30 Nov 2010
Most organisations have experienced increased pressure to reduce costs, save time and improve productivity. In other words: achieve more, with fewer people, reduced capital outlay and tighter control over operating expenses. All of this has occurred whilst globalisation has created the need for even greater communication with disparate employees, customers, business partners, and suppliers. And let’s not forget the need to consider the environment by reducing the organisation’s carbon footprint. Surely, part of the answer must be videoconferencing (VC)?
The trouble is that nothing much has changed in VC since it became a commercial reality about 20 years ago. Granted, the quality of the image has improved and High Definition (HD) is now available from most vendors – but at a price. One of the problems is that the hardware and software components for VC have been sophisticated, innovative and expensive technology. Funnily enough, vendors all maintain that the benefits of ‘VC Standards’ need to be strictly adhered to, in order to maintain compatibility.
However, ask the IT people responsible for setting up and managing a VC installation about the reality and you may hear something very technical like this: “Firmware and equipment revision level incompatibilities, standards between manufacturers, bit rate differences, interconnectivity between gateways, bridges and MCUs, etc – you really have to have someone to manage and set up each call to make it all work together.”
If a dedicated VC room is required, it will need to be designed and decorated to take into account lighting, heating, air-conditioning, acoustics and other physical factors as well as the actual room size and shape. Once operational, a room-based system will usually have to be pre-booked and managed and is often viewed as a tool for senior management only. When Telepresence comes into the equation, the cost multiplies – often five or tenfold. Nevertheless, senior executives tend to like the “immersive experience” and therefore the ROI is plain to see.
Putting it into perspective
The simple objective of VC is the process of having a real-time conversation with people in one or more locations – with all parties seeing and hearing each other. Let’s face it, without video there would be little to differentiate it from a teleconference. In terms of technology, all that’s needed is a good quality audio and video source (if it’s HD all the better), an audio system and “display device” in order to hear and see the other parties and finally, a transmission medium.
Traditional, hardware-based VC end-points consist of a display hooked up to a Codec box. The camera is either built into the Codec or can be a stand-alone device. Advancements in PC computing power, microprocessor architecture and compression technology have effectively made the proprietary Codec box obsolete. Technological advances means that an off-the-shelf PC can outperform a video Codec whist simultaneously delivering applications that greatly enhance the VC experience. A good analogy is to compare a dedicated word-processor machine (remember Wang?) with today’s software equivalent (Microsoft Word?).
The good news is that “audio and video” is just a peripheral. Whether it’s a webcam and headset or a full audio conferencing setup with a dedicated, motorised, Pan-Tilt-Zoom (PTZ) HD camera – it is still just a peripheral to the PC-based software application. Desktop HD web-cameras, i.e. 720p at 30fps, are available for €50 and an echo cancelling, desktop speakerphone for €200. Mixing and matching boardroom, desktop and mobile users is a true reality. It is as easy as navigating to a web site and clicking “Join Conference” – despite what the hardware manufacturers might tell you about the need for MCUs, gateways, Codecs, etc. What else would you expect?
When VC was first introduced it used expensive ISDN telephone lines thus specific infrastructure hardware devices were needed. It is mostly IP enabled now and of course the biggest IP network is the Internet. In the last decade alone, internet bandwidth has increased out of all recognition and there are billions of dollars worth of switches, routers and gateways already deployed and it is constantly being improved.
The modern-day equivalent
It comes as no surprise that desktop conferencing has consequently come of age. The technology has been around since the late ‘90s but is too often confused with webinars, webcasts or webmeetings, etc. Most of these applications are little more than screen sharing – allowing participants to see what a presenter has open on his/her desktop. Thus it’s extremely important to differentiate those applications or services that include live video from those that simply don’t. A pair of human eyes can do more image processing than all the supercomputers in the world. Vision is no longer just a sense it’s more of an intelligence.
Video collaboration is changing from a product (hardware) industry to a solution (software & services) industry. All too often, Web based VC is dismissed because of the perception created by applications such as Skype, MSN and Yahoo, etc. Most of these applications are adequate for personal use and one-to-one meetings but not robust enough for the corporate environment.
One application that has addressed the need for scalable desktop VC is Nefsis, from WiredRed. Nefsis is the first web and video conferencing solution that utilises a true Cloud Computing architecture. Some products claiming to be a ‘cloud’ are really just a large centralised data centre supplying Software as a Service (SaaS) without any of the benefits of cloud-based service distribution. Simply making the server component (of a client/server application) accessible via the public internet, does not qualify as cloud computing.
Cloud computing meets parallel processing technology
A true cloud computing architecture offloads and distributes the experience across the internet. Nefsis does this by using a massive network of distributed computer clusters to ensure the highest quality VC experience, transparently minimising latency while delivering the benefits of load-balancing, failover, and scalability. All connections are made through the corporate firewall, using secure encrypted transmission protocols.
The load-balanced Nefsis server cloud optimises performance by selecting the best near-by server, and continuously balancing available CPU power, bandwidth consumption and video quality, even on shared internet connections. With high-capacity, corporate internet access, HD VC is readily available at the click of a mouse and there’s no need for hardware upgrades.
Today’s computers have multiple processor cores but most conferencing applications were designed to use only a single core. Nefsis is also the first multipoint VC software application designed from the start as a completely parallel processing application. This is how Nefsis rivals the most expensive telepresence systems available today. However, it accomplishes all of this in a software application that can easily be upgraded and improved without the cost of replacing expensive, single-use equipment. The benefit to users is that the technology is transparent – it is as easy to use as Microsoft Office.
For an enterprise-wide Nefsis roll-out it is a simple process of providing the relevant users with an account. This gives them access to the organisation’s or department’s concurrent user license. Total deployment time can be less than one hour and there’s no longer a need to travel to a dedicated conference room. The cost of deploying Nefsis is typically less than 25 percent of a traditional hardware based VC solution. With an intuitive user interface, minimum IT overhead and a significant cost saving compared to hardware based VC, every cloud has a silver lining.
For further information Tel: +44 (0)1243 816 800 or visit www.wiredred.co.uk