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.

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.