Google pushes further into business IT with Chrome-based video-conferencing

Though it’s best known for providing online consumer services like Internet search, maps and email, Google has been pushing gradually into the business IT market, by selling cloud-based email and productivity apps, mapping tools and even datacenter capacity.

Now it’s finding a new use for its cloud-centric Chrome operating software – powering a low-cost video-conferencing system that the company is launching for the business market.

With the new “Chromebox for meetings,” Google is diving into a highly competitive video-conferencing market, one that’s been dominated by Cisco and Polycom but also has a number of smaller players like Vidyo, 8×8 and others.

The new system is pretty straight-forward: For $999, you get a specially configured Chromebox computer, a camera, microphone/speaker and some other peripherals that tie into a cloud-based conferencing system operated by Google. You provide your own TV screen for your meeting room. There’s a $250 annual service fee that’s waived for the first year.

Google says its software will let you connect via the Internet with any other Chromebox meeting room and, with some additional software from Vidyo, will “inter-operate” with conferencing systems made by Polycom, Cisco or Cisco’s Tandberg division. Another feature: Any employee, client or contractor can join a meeting by using Google’s video chat service, Hangouts, on their laptop, tablet or smartphone, provided they have a gmail address.

Video-conferencing is a very competitive business. Other tech companies like HP have stuck their toes in and then retreated over the years. While the new “Chromebox for meetings” hardware will be made by partners (Asus, HP and Dell), Google seems to think its proprietary software will give it a competitive edge by offering useful features at a much lower cost than the high-end “telepresence” systems sold by the likes of Cisco.

Meanwhile, Google has been steadily promoting its Chrome software for laptops and other devices, like the video-streaming Chromecast gadget for connecting home TV sets to the Internet. While Chromebooks aren’t making a huge dent in the U.S. consumer market, the NPD research firm recently reported that Chrome-based laptops are now outpacing Macbooks in sales to business customers, though both still lag far behind Windows-based laptops.

At a press event to announce the system, Google vice president Caesar Sengupta declined to say how big Google thinks its video-conferencing business could become.  Still, he didn’t exactly demur when I asked if Google is working on other business applications for the Chrome software.

“We’re always on the lookout for problems that exist in market today,” he said, “and we try to find the right technology that will fit the space.”

(Image courtesy of Google)

Brandon Bailey Brandon Bailey (350 Posts)

Brandon Bailey covers Google, Facebook and Yahoo for the San Jose Mercury News, reporting on the business and culture of the Internet.