On January 29, 2016, Cisco announced the acquisition of the privately held Acano. And several months later, a new baby was born – Cisco Meeting Server. Just kidding! In reality, Cisco has taken what they’ve bought (Acano’s excellent technology) and introduced it to the Cisco Collaboration family with the recent release of Cisco Meeting Server 2.0 and the CMS-1000 hardware platform. Go ahead and call the grandparents: these new tools and their capabilities are hitting their milestones like a champ with a new Cisco Collaboration focus on video conferencing scale, Microsoft interoperability and native WebRTC capabilities. Let’s take a look at what CMS is all about (the Acano heritage), and what’s changed along with the name.

What to Expect When You’re Expecting a Cisco Meeting Server

What’s that you say – This is your first? Well then, let’s familiarize you with what Acano, now Cisco Meeting Server (CMS), is all about. The “space” (formerly “coSpace” or “team space”) is the heart of the CMS experience – a personal, persistent, always-available video conference that pretty much anyone can join, whether they use Cisco TelePresence endpoints, Microsoft Skype for Business or just a web browser. Cisco’s tagline “from the browser to the boardroom” fits the space idea quite well.

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While Cisco had similar technology already on the shelf, CMS collapses what was a pile of discrete servers and services into a single easier-to-manage and feature-wise, altogether better package. With one server, Cisco is rolling up the top-level features of multiple products:

  • Cisco TelePresence Management Suite Provisioning Extension (TMSPE): Spaces replace “CMR Premises.” CMS directly handles their creation/management, replacing a good chunk of TMSPE’s features.
  • Cisco TelePresence Conductor: Conductor’s role in video bridge pooling and resource “virtualization” is replaced by “resilient” deployment of CMS – multiple CMSs linked together, forming a resilient, possibly also geographically distributed deployment. Once again CMS directly handles this feature, removing the need for Conductor.
  • Cisco TelePresence Server: TelePresence Server’s scale and features are almost entirely superseded by CMS. The CMS 2.0 release focused heavily on closing the minor feature gaps between these products.
  • Cisco Expressway (from a Microsoft Interop perspective): Despite recent enhancements to Expressway, one of Acano’s key strengths and indeed reasons for the acquisition was its superior MS Interoperability capabilities.
  • Cisco Jabber Guest: Jabber Guest’s integration to scheduled video meetings was practically nonexistent; a Jabber Guest URL could be added to scheduled meeting notices in TMS, but required Jabber Guest to be configured essentially “wide open,” which was arguably a security risk. CMS offers a much tighter integration to video conferences, with better screen sharing capabilities to boot.
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Plays Well With Others

Web Real-Time Communications (WebRTC – essentially browser-as-video-client) was always, and remains, a key strength of CMS. While Cisco’s Jabber Guest WebRTC solution lives on, CMS’ WebRTC features not only allow for audio/video/presentation in a call (and a Jabber Guest user, by the way, still can’t “send” a presentation), its implementation also offers the user a meeting participant list, meeting controls, meeting call-back and all the other niceties. The WebRTC experience is not just for the meeting host – it extends to guests as well, who can join meetings with a simple URL click. And given the “reservationless” and “persistent” nature of the CMS space, the URL for that meeting (along with the other meeting details like SIP URI, audio-only dial-in number and meeting ID) is always the same.

It’s Learning to Talk! And It Speaks Microsoft!

Microsoft interoperability was also a key strength of Acano, and has carried through to CMS (despite what you might’ve thought otherwise). With CMS, enterprises can integrate their investments in Cisco TelePresence and Microsoft Lync or Skype for Business on-premises* in a natural and easy-to-use manner. For starters, when CMS is configured as a “gateway” properly, Skype clients can call Cisco TelePresence endpoints one-to-one, and vice-versa. Cisco TelePresence clients can also call into Skype for Business meetings as a “first-class citizen” with multiple video tiles, full resolution video and bidirectional presentation capabilities. And a hidden gem: using CMS as a gateway, Skype for Business clients can call through CMS to reach Cisco WebEx CMR Cloud meetings and participate as a first-class citizen as well.

*Interoperability with Microsoft Skype for Business Online (O365) or other hosted varieties of Lync or Skype for Business, while possible, is hobbled by some caveats around Skype for Business Online Meetings.

Meet the New Kid on the Block

Now that you’re up to speed, let’s talk about what’s new with CMS. If you’ve used Acano before, the first thing you might notice is that Cisco has completely reskinned the software to bring it into their “Symphony” UI design. From the arctic mountains to the white-and-blue color scheme, Cisco Meeting Server (CMS) is dressed in the clothes of Cisco Collaboration now. The one standout is the “rainbow M” that adorns the end-user web interface by default.

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Cisco did a fairly thorough job of it, though they’ve left the thick clients for a future release (see “What Will It Learn Next?” below). That said, aside from the skin job, the end-user experience has not (yet) significantly changed, nor has the admin interface. Perhaps the biggest change (and a hint of things to come): from CMS v2.0.3 onward, the spaces chat interface is disabled by default.

Taking Those First Steps (into Cisco Collaboration)

Cisco has started to close some of the feature gaps between its current solutions and what Acano brought to the table at the time of acquisition. First and foremost, Cisco TelePresence Management Suite, as of version 15.3, supports CMS as a video conference bridge for scheduled meetings. Second, CMS can now act as a conference bridge media resource for Cisco Unified Communications Manager (CUCM), allowing for ad hoc conference escalation for video endpoints registered to CUCM.

My, How Big You’ve Grown!

Along with the reskin, Cisco has released a new hardware platform, the CMS-1000. The CMS-1000 has the following specs:

  • Cisco UCS C-220 M4, 1U
  • Two Intel Xeon E5-2695v4 processors, 18 physical cores (36 virtual) at 2.1GHz
  • Eight 8GB DDR4-2400MHz RAM modules (total of 64GB)
  • Two 300GB 12G SAS 10K RPM 2.5” disk drives in RAID-1
  • Two 770W power supplies
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While it was always possible to run Acano as a Virtual Machine (as opposed to using an Acano X-series appliance), Acano was not in the x86 server business. Cisco, of course, is in the x86 server business via their Cisco UCS product line. Thus, the CMS-1000 is the go-forward platform for CMS.

The CMS-1000 is best used to deploy a CMS “core” VM that consumes the entire server; while it is possible to deploy other CMS VMs on the server in a “coresident” fashion, the CMS-1000 is designed specifically for a single CMS core VM. When given over entirely to a CMS core, the resulting VM will be able to support up to 96 HD callers with 720p30 video – hitting a decent spot between the Acano X1 and X2 appliances. Cisco has also published official numbers for the older mm410v and mm400v appliances, for customers upgrading from Cisco TelePresence Server with these devices.

Table 1. Call Capacities

Type of Calls Cisco Meeting Server 1000 Cisco Multiparty Media 410v Cisco Multiparty Media 400v
HD calls 96 64 36
SD calls 192 128 72
Audio calls 3000 2000 1000

That’s a lot of callers! And when combined with changes to licensing introduced with CMS 2.0, Cisco customers can enjoy this capacity to the fullest: Cisco multiparty licensing operates on a concurrent meeting basis, not on a ports basis, allowing end-user’s meetings to grow in size to the hardware capacity of their deployment. With CMS’s resilient, scalable deployment model, multiple CMS-1000s hosting CMS core VMs can act in concert as one gigantic video conferencing resource.

What Will It Learn Next?

Peering into the crystal ball, there are a number of areas that one could logically see Cisco investing development effort in the future.

First and foremost, Cisco has already hinted that a Cisco Meeting Application (CMA) is coming to replace the legacy Acano thick client application on Windows, Mac and iOS. Expect something very soon. Acano never had an Android app either – another easy call.

Second, Cisco TelePresence Management Suite’s Conference Control Center (CCC) does not currently support Cisco Meeting Server. For customers heavily invested in help-desk-assisted meetings, this feature is highly desirable. Whether adding CMS to TMS-CCC is the answer, or something entirely new, a meeting management capability is a likely candidate for development.

Third, for customers with extreme scale needs, Cisco has a solution in a resilient, scalable deployment model based on multiple CMS core VMs on multiple CMS-1000 appliances, but for the largest enterprise customers, as well as service providers powered by CMS, something even bigger may be desirable. The Acano X2 and X3 both have higher scale than CMS-1000 – it’s logical to think Cisco may wish to provide a replacement for X2/X3 as well.

Are You Ready for a Cisco Meeting Server of Your Own?

Are you a current Cisco TelePresence customer with Conductor, TP Server, etc? Or are you just curious about getting up to speed with Cisco Meeting Server? CDW can help! We offer an inexpensive turnkey professional services engagement to set up a proof of concept for Cisco Meeting Server in your environment. We’ll get you up and running quickly and easily with demo licensing. It’s what we jokingly call a “bring your own server” baby shower for CMS!

Contact your account manager for more information. Or, sign up for a Collaboration Consultation.

Learn more about CDW’s collaboration technology partnership with Cisco.

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