit is a commitment to developing the breadth and scale to continue to be a market leader. The technologies, products, and expertise within that business unit are formidable, and they are crying out for some assistance in marketing and selling video solutions, which Polycom has exhibited a willingness and ability to do. Polycom is also planning to put its video solutions onto HP’s webOS touchpad line of products. More products and more platforms for existing solutions plus a network of resellers and service providers, as well as a set of its own managed services, paves a wide road on which Polycom plans to drive the market forward. Polycom will consolidate all products and offers based on open standards moving forward — as customer needs dictate.

Polycom’s commitment to open standards and operational efficiencies for service providers indicates to me that the firm wants to address inter-vendor interoperability head-on — in the real world, networks of service providers trying to make a buck from video services, and not in the laboratories of technology vendors. Enabling intercompany, cross-carrier, multivendor video connections is critical to unlocking the value promised by Metcalf’s Law — the exponential increase in network value that results from increasing numbers of connected and points — but it is not the only hurdle. I am anxious to see the service providers of OVCC deliver a robust, easy to use scheduling solution that will enable information workers to reserve and connect video conferences without having to learn new processes or involve additional third parties.

Polycom and Microsoft already work closely together with agreements around UC development and go-to-market activities as well as in conjunction with a cross-section of the industry — via the Polycom Open Collaboration Network and the Unified Communications Interoperability Forum. Today it revealed an application code named Rally that connects Microsoft Lync UC capabilities and Polycom endpoints — enabling simple use of Polycom meeting room products leveraging the Microsoft Lync UI.

What does all this mean? Polycom is joining the march of vendors betting on the improved collaboration made possible by video — and adding its own twist by focusing on platforms and interfaces that enable the cloud services that will deliver intercompany, cross-carrier solutions in a way that will enable service providers of all types to profitably participate in the market.

Polycom clearly has Cisco in mind as it builds its video strategy. It plans to compete with Cisco by offering a broad, more open set of capabilities that even encompass interoperability with Cisco’s own Telepresence Interoperability Protocol (TIP). With HP, Juniper, Microsoft, and others as partners, Polycom has aligned a remarkable cross-section of vendors to deliver open, cost-effective video (and broader unified communications) solutions that enable multivendor, cross-carrier, intercompany communications. Going toe-to-toe with Cisco is a daunting challenge, but Polycom is ready take it up. Scott Stevens, the VP of worldwide technology engineering at Juniper, said on Polycom’s webcast today that Polycom video solutions run as well or better on Juniper networks than Cisco video solutions run on Cisco networks . . . but isn’t the openness the objective?

If Polycom can take the lead in offering open interoperable services, it can hurt Cisco in its core business. However, it is not clear that this set of announcements and relationships can deliver more open interoperability than the legacy Codian technologies that Cisco owns and markets through a long list of service providers today, giving Cisco an advantage until Polycom can prove that its solutions are more open.