As cloud computing and cloud based services continue their meteoric rise to the top of IT strategies everywhere, an interesting convergence of these new technologies with video conferencing is occurring. Over the last few years countless services and organizations have focused on providing computing power in the cloud. Several of these services have achieved notoriety including Amazon’s Web Services and Microsoft’s Azure.

The previous model for hosting computing power was to enable users to “rent” a server in a provider’s data center or to buy shared space on an existing machine. Web hosting and other hosting services used this model for several years. However, with the advent of virtualization (the ability to simulate multiple servers on one server with software) the model is rapidly changing. Hosting providers are now offering users the ability to launch server instances at will and pay only for the time in which that instance is used.

This new model is significant for several reasons. First, it essentially allows an organization to only pay for what they use; as opposed to absorbing the full expense of servers that might not be fully utilized. Second, the ability to quickly scale and add on additional server resources has gone from a multiple day or week process to a simple software setup that can happen in minutes.

This “elastic” server model allows for infinite scalability at a fraction of the cost and resources required. Additionally, many of these cloud computing providers offer a simple web-based interface to easily monitor and manage all of a customer’s server instances.

So what does all of this mean for video conferencing? With the continued shift of video conferencing infrastructure and services from hardware based appliances to software applications that run on standard servers, a whole new world is opening to video.

Previously, when an organization required additional “ports” to bridge large groups of callers, a significant hardware purchase would be required and the device installed into current infrastructure. Now, as more and more software based products become available, it will be as simple as purchasing a software license and simply adding additional cloud computing power. Even better, when these additional licenses are not in use, there will be no need to pay for the additional server power.

In the last few months several products have been announced that will be able to take advantage of this new model of deployment. Polycom announced its RealPresence ® Collaboration Server 800s, Virtual Edition. This software based bridge (or MCU) will be compatible with virtualized platforms and allow organizations to quickly and easily deploy and scale implementations.

Another notable product launch from last year was Vidyo’s VidyoRouter Virtual Edition. Vidyo is an entirely software based video conferencing platform that runs on standard servers. This new virtualized edition allows for deployment on elastic cloud services like those mentioned above.

As the power of the cloud continues to grow and be leveraged in new and exciting ways, video conferencing will benefit and become more agile for both deployment and management. The growth of elastic cloud services and the move to video conferencing to software based platforms is perfectly aligned to create new and exciting offerings for organizations of any size.

In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, now dubbed Superstorm Sandy, many organizations are taking a second look at their business continuity plan. This storm knocked out power to over 90% of Long Island and all of lower Manhattan leaving many businesses vulnerable. New York is a major hub, as well as a headquarters for many corporations so losing power for an extended period of time can have drastic effects throughout an entire corporation.

For example, if an organization’s video conferencing and unified communications infrastructure was hosted at a site with zero power, the entire organization would have been unable to use the tools. In New York, contingency plans failed as backup generators were destroyed due to unprecedented flooding; plus a gas shortage left many without the fuel necessary to run their generators.

The results can be damaging for any organization. While customers in the surrounding area will be more than sympathetic, customers located thousands of miles away may not be as understanding. Why should a natural disaster in New York affect customer service in California or Tokyo? Therefore, it extremely important to have multiple layers of redundancy built in to an organization’s platform.

With our headquarters on Long Island, IVCi faced several challenges from flooding and impassable roads to neighborhood destruction and more downed power lines than one should ever see. However, multiple contingency plans prevented our Managed Video Experience (MVE) customers from missing a single meeting. Temporary operations centers were set up and customers were able to communicate with our MVE team via public IM or an alternate telephone number until power was restored to our headquarters location.

Cloud services provide an additional layer of security as infrastructure is typically hosted in multiple state-of-the-art data centers in multiple locations. If one data center goes down, there are still several others to handle the load of video meetings. IVCi hosts the infrastructure for MVE across the country and the world. Data centers are designed to withstand storms and power outages like those presented with Sandy. As a result of this, IVCi was able to immediately move into redundancy mode and continue to serve our customers.

Additionally, the MVE team proactively reached out to sites that were located in the North East and offered free use of our Mobility Experience which allowed individuals affected by a loss of power to connect to a video conference via their smartphone or tablet. As a result, every single meeting scheduled since Sandy terrorized our town continued as originally planned.

If your organization was in the path of Sandy, did your video conferencing go down? Were you able to continue business operations despite the storm? Bottom line, IVCi’s MVE provides a consistent, uninterrupted experience. Video conferencing has become a mission critical application within organizations and cloud services can ensure continuity no matter what the circumstances may be.

Today at the Visual Communications Industry Group Annual Expo, IVCi unveiled its comprehensive suite of distance learning solutions. Combining the best of Audio Visual Integration, Video Conferencing, and cloud services, these solutions enable educational institutions to extend the reach of education far outside of the classroom. IVCi is exhibiting at booth #201. If you are out at the show, come by and take a look! We are also showcasing our new UC Room solution.

Additional Resources:

IVCi Distance Learning Solutions Press Release

UC Group Systems

 

Everywhere you look there are analysts, pundits, and pretty much anyone you can think of that are saying video conferencing has hit its stride and adoption is growing exponentially. While this is true in many cases, there are still some common misconceptions that seem to be getting in the way of true ubiquity. Let’s take a look at five of them:

Myth #1: Video conferencing is too costly for small to medium businesses.

Reality: While this was once the case, the cost of video conferencing has dropped significantly. Most of the major manufacturers of enterprise video have brought lower cost solutions to market, along with some creative bundling. The line between business and consumer technology has blurred and it is now possible to use video conferencing for almost no upfront investment. While the quality of these free solutions may not match those of a fully realized business system, it’s a way to get started.

Myth #2: It is difficult to connect consumer video (Skype/Google Video Chat) to business solutions (Cisco/Polycom/Lifesize).

Reality: A number of services and technologies have come to market that completely break down the barriers of video conferencing interoperability. When you are on an audio call, you don’t think about how people are connected. Is George on a cell phone with AT&T? Is Bob on his landline with service from Verizon? The technology simply works with any phone or service; as is the case with these new video services. Users can connect with the chosen platform and the service solves potential interoperability in the cloud. The result is each participant seeing everyone else, regardless of how they got there.

Myth #3: Video conferencing is too complicated for a non-technical person to use.

Reality: Video conferencing technology has gotten easier and easier to use. Connect to a colleague can be very straight forward thanks to streamlined interfaces and automation. It can get a bit more complicated when trying to connect large groups or people across different networks, but there are video management services available that can handle everything allowing end users to focus solely on the meeting at hand.

Myth #4: You need a dedicated video network.

Reality: If you are using an immersive telepresence system, you will most likely need dedicated network for the highest quality; however, many HD video calls are carried out over the public internet. With bandwidth becoming cheaper, faster, and more reliable, public internet calls are now more successful than ever.  Unfortunately, it is impossible to predict outages and other traffic that could interrupt your video call, so if quality is mission critical, dedicated networks still offer a great solution.

Myth #5: Video conferencing is not secure.

Reality: Recent news stories have painted video conferencing technology in a negative light from a security standpoint but the reality is video can be incredibly secure. As long as systems are properly configured and restricted, they will not automatically let anyone in to a boardroom. In addition, many available cloud services provide an extra level of protection through additional encryption and randomized meeting ids.

There are many more myths than can be debunked about video conferencing but the ones above are some of the most common. As with anything, it is important to do the research and understand all of the ins and outs of the technology. Talk to you trusted technology advisors to get the real facts!

In a recent InfoWorld article, Adopt the Cloud Kill Your IT Career, Paul Vezina makes a handful of arguments. General ideas include adopting the cloud leads to integration issues, causes security concerns and most importantly, leaves organizations susceptible to a monstrous disaster that is waiting in the wings. While some of these arguments hold true in certain situations, many do not apply for visual collaboration and unified communications technologies.

More often than not, integrating the cloud does not produce more problems than it solves. As with anything, a lack of experience or expertise can cause major problems and organizations should do their research when selecting a cloud service provider. While there certainly may be cloud providers that do not have high levels of expertise, many distinguished service providers have highly trained, expertly certified engineering teams.

Of course, this does not lead to infallibility as there are always different challenges or unexpected events that can occur during implementation. It is like completely overhauling your bathroom or kitchen, you never know what to expect until you get behind the walls. However, the chances of a major integration issue, extended downtime or complete disaster is far less when left to specialized professionals.

The experience and expertise distinguished cloud service providers have obtained allows them to not only resolve potential issues quickly, but proactively address problems before they arise. Take major software revisions for example; several organizations will simply upgrade the software on their video conferencing unit or UC client not realizing the potential effects on the rest of their environment. Distinguished service provides will thoroughly test any new updates that are released to ensure compatibility and a seamless transition. Many IT departments within an organization simply do not have the time or resources to do this.

Organizations must find a balance between IT activities to keep in house and IT activities to outsource. For example, issues regarding an employee’s phone, email or computer would be handled by an in-house IT representative and not be directed to a highly specialized engineer. Similarly, point-to-point video conferencing calls can most likely be managed end users or local IT staff. However, multi-platform video bridging and firewall traversal are better left to specialized professionals because of the sheer volume of intricacies required.

Sure, there are some people who will be able to handle these situations but in the long run it’s going to pull them from other, more productive, activities. IT departments should be able to focus on what’s most important to their organization; developing and maintaining the systems to keep the operation running efficiently.

Even if an organization is budgeting video troubleshooting, management and support into their daily agenda they are pulling resources from the areas that they can have the most impact and drive the most effective outcomes.