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3 Ways to Think About WebRTC & Enterprise Video

One of the great promises of WebRTC in the enterprise is the ability to give users a way to establish video calls with external colleagues on the fly, regardless of what sits at the other end of the line, so to speak. Today, however, WebRTC holds little advantage over traditional enterprise video solutions in providing that desired confidence in connectivity.

That's the assessment of Bill Haskins, an analyst with Wainhouse Research, who I talked to recently about the promise of WebRTC for enterprise video. WebRTC might be a hot topic of conversation, but it really doesn't matter to video users at this point, he said.

"If I invite you to a video call, you're not going to say, 'Well, I'm sorry Bill, but I'd really rather be using WebRTC for this.' You don't care. You just want to see me -- and the standard solutions do that today as confidently as the WebRTC solutions."

That said, enterprises still have reason to consider WebRTC for video, Haskins told me. He offers up three ways for them to think about the technology.

1. WebRTC As Value-Add
The first consideration for enterprise IT is whether a WebRTC solution would add value to an existing video experience, whatever the preferred environment. Consider a user in a Lync shop, for example, who works regularly with a partner usingCisco Jabber.

"Microsoft certainly is not throwing WebRTC into Lync 2013 or even Skype for Business necessarily, so there's nothing within Lync that makes WebRTC worth talking about,” Haskins said. “However, there are a few solutions that are leveraging WebRTC to be able to bridge that gap."

NextPlane, for example, offers a clearinghouse of sorts meant to bring these disparate UC worlds together. It leverages WebRTC to create a gateway between those two users, although not necessarily between the Lync and Jabber clients. "It can take a Lync video stream, convert it to WebRTC, and allow a third party with a WebRTC-compliant browser, that's the other side, to be able to participate in video there," he described.

“Such gateway functionality is having a bit of enterprise impact, with some users today able to get value out of establishing video with people outside their cloud," Haskins said.

2. Enterprise-Ready WebRTC
A number of companies are using components of WebRTC to create cost-effective, typically cloud-based, and often mobile-centric UC kind of services that include video. In a typical scenario, the vendor uses the codec -- "the guts of WebRTC" -- in its own client rather than in a browser.

By incorporating the WebRTC codec into a native client, a company benefits from easy and cost-effective development, Haskins said. "And, if I start using parts of WebRTC in my native application, I'm then confident that as the browser matures and we see more ubiquitous support, I can easily take this solution without additional development and just start plopping it into a browser frame."

Consider Cisco's Project Squared enterprise collaboration app, for example. "When it comes right down to it, guess what, Project Squared is WebRTC" despite all the H.264 Cisco has out there, Haskins said. "Talk about a pretty dramatic tealeaf!"

Clearly Project Squared, introduced in November 2014, isn't yet widely adopted. "But it's there. It's using WebRTC, browser only. And there are limitations to it, but at the same time that group chose to go with the fluid, agile development process that WebRTC supports very well."

3. Crowdsourced Development
"What's super interesting to me is that WebRTC opens the door to the broader dev community," Haskins said.

A growing number of developers are playing around with WebRTC for video, since they can confidently develop on top of the WebRTC stack at no cost. Recounting a recent experience he had judging a Tata WebRTC hackathon, Haskins said: "It was awesome -- seeing these 20-year-old college kids staying up all night to video-enable anything."

This is the kind of development that can happen because developers only need to have Java and HTML skills rather than more complex programming expertise -- and that makes development activities an inexpensive proposition. These factor change the game considerably.

"Our enterprise video experience has been on a track dictated by a short list of vendors," Haskins said. "I think WebRTC is something that opens the door to a much broader group of developers that do things that that traditional group just doesn’t think of -- that's where we'll see the disruption."

Haskins will share more insight on video enterprise and WebRTC at Enterprise Connect 2015, taking place March 16 to 19 in Orlando, during a session he's moderating: "WebRTC for Enterprise Video: Does It Really Matter?"

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