When it comes to understanding how collaboration services are delivered, there is much discussion surrounding cloud-based options versus on-premise and everything in between. The language used to describe the design of these services can be somewhat confusing and many of the terms are often used in the wrong way to make understanding them every more challenging!

Let’s start by discussing cloud services themselves.

What is a Cloud Service?

A cloud service is basically any service or resource that is delivered via the internet or other remote network. There are several classifications of cloud services, including:

  • Software as a Service (SaaS): These services deliver software applications to customers; think Salesforce.com (Customer Relationship Management) or NetSuite (ERP software). The customer is not required to purchase hardware or servers and generally pays for access to the software based on a monthly subscription.
  • Platform as a Service (PaaS): In PaaS, operating systems and other connected services are delivered without the need to download or install components. These types of solutions include things like Windows Azure and Amazon Web Services.
  • Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS): With IaaS, service providers purchase hardware (storage, services, bridges, etc.) and allow customers to utilize portions of the hardware on a monthly or pay-per-use basis.

The interesting thing about collaboration cloud services, and specifically video collaboration, is that the solutions offered are a mix of the different models mentioned above. In some cases, a service provider will offer access to hardware video conferencing bridges (MCUs), firewall traversal devices, and more for a monthly fee. In these cases, the provider has purchased the equipment and is maintaining it for multiple customers.

Other collaboration services are purely software that is then delivered via a SaaS model. Blue Jeans Network, for example, is entirely software based and delivered to customers throughout the world via their data centers. The hardware involved is off-the-shelf Intel based servers.

What is Virtualization?

When discussing cloud services, the topic of virtualization will almost always come up. Virtualization itself is not a cloud based service. Instead, virtualization technology enables service provides to deliver cloud services.

In a virtualized model, multiple instances of operating systems can sit on one physical server. Therefore, a provider can own one large-scale, hardware based server then effectively chop the computing power up into multiple instances that can then be delivered to customers. A software application must be designed to work with these virtual instances.

The real power of virtualization, however, is the ability to easily scale up or down based upon user needs. Since hardware resources are allocated via software, it is very easy to spin-up additional physical processing power and then have it immediately add to the power of a particular instance. This can even happen automatically. If a virtualized application detects the need for additional power, it can call for additional processor power to be allocated.

How does this translate into a real world situation? If an organization is having a special video event and requires access for 20 additional users who don’t normally connect, the needed processor power can be added, the application will dynamically adjust, and the meeting can go off without a hitch. When the event is over, the added processing power can just be turned off.

Cloud services and computing are the biggest trend in technology and collaboration services. Understanding the differences in the ways the services are delivered and what technology is involved can help make the evaluation process a little bit easier.

For companies looking to dive in to this mobile video craze, having a solid plan of attack is very important. Not only will it help determine the technology requirements, it ensures a consistent user experience for all participants involved.

The first step in developing a mobile video strategy is to define the organization’s video environment. This focuses on determining the following key areas:

  • End users
  • Video devices & applications
  • Meeting types
  • Current video equipment
  • Goals & objectives

Essentially, this means organizations should outline who will be using mobile video, what devices these participants will be connecting with, what types of meetings will be conducted, and the objectives mobile video is looking to accomplish.

For example, it is essential to ensure that the mobile devices being used can integrate with any room systems or infrastructure that is currently in place. If employees plan to use consumer applications, such as Skype or Google Video, then an additional outside bridging service will be necessary to provide interoperability to standards-based systems. Determining those use cases and goals will help to define what is necessary for effective implementation.

Read Part II of Developing a Mobile Video Strategy here.

Download the worksheet below to get started with planning your mobile video strategy.

Video conferencing security continues to make news every now and then. Last year, it was HD Moore who hacked into conference rooms around the globe and this year German magazine Der Spiegel said the NSA hacked into the United Nations video conferencing system. In the wake of these events, many users of video conferencing get worried and some get downright paranoid.  However, video can be extremely secure if it is configured properly.

All standards-based video conferencing systems include 128-bit AES encryption which secures the audio and video data being sent between users. Encrypting the audio and video packets prevents hackers from seeing where the data is going or what the contents are. According to an article from the EE Times, it would take one quintillion (1018) years to crack AES encryption using a brute force attack meaning the data is highly protected.

So if AES encryption is so strong, and most video systems support it, why do there continue to be stories of systems getting hacked? Because faults in configuration create weaknesses that leave systems vulnerable to attack.

The most common, which also happen to leave systems the most vulnerable, are leaving systems outside of a company’s firewall and having systems configured to automatically answer calls. This allows virtually anyone to dial into the video conference system undetected because there is no firewall to prevent unwanted access and the only visual evidence that a call has been connected is a tiny light on the camera.

While these are the most severe configuration issues, a recent post on No Jitter mentions other common faults that can leave video systems vulnerable. These include:

  • Using outdated video systems that don’t support encryption
  • Failing to use the most current software on video systems and other devices
  • Connecting to other devices like gateways or video bridges that either don’t support or have encryption turned off
  • Failing to use proper passwords, not changing passwords often enough, or failing to keep those passwords secure

So, what can be done to help keep video conferencing environments secure?

One of the best things to do is  invest in a firewall traversal device such as a Cisco VCS Expressway or Polycom VBP. This allows devices to remain behind a firewall but retain the ability to connect to the public internet. As a result, members located on an internal company network can connect with other participants located outside the network without compromising the network’s security.

An alternative to investing in hardware is to subscribe to a cloud-based managed service. These services provide access to a team of highly trained video professionals that will ensure every call is connected in a secure manner, as well as, confirm all endpoints are configured to security standards.

Additional security options include:

  • Change encryption settings from On (If Available) to On (Required) to require encryption for every call
  • Disable auto-answer functionality
  • Disable far end camera control on the system
  • Close camera shutter when the system is not in use

As with anything, there is a balance between increased security and added functionality. Restricting access to only users located on the internal network provides the highest security but is not very functional. Leaving video systems on the public internet makes it easy to connect with users outside the network but presents numerous security and privacy risks. Every organization is different and the best video networks fall somewhere in between. The bottom line is there is a way to have a highly functional video conferencing environment while mitigating many of the risks that leave a network vulnerable.

Security Consultation

Strap on your Roominator and get ready, because now you can be in your office and running down the streets of Manhattan at the exact same time! Gone are the days of jugging work meetings with personal commitments. The Roominator, coupled with the Blue Jeans service, allows collaboration whenever, wherever, and with whichever device they please.

So say goodbye to the days of stuffy conference rooms and poor video connection. Blue Jeans provides high-quality video collaboration that expands the boundaries of video collaboration to the outdoors while the Roominator provides a business like setting to conduct your meeting. You simply set up a meeting using Blue Jeans’ web interface then can instantly connect with someone via smartphone, tablet, or laptop, from the beach, soccer practice or even the delivery room!

Need proof?  Watch the video below. I mean, its on the internet, so it has to be real! Right?

As cloud services pick up speed in the private sector, questions about security, cost savings, implementation and best-practice models have emerged in concert with its rapid growth and adoption. But are institutions of higher learning following suit? Cambridge, MA-based Forrester Consulting turned their focus on 12 universities in the U.S., the U.K., Australia, India, and New Zealand, surveying CIOs and IT directors for their July 2012 report “Cloud Bursts Into Higher Education.”

They found out how and why these schools are employing the cloud; plus they give some suggestions as to where the partnership between higher education and the cloud is headed.

So, how do schools who adopt the cloud compare with businesses?

A Forrester survey from 2011 asked 920 companies which were the most important factors in choosing to deploy SaaS. The top 4 were:

  1. Improved business agility (72%);
  2. Allows us to focus resources on more important projects (66%):
  3. Speed of implementation and deployment (64%);
  4. Faster delivery of new features and functions from SaaS/as-a-service providers (60%).*

*“Lower overall costs” actually tied for 4th place with 60%

As previously noted, Forrester found that universities were adopting cloud services to boost productivity. Plus, speed, budget and scalability were the top three features universities valued most about the cloud. When it comes to the cloud, universities are aligned very closely with businesses.

Forrester also found that cloud-forward schools have three commonalities. First, a common corporate-to-education talent migration means schools’ CIO or IT directors often have firsthand experience of successful cloud implementation, and are endeavoring to bring knowledge and practices up-to-date at their universities. Second, schools with big technology components—academic programs that need and/or can get the most use out of cloud services, like IT training, animation, and fashion—are the most enthusiastic about adopting cloud technology.

Third, U.S. schools are ahead of the pack, with, Forrester estimates, international universities lagging behind by about 12 months. Forrester cites “lack of knowledge and understanding” as the biggest barriers to cloud adoption, noting the while these universities are turning more to the cloud, they’re doing so much slower and more carefully than their U.S. counterparts.

In the future, expect to see more inter-departmental collaboration between IT and academic departments. Additionally, funding will move from IT to academic departments as those departments take on more IT autonomy, and team up on projects.

New realities are driving more direct control of technology by leaders of non-IT organizations, internal users, and customers—empowered by their own technology use. These changes herald an IT organization in which CIOs build agile and nimble teams that enable empowered employees and customers to be successful directly using technology for education.” – Head of Information Technology at a New Zealand University

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Learning the Cloud Way – Part I