Author Archives: Adam Kaiser

If there is one feature in the world of video conferencing technology that has undergone the most improvement over the years, it is the quality of video itself. We have gone from lower resolution images to life-like high definition and immersive telepresence experiences. It is fair to say that when properly configured with the right amount of bandwidth, the quality of video conferencing today is pretty amazing.

What continues to be more challenging is the reach of video conferencing and more specifically, the ability to easily connect to anyone you want. The term B2B refers to video calling between different organizations, but this can include individuals as well.

If you think about your cell phone, you dial the number of anyone you want to reach and simply connect. Unfortunately, video conferencing has not made it to that level of ease and connectivity. But why? Here are some of the hurdles holding video back from achieving total reach, and some solutions.

Network
To achieve the highest level of video conferencing quality, many organizations choose to implement a private network dedicated to video conferencing. The advantage of this is that video is separate from the rest of the organization’s network traffic, ensuring the highest level of picture and sound quality. In addition, many organizations will place their immersive telepresence systems on a network exchange from a telecom or other cloud services provider which provides connectivity to others on the same exchange. Again, the highest level of video and audio quality is available, but the challenge with this setup is that users can typically only talk to other video and telepresence systems on the same network. So if you are on a private network of your own and a partner organization is on a different telecom network exchange, you’re out of luck!

Security
This could be placed under the network category, but security is also a major factor preventing true B2B calling. For organizations that implement video conferencing, firewalls are incredibly important for protecting internal applications and data. Firewalls, however, can cause major issues with video conferencing. Fortunately, the technology offered from many of the video conferencing manufacturers provides the ability to get around this roadblock. Products that enable firewall traversal have made B2B video a little easier to achieve, assuming your network has connections to the public internet.

Mobility
With the introduction of camera equipped mobile devices such as tablets and smartphones, video conferencing has an entirely new audience. The problem that presents itself is the ability to get these mobile users connected in a standard B2B conference. With so many users taking advantage of these devices, it is incredibly important to make these connections possible. Fortunately, a number of cloud services have been brought to market to address this issue.

Process & Expertise
Perhaps even more challenging than the technology and network issues of B2B video conferencing are the issues of process and expertise. Even if networks are able to connect to one another and firewalls are properly configured, there are still challenges on how to physically dial another system, how to ensure audio and video flow seamlessly, and how to bring mobile devices into the loop. On top of all of these challenges, how do you determine who is on what exchange, who you need to talk to for support on connecting those exchanges, and how do you make sure your iPad is connected as well? Organizations must build processes and have the expertise to execute on these challenges. This can be built internally or outsourced to a managed service provider.

There are many challenges to B2B calling, but the technology is constantly evolving and there is hardly a day without a new announcement bringing new innovation to connecting disparate technology and networks. With the pace of this change it’s only a matter of time before true B2B video calling is ubiquitous.

 

As more and more business move their primary IT and other functions to the cloud there is one issue that is always present; security. It is similar to the early days of online shopping and banking when many consumers were concerned that anyone could gain access to their credit card number or bank account information. But, over the years we have learned that while online banking and shopping is not 100% bullet-proof (frankly nothing really is); it really is quite secure.

With the move to the cloud, security is an ever-present topic for conversation, and it should be. There is a certain leap of faith that occurs when an organization moves a system or function off their premise or control to someone else’s data center and custody. Recently, however, there was a report issued that sent a pretty strong message surrounding the cloud and security.

On May 15th, the White House’s National Security Telecommunications Advisory Committee (NSTAC) issued a report on cloud computing to the president. The main topic of discussion was should the government consider moving vital systems to the cloud and what are the implications for areas such as national security (NS) and emergency preparedness (EP)?

The report weighs in at over 100 pages but the overall message direct from the report’s executive summary says “Conceivably any NS/EP process, including the most sensitive matters, could be moved to “some kind of” cloud, given proper attention to architectural and security decisions. The key qualifier in this judgment relates to the choice of deployment and service model, each seen in the context of the specific mission to be migrated.”

Additionally, the report adds, “At the highest level of summarization, the NSTAC’s response is that if and when cloud computing can demonstrate a regime of policy, legal authority, security, and oversight that is comparably rigorous, complete, and trustworthy relative to those currently in place for NS/EP activities via legacy means, then the response is “yes.” In so doing, efforts must focus on implementing recommendations designed to permit cloud computing to operate at that level in regard to NS/EP.”

As one reads through the report it becomes quite clear that the government is taking the cloud seriously and sees its application for redundancy, disaster recovery, and flexibility as its key strengths. One could simply stop there and say, if it’s good enough for the government, it’s good enough for me! Clearly that is not a strategy that any organization will find acceptable for vetting their system security in the cloud.

Let’s take a look at video conferencing and visual collaboration. What are the areas of concern and security implications for these systems?

  1. Network – a major concern for any network administrator is a hacker or other outside influence gaining access to a private network. With infrastructure and other technology in the cloud, secure VPNs and other connections may be established, virtually linking your locations with the cloud data center. To ensure that there are no intrusions, proper firewalls must be in place and security policies must exist that prevent the exposure of IP addresses and other network information.
  2. The Room – there have been more stories about conference rooms being hacked. This was accomplished by gaining access to room IP addresses in addition to the auto answer feature being enabled on individual conferencing systems. When hosted in the cloud, the network measures mentioned above can help to reduce or likely eliminate any security threats to the room.
  3. Infrastructure – Organizations want to ensure that outsiders can’t simply gain access and start using ports for their own nefarious reasons, especially with a bridge. A strict policy of IP address security, conference pins, and authentication can ensure that bridges are locked down and only used for the purpose that they were intended for.

Visual collaboration is only one of thousands of functions that can be moved to the cloud. With the government looking so closely at the cloud, it makes sense to examine your organization’s systems in the same way the White House did. When taking all of these considerations into account you can feel confident that your cloud hosted system is secure and will perform to the highest standards possible.

Additional Resources:

Big Brother Can’t Watch You in the Cloud
NSTAC Report to the President on Cloud Computing

Where Do I Start with a Mobile Video Strategy?

July 24th, 2012 | Posted by Adam Kaiser in Video Conferencing - (0 Comments)

With the advent of smartphones, tablets, and other consumer devices, employers are now dealing with a high demand from employees to not only allow BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) but also to provide the tools and support needed to integrate these devices into new and existing business technologies.

One major area of interest is mobile video conferencing. Due to the many options available, it is important to define a clear strategy to ultimately drive usage and adoptions. While there are many areas of the business to consider, here are five key ones to begin with when defining your strategy.

What’s the end game?
It is important to understand what the goals of implementing mobile video are. Is it about connecting remote teams no matter where they are located? Is there a travel expense reduction component to it? Or, is it providing visual feedback to manufacturing floors and production plans? No matter what the goals are, it is important, as Stephen Covey would say, to “begin with the end in mind.”

Usage & Adoption
The worst thing that could happen to a mobile video strategy is that time and monetary investments are made, but no one uses the technology. It is imperative to consider the end user experience from initial setup to day-to-day usage. Any mobile strategy should include a comprehensive usage and adoption program that focuses on internal communications, training, on-going awareness, and user feedback.

Technology Management
Do not underestimate the task of managing the technology (mobile devices) and any infrastructure involved. Depending upon your environment, servers may require software updates, user devices may require software and security tweaks, and remote networks may need to be configured properly. As part of the strategy, ensure there is a clearly defined technology plan that takes all of these areas into account. Without this, the technology could fail and create end user disappointment and negative sentiment towards mobile video.

Extending Existing Services
If your organization already uses video conferencing in boardrooms and/or desktops, it’s important to ensure the mobile technology can integrate seamlessly. This should not be an issue if you plan on using tablet and smartphone applications from the major video conferencing manufacturers. However, if part of the plan calls for the integration of consumer video applications such as Skype or Google Video Chat, additional services and processes will be needed to bridge the gap between professional and free applications.

User Base
Another key decision will be who do you want to give mobile video access to? Organizations with a BYOD approach may think that since users are providing the technology, they might as well extend mobile video to everyone.  However, while ubiquitous video can only help to increase collaboration and efficiency in an organization, managing it can be a huge undertaking. If your plan is to provide the service to all, begin with a small key user group who can test and help work out the bugs. Those users can then be empowered to train other users within the organization. This “train the trainer” approach saves time by pushing training out faster, as well as, saves the cost of involving the technology group in training every person within the organization.

Mobile video conferencing has improved the way people can work. When heading down a path of implementation, make sure you create a comprehensive plan that examines all areas of your business and what will be needed for success. If the proper planning is done the roll-out will be easier and your user base will be happily engaged!

“Last year was the worst year we’ve had in the history of disasters.” – Al Berman, Disaster Recovery Institute.

That sounds pretty ominous, but what exactly does it mean?

Organizations have been facing costly downtime and the frustrating task of getting systems back online and operations up and running in the aftermath of earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes and more. A disaster can be as simple as a single building power failure or severe and horrific as the Japanese tsunami. Even if the event is isolated, the after effects can permeate throughout an organization, especially if employees are dispersed and required to collaborate remotely.

What’s alarming though is that countless organizations do not have a business continuity plan in place. These plans outline the processes and procedures needed to react quickly in situations and limit the amount of disaster recovery efforts needed in the aftermath.

So what is the best way to go about preparing for a disaster?

Redundancy is Key
A business continuity plan must be defined and agreed upon by all stakeholders and have well-defined IT strategy that includes redundant systems housed in multiple locations. If the organization relies on cloud hosting providers, ensure those data centers are geographically dispersed. For example, if your host is 10 miles up the road and the entire region is hit by a massive hurricane, the redundancy of the cloud will be null and void.

Enable Collaboration
Communication is perhaps the highest priority during disaster situations; therefore, any plan should include how to maintain contact with all employees. Unified communications technology plays a critical role as it keeps employees connected throughout day-to-day operations. In addition, these systems are essential to keeping the lines of communication open during a crisis. It’s far better to have employees doing their jobs during these times than spending the time trying to figure out how to do their jobs.

Harness the Power of Video
Most organizations know the power of video conferencing along with its application during normal business operations. However, video becomes even more powerful in times of duress. It can enable face-to-face collaboration in situations where people cannot meet due to crisis circumstances, such as the volcanic eruption in Iceland that stalled air travel. Keeping people connected and communicating face-to-face will facilitate better operations in addition to relieving some of the stress of the situation.

Don’t Forget the Customer
As always, the customer is paramount. An organization can do a great job keeping the business running but if they forget about the customer their efforts may be useless. Most customers will be sensitive to the situation but they are still going to expect to be served. When defining a continuity plan ensure customer communications and service are a top priority. If customers are communicating to the organization primarily via voice, the phone system must have multiple redundancies. Also, it is critical to be able to redirect voice traffic when employees can’t make it to the office.

With a well-defined business continuity plan in place, organizations can continue to function at the highest level possible while still serving their customers. A plan that takes internal and external communication and collaboration into account will not only benefit the organization but also its employees, customers and ultimately its well-being.

The video conferencing industry is changing faster than anyone can keep up with. The technological innovations are staggering and many have led to greater reach and lower cost, higher quality video solutions.

One of the latest trends emerging is video conferencing directly within the web browser.  HTML 5 and a new standard known as WebRTC are making many of these solutions possible. WebRTC allows browsers to facilitate real-time communication; including voice, video, and point-to-point file sharing. This new technology will soon be standard in all popular browsers.

This standard is still in a “draft” format from the Web Standards Body but many of the applications that have experimented with it have been quite impressive. Small software companies to major manufacturers of hardware based video conferencing systems have been working with web clients for some time. The advantages of this approach are:

  1. Users can be connected to a video meeting with little to no download and setup time. Currently WebRTC is not finalized so small plugins must be downloaded the first time a user enters a video meeting. In the near future this should be eliminated and the browser will be able to launch directly into the video call.
  2. Beyond a web camera, there are no hardware requirements to participate in a video meeting.
  3. Browsers exist on devices beyond PCs; mobile devices, televisions, tablets, and more. Soon these devices will be video conferencing ready out of the box without any configuration.

There have been a number of announcements that have centered on video conferencing in the web browser including:

Blue Jeans:  This service has bridged the gap between consumer and professional video conferencing offering “meet-me” rooms in the cloud that allow users of pretty much any traditional VC system  to connect with users on Skype, Google Video Chat and Microsoft Lync. Last month, Blue Jeans added a browser-based option to their service. When a user receives an invite to a Blue Jeans meeting, they can click a link and attend via their web browser.

Polycom:  Last year Polycom acquired ViVu, a small organization that had been offering “embeddable” video conferencing into web applications. This week Polycom announced the first initiative based on that acquisition. HP is now shipping a Polycom HD video application with their new web cams. The app makes it easy for users to connect, via video, to any of their contact lists from Facebook, Skype, Google, etc. When a user invites a contact, the receipt simply clicks a link and is immediately launched in a web based video call.

Cisco: A few weeks ago Cisco announced some significant updates to their Quad social portal. The newly branded Cisco Webex Social features integrated video calling that all happens in the browser.

There are sure to be many more announcements and releases around web-based video conferencing. Its impact on the industry remains to be seen, but it is sure to be significant and will only make video even more accessible for everyone.