Recently at Enterprise Connect 2015 Microsoft and Polycom together unveiled the latest in conference room solutions designed for Microsoft’s enterprise UC platform. The RoundTable 100 is the first offering in a series of new co-developed products designed specifically to work with Skype for Business (SfB).
This product enters a completely new arena in terms of target audience, design, architecture, and user experience.
This article will cover both what this specific model is intended to address, as well as help to understand what the product is not. As the landscape of meeting room devices improves in the future and additional options are available it is important to understand the difference in the various products and that there is no one-size-fits-all solution.
The RoundTable name should be recognizable to anyone familiar with Microsoft UC devices as that was the name which was given to the original 360 degree panoramic camera created by Microsoft Research and designed for Live Meeting. When Polycom purchased the rights to the device it was renamed to the CX5000 fit in with the existing ‘CX’ nomenclature for all Lync-specific devices like the popular CX600 desktop phone.
Going forward the Polycom RoundTable name will be used to denote all of the conference room products designed specifically for Skype for Business. Not just the panoramic cameras but any type of room collaboration device, round or square in shape. Additionally the existing CX5100, CX5500, and CX8000 products will also fall under the same RoundTable umbrella (CX audio devices will not be changed).
So, what is it?
The RoundTable 100 will come as three bundled main components: a Windows embedded appliance PC, a high definition USB camera, and a USB speaker phone. The bundled audio and video devices are the only devices which can be used, attempting to connect any other Lync qualified (or unqualified) devices to the main unit will not function.
The main unit can be connected to any monitor and to an Ethernet port with access to the Internet. From there the unit will automatically connect via a special account to Microsoft’s Office 365 offering, this is not a unit which can be manually registered directly to any on-premises or cloud Lync/SfB tenant.
Firstly, the RoundTable 100 is ideal for environments with little to no IT staff available to manage conference rooms. In these small-to-medium businesses existing options are limited to BYOD or plug-and-play solutions which require Lync-enabled devices to be brought into the conference room and physically connected. Requiring users to connect and test devices before each meeting may not be ideal so some sort of dedicated in-room system is often desired. The existing Lync Room System model helps address this need at the top end, but potentially at an executive-level cost and experience which does not always fit into the limited budget of many SMBs.
The RoundTable 100 is the first foray into this market with a set-it-and-forget-it deployment model designed with a Lync user experience. Intended primarily for but not limited to Office 365 consumers this product opens the doors for a prepackaged room system experience that closely mimics what an employee would experience if they brought their own laptop or Surface tablet into a conference room and then connected it to a Lync Qualified USB video camera and/or small conference room speaker. This dedicated in-room system addresses the need for anyone to bring that type of device into the room, only their own personal smartphone or similar mobile device is required.
There is no in-room interface device coupled with the RoundTable 100 like a touch panel or keyboard. The entire in-room experience is driven by an attendee’s mobile device by leveraging a Companion Application on their personal mobile device.
What is it not?
It is not Lync Room System (LRS) version 2. Neither is the recently announced Surface Hub Each of these products are intended for different use cases, driven primarily by cost and the desired in-room user experience. Regarding the future of LRS Microsoft has already publically announced their intent to release a Skype Room System platform based on Windows 10 and the Skype for Business client, with current LRS hardware being provided a roadmap to upgrade to this new software. In essence this could simply be a rebranding of the platform, potentially bringing some of the newly improved Skype user interface into the room system itself.
While the RoundTable 100 will provide a very simplistic, factory-provisioned deployment experience this also means that IT management options are little to none with this product. The more control an enterprise requires over devices deployed on the network the more that it is not a good fit. Existing and future room systems and devices intended for Lync and Skype for Business are designed specifically for the enterprise and medium-sized businesses with IT departments, better matching those types of management requirements.
It is not configurable. The device is pre-provisioned from the factory with a unique, masked identity to perform the required SIP registration to Microsoft’s cloud. When meetings are joined from this device the user’s own account is how they are identified in the meeting. Whatever user has paired to the device using their Companion Application is the identity which will appear in the meeting. Again this is unlike any current room systems which have their own meeting room identity in Lync and in Exchange.
It is not customizable. The device is locked down to only work with the supplied USB camera and speakerphone unit. Connecting any other Lync or SfB qualified USB devices (including even Polycom’s RoundTable cameras) will result in an error reported on the unit and will break that modality (audio and/or video).
It is not designed for existing Lync or SfB deployments, directly. The backend infrastructure that provides the provisioning model will be part of Microsoft’s Office 365 environment driven by Skype for Business. This means that any business can use these devices although the target customer is any on or planning to utilize Office 365. All that is required to use this product is an Internet connection and personal devices with the Companion App loaded which contain Lync Meeting invitations in its calendar. The RoundTable 100 can then join any meeting regardless of what types of environment those invitations point to: on-premises or hosted Lync/SfB environments. The system simply connects to the AVMCU as a federated client, be it an on-premises pool or a pool accessible via the Internet.
Overall while this entry level solution is not something that slots into the enterprise landscape today this does signal the beginning of a new family of products which will eventually make that journey. And for the large amount of small businesses out there today which are already moving toward Office 365 as their UC platform there will soon be a simple product which can be dropped into any room with a monitor to help increase productivity in a matter of minutes.