Video Meeting Rooms for Everyone?
A question we are asking ourselves is whether VMRs will become standard issue for enterprise employees, much like "meet-me" audio conferencing rooms are becoming the norm in many organizations.
We recently had two very interesting briefings with companies that both offer services designed to help organizations take advantage of the explosion in video endpoints available as a result of software-based endpoints on PCs, tablets, and smartphones, not to mention lower-cost executive and room-based video conferencing devices. Both of these services focus on video meeting rooms (VMRs) for all, and they both allow participants to join a meeting from either inside or outside the firewall, using their choice of endpoint, from Lync, WebRTC, and Jabber, to standards-based (SIP and H.323) personal and group systems.
A question we are asking ourselves is whether video meeting rooms will become standard issue for enterprise employees, much like "meet-me" audio conferencing rooms are becoming the norm in many organizations. This topic is compelling because it may signal a change in how we perceive, and literally "view" communications.
Software-based video bridges (multipoint control units, or MCUs) have been around for a long time, but virtualized video bridges are a relatively new phenomenon. With a virtual video bridge, organizations or service providers can instantly increase capacity simply by spinning up a few virtual instances on standard hardware they already own, or through an infrastructure as a service (IaaS) provider.
However, spinning up more video meeting room capacity is only part of the story. As we have seen with PBX operational and maintenance costs, there is a lot more to running a video bridging solution than just having ports and capacity, which brings us back to the two briefings on video services.
In one briefing, Synergy Sky spoke with us about a service it offers to videoconferencing service providers that is intended to make offering video services easier. The service will interface with most video MCUs, including those from Cisco, Polycom, Lifesize, Acano, and Pexip, and it also integrates with call managers.
The beauty of this system is that it eliminates the need for the provider to have so many resources dedicated to counting minutes on different bridge types, because Synergy Sky's software does this task automatically through APIs. (In fact, the person that briefed us was once employed with a global video bridging service provider, and he said that fully 10% of that company's workforce was dedicated to counting minutes via call detail records [CDRs] from video bridges, gatekeepers, and PBXs to which the video devices were registered.)
In addition to the automated billing capability, Synergy Sky also has a "MeetingIQ" module that chooses which type of bridge a multipoint call should be hosted on. For example, if some endpoints are WebRTC-based, then Cisco and Polycom bridges are ruled out in favor of Acano and Pexip MCUs. If a Lync endpoint is part of the call, then Cisco bridges are not used. Additional services include automated provisioning of VMRs, user-friendly video-room scheduling, traffic monitoring, and customizable reporting.
The second video service we were briefed about is offered by Interoute, a Pan-European service provider with 10 data centers across Europe, the USA, the Middle East, and the Far East. Interoute's service is focused on the concept of video meeting rooms for everyone. Interoute provides the video bridges and a portal where end user customers can easily provision their own video meeting rooms, see the status of their service, and check their usage. Interoute's offering for enterprises was impressive.
Figure 1. A briefing using Interoute's OneBridge video meeting room service. Three different endpoint types are in this meeting: Microsoft Lync, WebRTC, and a SIP-based group video system.
What made this service so compelling for us is that we were all connecting from different locations, using different endpoint types, on different networks, and it worked perfectly. Even the screen sharing was flawless across devices.
With Interoute's service, everyone has their own VMR, with the company's OneBridge platform providing the integration point between the "inside and the outside world". Using this system, people do not need to schedule meetings in advance--although they may do so--and there is no limit to the number of participants per meeting. This particular service is sold by the port, and ports can be easily added through virtual machine additions.
"In the cloud" video meetings as a service has been popularized by Blue Jeans Network and by VidTel (now owned by Fidelity). Google Hangouts has promoted free video, provided you are using Google's software with your Google account. Skype has recently bent to market pressure and is now offering free multipoint video meetings for Skype users as well.
We believe that the pervasiveness of personal video through WebRTC and to a lesser extent, Lync, will make video meeting rooms an important element of a knowledge and/or information worker's persona in the future. Our phone number is a sort of one-to-one meeting room; audio conferencing "meet-me" numbers bring users to a multipoint audio meeting room. Interoute is upping the interaction level through video meeting rooms, giving users unique video-room numbers.
Interoute's employee business cards are starting to list these numbers, and the executives we spoke to reported numerous incoming video meeting requests from people both within and outside of the company. This is a trend to watch in the future.
Pricing for VMRs is not cheap, but in time, as the number of VMRs in use takes off, we expect pricing to fall, just as it has with mobile phone minutes and audio conferencing minutes. We also expect more and more service providers to offer VMR services as the costs and complexity of providing them declines. We will continue to monitor and report on these changes as they unfold.
Matt Krebs is a research analyst at KelCor, Inc. focused on human/technology interaction. His primary interest is in technological innovation, both hardware and software, and the emergent technosocial systems and possibilities that attend innovation.
Dr. Brent Kelly is President of KelCor, Inc. and a Telecommunications Council Member (consultant) at Gerson Lehrman Group. He focuses on the unique intersection of unified communications, social business, cloud services, video and mobility.