Polycom's Big Announcement a Game-Changer for the Channel
Copyright 2014 by Virgo Publishing.
By: Kelly Teal, Senior Editor
Posted on: 10/09/2012



 

Channel partners, in the wake of Polycom's big announcement that its new CloudAXIS software plugs RealPresence video conferencing into outside platforms such as Skype, Facebook and Google Talk, may be wondering what the launch means for them. Analysts agree: Opportunity abounds – but only if you're IT- and IP-savvy.

This week, Polycom introduced RealPresence CloudAXIS, the most dramatic leap the company has made toward becoming a software UC provider since it started moving away from a hardware-only focus a couple of years ago. To that point, CloudAXIS lets Polycom users, from an Internet browser, extend enterprise-quality conferencing to people using third-party video services on laptops, smartphones and tablets. At the same time, the RealPresence platform comes with other new features including HD and SmartPairing, where Polycom's RealPresence app will connect a mobile device to the Polycom conference room phone. All of the new products and updates are sold only through the channel.

Polycom is not the first vendor to launch an open-standards platform that works with the likes of Google, Skype and Facebook. Vidyo and Blue Jeans Network beat everyone to that punch. However, Polycom is the first supplier with the brand recognition, customers and channel partners to release this kind of platform. And analysts are watching to see what happens.

"We believe the move from a hardware-centric to a software-centric and a cloud-based model is a major one, requiring flawless execution," UBS analyst Amitabh Passi wrote in an Oct. 8 client memo.

For additional observers, Polycom's shift comes a little late, but for some defensible reasons.

"Polycom should have done this earlier, although I don't think the market was quite right," said Zeus Kerravala, principal analyst at ZK Research. Before, wireless networks ran too slow, cameras cost too much, processors featured too-little power and the cloud had not taken off. That's all changed. And now, Polycom rivals Cisco and Avaya have some catching up to do, analysts say. When Avaya and Cisco will follow Polycom's lead remains the question, since they continue to make the bulk of their money on hardware and do not want to cannibalize that revenue even as they know they must move into the cloud.

For Polycom partners, CloudAXIS marks a game-changer. Many indirect salespeople are struggling to provide more than boxes and connectivity to their customers; they need to offer value.

"Value is not in group video systems," said Ira Weinstein, senior analyst and partner at Wainhouse Research. "Value is in the infrastructure, integration with entire directory systems, automation." Because Polycom's CloudAXIS takes videoconferencing to non-Polycom platforms, then, partners are able to make good on the value proposition. Polycom's release "empowers scale, and scale is where we're going," Weinstein said. "It's bringing conferencing to the people."

To that point, Polycom also has debuted the RealPresence Collaboration Server 800s, Virtual Edition, which hosts CloudAXIS' capabilities. The company further developed a firewall traversal box, and less-expensive endpoints that accompany the new server and software; those cost about $3,000.

"This has been a big ask from customers and channel partners," so smaller users may take advantage of enterprise-quality video conferencing, said Jim Kruger, Polycom's senior vice president of global solutions marketing.  

The challenge for partners will be bringing it all together. If you haven't moved past the old-school A/V integration business model, offering Polycom cloud services to customers will prove tough.

"The growing market for video communications and services spells opportunity for channel partners who can offer installation, integration, configuration and maintenance services," said Henry Dewing, principal analyst at Forrester Research. And while Polycom's CloudAXIS suite supports open standards, "there is still a lot of technical competence needed to connect disparate video infrastructure ... and integrate video into business applications and processes," Dewing said.  

With that in mind, Polycom is requiring training on CloudAXIS. If you're already certified on RealPresence, this will complement, not replace or necessitate a re-do of, that designation. Polycom will build CloudAXIS training into its certifications for the future. In terms of compensation, partners will buy CloudAXIS products at a discount off MSRP, with more discounts applied to larger volumes. Polycom also is offering incentives for deal registration.

What's key is that CloudAXIS gives Polycom partners new reach into the cloud world. However, there's a catch.

"This is an opportunity, but you have to be IT- and IP-savvy to take advantage of it," Weinstein said. "If the channel partner ... lives and breathes around BNC [Bayonet Neill–Concelman] connectors, they're not there yet."