How much Video at Cisco?

October 8, 2014 - 5 Comments

We use a lot of video at Cisco. A recent tally shows that Cisco totals over 24,000 video calls every day, which raises a pretty big question: why do we use so much video at Cisco? 

Video started at Cisco (like so many things in the corporate world) with meetings. We have a lot of meetings where people and teams collaborate to make expensive business decisions. Or build the next big engineering breakthrough. Or just move a project one step closer to completion.

Most of those meetings are face-to-face – because being in the same room with someone lets you understand them better, and understand how they really feel about something. You need this level of understanding to build a high-functioning team, to reach major decisions, and to plan complex tasks. When everyone understands and is engaged and enthusiastic about the same goal, you can begin working productively together. And for that, you really need to see them.

That’s where the fun begins for Cisco. Cisco is a global company, with over 75,000 employees at more than 550 sites in about 90 countries around the world. How do we collaborate, build teams, make decisions, and work together? Well, for a long time the answer was: we bought lots of airplane tickets and earned more than enough frequent flyer miles to travel the world on credit several times over. We carved out travel days every month, or every week, and we  flew to and from many meetings. Seven years ago, Cisco was budgeting and spending about $750 Million for employee travel every year.

That’s what made Cisco IT invest in video conferencing. We needed a more sustainable and less expensive way to travel – and by “less expensive” we also included the time wasted getting to and from airports, and sitting on planes. It turns out that, as expensive as air travel is, adding “the cost of wasted time” increases that total by another 35% or more. So, we deployed immersive TelePresence – dedicated rooms with large screens where you could see and hear the people you needed to meet with in life-size and high definition. We called it “immersive video conferencing” because you really feel immersed in the meeting experience, as if you were in the same room. Conversations and meetings are face-to-face, between people who are halfway around the world, and the travel time is the time it took you to walk to the TelePresence room from your desk.

Today, we have about 1600 TelePresence rooms around the world (some older, some newer), and most or our teams are global. About 40% of us have managers in other time zones and nearly 50% of us work in teams spread across different time zones. We’re able to meet face-to-face, and work with the best and brightest Cisco talent, no matter where they are in the world.

Since we installed the first pair of immersive TelePresence rooms at Cisco in late 2006, video capabilities, and usage, has grown. Today, we have around 850 immersive TelePresence meetings every day.  That’s a lot, especially when the average TelePresence meeting lasts about an hour and a half, but it wasn’t just immersive TelePresence that got us to 24,000 video calls per day.  That’s what happens when we add in the all the other video endpoints, because there’s a lot more video at Cisco.

Video Calls

Based on a mix of

Avg. Video Minutes Per Meeting

Video Meetings Per Day*

Video Meetings Per Quarter*

Video Meetings Per Year*

Immersive TelePresence

Older CTS and TX

Newer MX





Desktop Video

Older EX

Newer DX





Video Phones

Older 9971

Newer DX-650





Laptop client






WebEx service










* based on an average of Jan-April 2014 Cisco IT data

We can attend our meetings from any video endpoint at Cisco.  We have almost 8000 desktop video TelePresence units, adding another 5000 video meetings or calls every day.  Over half of the phones on desks are video phones, adding another 7000 video calls a day. (We are often mobile at work, so we don’t assign phones to people, we just put them on desks and people use the one nearest to them, wherever they happen to be).

If we’re not near a phone we can use our laptops or mobile phones – running Jabber client (another 3500 video calls per day) or connect to the WebEx cloud for Cisco and customer meetings (another 8000 video calls per day).  That brings us to over 24,000 video meetings or calls each day, every day.  Our travel costs continue to shrink – in the first year of video at Cisco it was down by over 2/3 (to $230M).  And video usage at Cisco continues to grow.

Which raises another question. Why is video growing so quickly at Cisco? I’ll cover that in my next blog: “Video is the new Audio at Cisco”.

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  1. Just got a tweet from brett7 asking: “How is this a blog if you block comments? What is the external vs internaly only mtg % Video at Cisco?”

    First, sorry your comment got blocked. I gather the site holds comments for 24 hours to screen out spam. (e.g. “Love your blog! For discount hot tubs, click this link”. Seriously, there’s a lot of that.) But leave a comment for 24 hours and it should show up.

    Brett, unfortunately we dont track internal vs external data. For TP it’s available – all external TP meetings go through a paid vendor gateway which we could track (and do, in our cost accounting). We also have access to CDR for outside offnet calls coming in, but the WebEx calls get mixed with the rest of our offinet incoming calls (we use CCA and carry all WebEx traffic with the rest of our voice on the WAN). We dont really track external vs internal WebEx traffic separately. Sorry about that.

  2. It would be very interesting to understand how much effort was involved in gathering and analysing the data. It would also be good to hear what the productivity benefit has been over this periods and how it has been measured.

    • Good questions. Gathering data is painful work. Our UC/V service management team had to go into CUCM10, and into the WebEx system, to set up data collection. And summarising it all was a lot of manual DB sorting. That’s why you rarely see usage data collected from IT organisations – its so costly.

      And productivity is even harder to measure. Personal productivity is measurable only when you do the same exact task twice, under different scenarios (e.g. with video and without video). And when does this happen?
      You can use surveys, but that’s not very reliable.

      Its not difficult to show that good video services reduce travel costs (by over 2/3 at Cisco). We can even show that our Sales people were more effective when using TelePresence than not (by logging sales use of TP with customers (manually) and linking that to size and speed of sale (delay between meeting and order, in SFdC – semi-manually). Turns out order size was unconnected, but time to order was reduced, compared to all other sales.

      Personally, its my opinion that building new teams, and dealing with people in stretch circumstances, is a lot more productive face to face. And that video, really good video, is almost as good.

      I also think that, even though Cisco claimed to be “global” for a long time, but it was only after we’d deployed TelePresence (late 2006, but it only got well used by early/mid 2008) that we started to see really effective, global teams. Teams with people from multiple locations. Before that, most teams were still made up of people in the same building, plus a few unfortunates at the other end of a conference call.

      Today I get to work in teams with some of the best people at Cisco, in the Americas, and in Europe (I’m in the UK), and in Asia. We use video a LOT – to get connected and stay connected.

      (However, I have to add that without teleworking, working across big time zone gaps wouldn’t work well no matter how good the video is. I’m not going to get into the office for a meeting at 7AM for China, or stay past 8PM for meetings with California. But I don’t mind doing that sometimes as long as I’m home, sitting on my comfy couch.

      • Thanks for the response Rich,
        I have been looking at how to baseline usage before a usage and adoption engagement and as you indicated its not that easy.

        I’m an advocate of the appropriate use of video and have seen its value first hand but also agree we do it because we have to not necessarily because we want to. It doesn’t replace face to face In my opinion but supplements it to build stronger relationships in a shorter timeframe.

        I recently heard someone explain that in the past we sold video as the poor mans plane flight and not it moved to being positioned as the rich mans telephone.

        I have also seen that the productivity gain relies to some degree on anecdotal evidence as it difficult to measure in many cases.

        I think video buys time, time buys choices and our choices have the potential to make us more productive.

        • “Video buys time” … I like that.

          As one example, meetings over video (vs over audio only), when they require more than just simple fact exchange, can be a lot faster. And you don’t have to go back and clarify agreements over and over, which we used to do more with audio only.

          As another example, travel takes time. I just came back from a 6-hour meeting in Aberdeen (only about 85 flight minutes from London) but it took about 30 hours, including getting to airport, flight, cab to hotel, sleep, car to meeting, and then getting back. The meeting was in a location that didn’t have video, and I was REALLY wishing that it did.