Reflecting on Chromebox for Meetings

by Dave Michels

Google recently announced Chromebox for Meetings (Hangouts for rooms). Vidyo concurrently announced Hangouts to Other (H2O). Here’s a collection of my thoughts in random order. Related content: Room with a View.

  • I can’t decide if this is a good price or not. On one hand, it’s a complete (small) room system with integrated online scheduling for $999. But the Asus offering is basically consumer class gear for a small room. Conversely, the Logitech cc3000e has the same initial cost without a recurring element, has a better lens (for bigger rooms), and works with Hangouts as well as just about any other app. The comparison isn’t quite fair, the Chromebox is a room system and the Logitech is a laptop peripheral. The question is will anyone really care about the distinction?
  • Hangouts is very likely the biggest driver why people create Google+ accounts. Keep in mind how huge Skype is (and it’s mostly video) – and consider that Hangouts is a better, richer, and more functional, video experience. Is this Google v Skype or Google v Cisco/Poly?
  • The initial Asus box is very basic – but more hardware is coming from the likes of Dell and HP. There’s no reason that future systems will be limited to such a low-end systems/cameras for small rooms.
  • This is the second time Google is overlapping into the space of enterprise UC. The first time was presence, but video is more core/lucrative to the industry. Is Google really interested in enterprise UC (or even video), or is Google just using this to drive interest in Chrome, VP8, and Google accounts?
  • Hangouts is jumping into the enterprise – While Microsoft keeps Skype consumer focused and positions Lync for the enterprise – Hangouts is jumping the shark.
  • For Google Apps users, Hangouts has no incremental use cost. It already had desktop and mobile clients. The hole it had was room systems. Google customers either don’t have room systems (and this might be attractive) or have room systems they can’t use with Hangouts. For the latter, Google is turning to Vidyo with its H2O offer.
  • Is Vidyo a pawn or partner? There are not that many Google partners – most do hardware, but in this case Vidyo is offering a service. A service that Google could do itself.
  • Vidyo is probably the first enterprise vendor (besides Google) to support VP8. This represents a major shift for Vidyo as its success has been associated with H.264 and SVC – neither of which are relevant here. This could just be a natural step toward VP9 with SVC per the WebRTC arrangement that Vidyo and Google previously announced. The question is when?
  • I wonder how long these boxes are expected to last. Today, Hangouts is VP8 – six months ago it was H.264, a year from now it could be VP9. There’s no assurance or expectation from Google how long these boxes will be functional. What’s Google know about managing the lifespan of premise hardware?
  • One very clever feature is the This is wireless screen sharing that probably uses similar technology to Chromecast. If it works, it could seriously disrupt/obsolete existing projectors – VGA/DVI/HDMI inputs – how quaint.
  • Hangouts dumped H.264 a few months back in favor of VP8. The H.264 implementation was SVC, so Google traded bandwidth efficiency for its own HD IP. Since no enterprise system supports VP8, it turned to Vidyo, its video partner in disruption.
  • The Chromebox for Meetings solution includes 7×24 support from Google – not an option , and it’s currently $250 a year (starting year 2). There isn’t much to this solution, so I can’t imagine that support is really going to be big factor/concern. Few Enterprise acquired products require support.
  • The hardware would be better if it it was also a SIP saucer. Most conference rooms still need conference saucers and it would not be hard to integrate this into the hardware.
  • Hangouts is aligned with WebRTC. This means Google sees VP8 across the enterprise: chrome, Hangouts, Chromebox into new rooms, Vidyo into old rooms, WebRTC on the website, and desktop and mobile clients. The next step will be a VP8 webchat portal integrated into contact center solutions to create a cost effective Mayday implementation.
  • The Chromebox remote control has a full QWERTY keyboard on the back, looks identical to my old Boxee remote which I think is very clever.
  • Google turned to UberConference for its bridge to the audio world. Hangouts had already been integrated (call out) to Google Voice. Interesting: to enrich that experience with call-in support, Google opted to turn to an external firm. UberConference is actually backed by Google Ventures, but is independent. UberConference was featured in the Innovation Showcase at Enterprise Connect 2013, and already supports WebRTC for audio. Yet another nail in the Google Voice coffin?
  • Why separate vendors for video bridging and audio conferencing? Mitel, for example, offers Vidyo as a service and has its own conferencing platform (and contact center solution).
  • Vidyo’s H2O solution is not sold. It can be rented or acquired as a service. I think this is the first Vidyo product that can’t be purchased. I wonder if this is some form of risk mitigation. Another odd thing is that Vidyo is charging more for the service than the premises-based solution. Both are per port/per month and the premises-based solution includes the server. Other Vidyo technology can be virtualized, so the cloud should be much cheaper.
  • Google, Microsoft, and IBM are all expanding in similar ways – mail, social, calendar, and now video. All three position voice as an option.
  • I don’t expect Hangouts for Meetings to actually attract net new customers to the Google ecosystem, but it seems fairly obvious for customers that have already committed to Google Apps, Chrome, and Google+.
  • Google says an Outlook plugin is coming – I think this is primarily aimed at Google Apps shops that use Outlook as a client.
  • A year ago, the sub $1k room system was a revolutionary concept. Now it is old news.
  • Skype to room systems has not been popular. Although Microsoft stated plans to kill it some time ago, Blue Jeans actually killed it first for lack of demand. Vidtel still supports it, but with little demand. So is there any demand for Hangouts to room systems?
  • At the time of the announcement, Lync-Skype still does not support video communications. Microsoft has stated plans to support this in the future. So Google beat Microsoft in consumer/business video.
  • Some interpret this as Google’s commitment to the enterprise – but I don’t see that. They made special software out of components they already had. The initial cost does not appear subsidized, and the risk is more likely falling to the hardware vendors and Vidyo.
  • There could be some long term significant value to the Google business channels becoming familiar with Vidyo.
  • Chrome is becoming the Google keystone: There’s the browser (VP8 and WebRTC), there’s the OS (desktop replacement and Chromebox for meetings),  There’s Chromecast (clever video streaming technology – next generation RDP), and some very compelling Chrome applications/plugins  available thru the Chrome Web Store – check out the recently announced support of VMware Horizon DaaS (migrate XP to ChromeOS). Every one of these are suitable for the enterprise.