Avistar Extends Video Messaging Beyond Enterprise

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Video messaging player Avistar Communications is taking steps to bring its presence-based intra-enterprise messaging system outside company borders -- making the solution more appealing, but also raising the specter of greater competition.

The ten-year-old, Redwood Shores, Calif.-based firm's new Community Exchange and AvistarVOS Proxy offerings are jointly aimed at making it easier for businesses to deploy video communications to their employees while enabling their workers to communicate with users at other businesses.

The additions build on the firm's AvistarVOS presence-based video messaging system, which offers desktop-based, two-way video chatting from IM-like Buddy Lists. Enterprises, meanwhile, control users' communications privileges -- whether certain groups of users can talk to or receive presence information from others, for instance.

So far, the service has appealed mainly to large companies, particularly those with remote branch offices and dedicated communications infrastructure. UBS Warburg, for instance, began with a pilot of Avistar's system over ISDN and dedicated lines in 1998, but since has increased support for the company's offering tremendously -- such that the international financial services giant routinely sees more than 1,000 employees using the technology each month, and increasingly over IP, also supported by the firm.

But that service hasn't extend beyond the enterprise -- until now. Using the AvistarVOS Proxy Servers, enterprises can expose their employees' presence information to the outside; the data, along with IP and ISDN network availability, optimal routing, call status, system resources and other information, is gleaned from AvistarVOS servers and delivered to Community Exchanges at other firms. On the receiving end, an enterprise's Avistar Community Exchange, running on a company's secure Web server, gathers presence information and serves that to its AvistarVOS users.

"Customers demand video conferencing solutions that enable greater collaboration capabilities and fit with the way they work," said Avistar Chief Executive Jerry Burnett. "Our new products enable video connections between enterprises, right from the desktop. As a result, we expect they will help users make faster decisions, sell more, increase productivity and reduce time to market. Users should develop stronger relationships with their clients and colleagues through more face time and seamless collaboration regardless of whether they work across the hall or in another company."

Enabling enterprises to message each other is a boon for the firm, which is but one of a growing number of players in the field of presence-enabled video messaging -- all of whom are banking that enterprises become the big market for their technology. Microsoft , for one, has been linking its Windows NetMeeting with MSN Messenger and Windows Messenger since the Windows XP launch -- and includes more potential for the technology in its upcoming "Greenwich" Real-Time Communications server.

Similarly, New York-based VIDISolutions debuted its solution in August, while Comverse, Legato Video, and Eyeball Networks also are exploring the space. Several video players, most notably Webcam maker Logitech, also market add-on products for public IM systems, although the offerings aren't specifically aimed at the enterprise market.

One of the ways that marketers of video IM solutions are looking to break out of the competitive clutter is by integrating with other, related technologies. Avistar, for one, has announced support for Session Initiation Protocol -- a major transport from the Voice over IP arena, now finding its way into instant messaging products and other areas. The firm is marketing a MultiChannel Gateway that supports SIP, and plans other SIP-related products this year.

Linking video conferencing to IM, VoIP and other communications technologies could win Avistar favor with big clients making infrastructure investments in those areas as well -- which certainly would be good news, since the firm's revenues have been struggling in conjunction with the dot-com slowdown. But it also means that Avistar will come into closer competition with Microsoft, which is expected to launch its SIP-compatible "Greenwich" Real-Time Communications Server within months.

Christopher Saunders is managing editor of InstantMessagingPlanet.com.

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