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Blue Jeans Network Talks Enterprise Focus

Blue Jeans Network debuted three years ago as an innovative cloud-based video service provider whose goal was to provide a gateway service to connect unlike, otherwise-incompatible endpoints--initially making its name as a Skype-to-anybody service. But as the company has matured, it's making its bid to get into the heart of the enterprise's architecture for video communications.

I chatted yesterday with Blue Jeans co-founder and CEO Krish Ramakrishnan, who told me his company is making significant headway toward this goal; most notably, he said Blue Jeans has deployments within Fortune 500 companies and is running pilots with five Wall Street banks--the latter being particularly significant because of the financial industry's stringent security and policy requirements.

Several factors are driving adoption of Blue Jeans' service, according to Krish Ramakrishnan. These factors include the need to incorporate mobile users into enterprise video conferences; a desire on the part of the aforementioned banks to offer premium B2C video services; and last but certainly not least, the widespread adoption of Microsoft Lync, supplemented by a stronger-than-expected uptake on Cisco's Jabber UC client.

Mobility is one of the hottest trends in video generally, and Blue Jeans is seeing its most common video conference scenario being one where there's a mix of endpoints--one HD video-enabled room system, linking to a mobile, a desktop, and a telephony-only endpoint, for example.

In the financial scenario, banks have come a long way from the days when they tried to get retail customers to use standalone video kiosks in branches to talk with loan officers on refi's (an area where, admittedly, demand isn't what it used to be). Instead, Krish said the application his Wall Street customers are looking at is a service in which brokers and high-end customers dial into a meet-me video conference bridge in Blue Jeans' cloud.

This is a higher-touch service that the bank limits to its wealthier customers, but those customers can still use whatever video client they may have--or none at all, opting instead to use a Web portal. This avoids having to let the customer into the enterprise network--“Enterprises don’t want the consumer data traffic to come into the enterprise," Krish noted.

Lync as a driver is, of course, a B2B scenario, one in which Blue Jeans is serving as a federation gateway service, linking intra-enterprise users in companies that have heterogeneous communications networks--a Cisco Jabber user or a telepresence room in one location can do a video conference with a user who's recently been given Lync. This scenario is aimed at the enterprise that needs to let thousands of endpoints communicate via video.

I asked Krish if he feared that the prospective tightening of the integration between Lync and Skype would cut down on the value of Blue Jeans' federation role. He said he's not particularly worried, making the analogy that companies still use public conferencing services even though internal audio bridges have become more popular, and saying there'll always be users outside the enterprise who may be on Skype but may not want to federate with another enterprise's Lync user--or the Lync user may not even be aware that the other party is reachable via Skype.

But it isn't just Microsoft. Krish said, "there has been a surprising Jabber uptake, [and we] can connect Microsoft Lync to Jabber.” And even as companies roll out Lync, their rooms are likely to remain Cisco/Tandberg-based (if they're not Polycom).

The other endpoint option that's likely to be more popular is the Web browser. Once the WebRTC standard matures and becomes adopted in more browsers, it'll be a natural fit for a service like this. Krish Ramakrishnan said that Blue Jeans is implementing WebRTC functionality, but given the early days for the standard, is using a plugin to enable all major browsers (except Opera) for its service today.

When Blue Jeans started out, they were almost seen as a kind of one-off opportunity for power users (see this post by Matt Brunk). Now they're going straight for the IT decision-makers and presenting the case for a cloud-based video MCU to tie together heterogeneous environments. “We fully embrace enterprise directors and CIOs," Krish said. "We want them to be the heroes.

"We tell them, this will enable your workforce to connect to other businesses and so on. So the sales model is to talk to CIOs—that’s been very successful for us.” Letting more endpoints talk to each other means higher utilization for room systems, which is why Blue Jeans is complementary to the hardware vendors like Cisco and Polycom, according to Ramakrishnan.

Of course, for a service to pass muster in the enterprise, it has to meet high security and performance standards, and Ramakrishnan said Blue Jeans offers a “high touch service” in which the company works with enterprise IT to open up firewalls, program NAT devices, do test calls, ensure video conferencing is encrypted, and so on.

The service takes about 2 months to pilot, Krish said. A 6-month pilot and trial can cost $50,000, with flat-rate pricing put in place for usage once the service is rolled out, he added.

Across the industry, federation for UC services including video and presence has been a tough nut to crack. DIY interoperation is arduous for an enterprise to implement--trying to weave your own mesh of interoperability out of a series of 1:1 interoperation arrangements among 2, 3, or half a dozen key vendor systems within your network. Cloud-based services like Blue Jeans offer the prospect of a shortcut that gets end users chatting regardless of how they connect to the network.

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