Cisco CIUS Secure Enterprise Android Tablet Product Review

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Cisco's new enterprise Android tablet, the Cisco CIUS, is different from all the other Android tablets available. It is not intended for the consumer market, but for the very different enterprise business market. You won't see this in stores, and unless an organization has a number of things working on the back end, it has nothing different than any other Android tablet.

This is a difficult product to classify, because the tablet aspect is only one part of its capabilities. It is also a phone, desktop video conferencing device, and virtual desktop endpoint. Furthermore, it is designed from the ground up to be secure. With all these capabilities, it can be a very useful device for organizations that are ready to take advantage of all it can offer.

There are two versions of the Cisco CIUS, pronounced "see-us". The one that shipped first is the 7" version, and is the one that I have been using and demonstrating to people. The 7" tablet is running a Cisco Android version based on version 2.2 Froyo. There is rumor of a 10" version available soon, but no confirmation.

The most engaging part of the demonstrations that we have been doing for customers is the High Definition video conferencing client using either the front or back cameras. The HD video operates at 720p with 30 fps, and is a high quality video conference. It is a very different video calling experience than one gets from Google Talk or Skype, which are lower resolution with a lower frame rate.

CIUS Specifications:

Size: 5.5 x 8.9 x 0.6 inches
Weight: 1.2 lb
Screen resolution: 1024 x 600 pixels
Processor: Intel Atom Z615 at 1.6GHz
Memory: 1 GB RAM and 32 GB Flash
Connections: micro USB, micro SD, micro HDMI
Wireless connectivity: 802.11 a/b/g/n with 3G and 4G in future, bluetooth 2.1
Operating System: Android Froyo 2.2.2
Camera: front and rear facing 1280 x 720, 5 megapixel

Docking station specifications:

3 USB ports
Gigabit ethernet wired
DisplayPort with cables for VGA, DVI, HDMI
Can be powered by 802.3at, PoE class 4

Pros

Enterprise tablet that is manageable with a controlled App store.
Cisco IP Telephony endpoint with video and voice calls.
Standards based HD video endpoint with 720p resolution at 30 fps and dual cameras.
Secure operation with Cisco AnyConnect VPN.
Replaceable battery.

Cons

Heavier than similar sized Android tablets.
Requires other Cisco applications to take full advantage of capabilities.
7" form factor too small for full virtual desktop client unless using XenApp.
7" version has low external monitor resolution at 1024x600.
Cisco Unified Communications Manager version 8.5.1 or later required.

There are a few different back end applications that are necessary to put into place to give the Cisco CIUS basic functionality. The CIUS can operate as a full Android tablet with access to the Google Apps Market only, but I expect that most organizations are not going to want to limit it to being just a tablet.

The first application to set up for Enterprise deployment of the Cisco CIUS is the Cisco Unified Communications Manager version 8.5.1 or later. This application provisions and updates the Cisco CIUS. It allows the organization to create an internal App store, with applications that can be pulled from the Cisco App store and the Android market. This addresses multiple concerns, although it is required to set up an account at Cisco which has an additional fee. The first is that only Apps that are approved can be loaded on the organization's CIUS's. The second is site or block user licensing for purchased applications. Additionally, it centrally controls tablet security.

The CIUS docking station enhances the capability of the tablet significantly. I have found that keeping the dock plugged into an external monitor, keyboard, and mouse enhances the usability of many applications, and is almost a necessity given the small size of the 7" form factor. Even the video output ports on both the dock and tablet support both VGA and HDMI, one drawback is the low external resolution size, which is limited to 1024x640 pixels.

The CIUS docking station turns the Cisco CIUS into a full Cisco IP phone. The best way to use a Cisco IP phone is to connect it into a Cisco Communications Manager server. The Cisco Communications manager can be the company's entire phone system, and it is currently the #1 shipping business phone system in the world, so there are many organizations that could take advantage of this capability. If an organization has a different phone system, it is still possible to stand up a small Cisco Communications manager installation for just the Cisco CIUS's, and then integrate the Cisco phone system into the company's existing IP or traditional phone system.

The HD video conferencing endpoint capabilities of the CIUS can be enabled by connecting it into the Cisco Communications Manager, but for full HD video conferencing capabilities it is best to have the Cisco Video Infrastructure in place. This provides for standards based video calls to other organizations over the internet, HD video conferences using a centralized conferencing codec, and bandwidth management for the calls.

The Cisco CIUS can be used as a full Virtual Desktop endpoint using either VMware View or Citrix HDX Receiver for Citrix XenApp and XenDesktop. The two virtual desktop applications have their pros and cons, and it is good that the Cisco CIUS supports both. At the 7" form factor when not using the external monitor, the most useful is Citrix XenApp, which provides full screen application capability.

It is important to operate the Cisco CIUS over a good network. Both the Local Area Network and the Wide Area Network has to have a good Quality of Service policy implemented, and there has to be sufficient bandwidth for the voice, video, and virtual desktop streams. The CIUS preferentially uses 802.11n wireless LAN for call control even when docked, so it is best to have a good wireless infrastructure in place that has sufficient coverage, bandwidth, and Quality of Service. The advantage of always using wireless for call control is to allow the user to undock the CIUS in the middle of a video or voice call and to permit it to continue the call without interruption.

The Cisco CIUS is a new category of tablet device that is focused at a distinctly different market than the consumer tablets from Apple and other Android tablet manufacturers. When it is deployed in an enterprise environment that has the right types of back end applications, it can be a very useful device. The two issues of small screen size and low external monitor screen resolution on the 7" CIUS are a limitation for its use as a general purpose tablet. This is overall a good product that works well and can be the main device for a mobile device strategy. It is an especially good choice for organizations that have concerns about security and have existing voice, video, and virtualization deployments.




More info on Virtual Desktops and Cisco Video Conferencing.




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