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Lifesize Cloud: This Could Be A "Cloud Changer"
Lifesize, a division of Logitech, yesterday announced their new Lifesize Cloud offering, a SaaS-based, WebRTC-enabled, subscription-based video conferencing cloud offering. (Cisco also made a similar announcement this week.)
I had an opportunity to speak with Lifesize CEO Craig Malloy and CTO Casey King about this new announcement. The release, in my opinion, is significant, as it removes barriers associated with room-based videoconferencing and adds UC tools into the video conferencing suite.
Using WebRTC and Google Chrome as the default browser, I was able to log into a videoconference and have a face-to-face conversation with Craig and Casey. We were able to view his Powerpoint, see via presence how to invite others to the video conference, and converse with two additional staff members via video as well. The experience was nearly flawless with very little lag, considering I was in the field on a mobile 4G hotspot over the public Internet.
Lifesize, like other companies, is facing a challenge with sales in the video conferencing space. In my estimation, the company has responded with a strategically thought out cloud-based video conferencing solution. Some of the areas and technologies included with the Lifesize Cloud solution are:
• Any-to-any device connection (with restrictions), including laptops/desktops, tablets, videoconferencing room units, and even mobile devices. The Lifesize Cloud is optimized for an 'all Lifesize' environment, which includes additional features/functionality.
• Presence and directory services across all users on the Lifesize platform, providing an opportunity to invite users on-the-fly to a video conference
• Availability for direct dial, one-to-one, and one-to-many video conferencing sessions
• Can include up to 25 simultaneous participants
• All MCU and hardware requirements are in the cloud and included in the Lifesize offering
• Shared directory (can be pre-populated, click to call with presence status), instant and scheduled calls, single and group calls, data sharing to a group
• Designed to work across multiple OS platforms, including Windows, iOS, Android, and Mac
A Pivotal Moment For Lifesize
This is a pivotal moment in time for Lifesize, as this early adopter cloud offering should gain momentum for the company. Like other video conferencing manufacturers, Lifesize is faced with the challenge of lagging video conference sales, down by as much as 15% in the last 12 months. The new offering also fundamentally changes the Lifesize corporate model from a manufacturer of video conferencing equipment to a video conferencing provider, available 24x7--a major shift for the company.
Until now, video communications for business have been frustrating for many end users. Dedicated video conferencing rooms can be expensive, and in many cases video conferences need to be scheduled in advance for shared conference room/video room environments. User experience (UX) also has been mixed--the quality and experience of video conferencing overall is good, but not good enough to facilitate a change in how we communicate in the corporate world.
Video conferencing typically also requires specialized IT management support. And self-service for video conferencing has not been a real part of the video conferencing experience to date, as we commonly see with audio conferencing.
Observations and Competition
Some additional aspects include:
• The Lifesize Cloud offering works best as full HD, aka 720p, 60fps, or just under 1 Mbps
• Browser-based video calls can be organized via a WebRTC-based platform requiring Google Chrome. Note that at this point in time the offering does not support other browsers that have implemented WebRTC
• Little-to-no training is required--once I logged in through Google Chrome via a URL, all I had to enter was the dial string, and I was "in" and now a part of the call
• All video conference calls are encrypted
• The service promotes a "same user interface" across all devices: laptops, mobile and conference rooms
• Any video implementation requires network QoS that prioritizes video and voice traffic; without such, possible network freezes can occur with a video conference in progress (happened to me)
• We used the Internet as the medium for our video conference with Lifesize executives, and the Lifesize Cloud offering, according Lifesize, is designed to work across both private and public networks. (Note that the public Internet can never guarantee QoS, but enough bandwidth can help deter possible public Internet challenges)
And how does Lifesize differentiate its Cloud from some of the other cloud video conference offerings?
• Lifesize is designed as a commercial-level application and not as a consumer-based video conferencing solution
• SLAs, contract commitments, and uptime are a part of the Lifesize equation
• According to Lifesize, they can seamlessly integrate with room systems
• Lifesize's pricing appears competitive. Subscriptions start at 25 users for $25 per month ($7,500 annually) for unlimited, non-metered video conferencing use
Some Considerations and Best Practices
If you are considering a cloud-based video conferencing solution, ensure the following from a design and best practices point of view:
• Test drive the new platform--Start with a free trial, and "play" with the service for 30 to 60 days until you have ironed out the possibilities of a such a solution for your organization.
• Ensure that the Lifesize cloud solution works as you want it to from a bandwidth, QoS, and experience viewpoint.
• Ensure that it meets your needs beyond just the meet-me aspect--including features such as direct dial and calling via name or numbers
• Determine what the initial level of need is within your organization so you can scale the licensing requirements as you expand (or shrink)
• Make sure your network infrastructure is QoS-ready, and that appropriate QoS video tags are enabled on your network to ensure a rich video experience with minimal lag
• Ensure you have enough bandwidth for the number of simultaneous users who will be engaged in the video conference. 1 Mbps (or less) per video conversation can quickly eat up private or public bandwidth, so bandwidth needs to be designed to support multiple users with multiple applications on the data network
• A Network Assessment performed prior to going live can ensure that your network is ready for video
• Leverage QoS-based network management tools to confirm that QoS, bandwidth, latency, packet loss, jitter, and other network characteristics enable a high quality user experience
• Determine the level of training required, as with any video conferencing tool, to ensure a rewarding video conferencing user experience
Lifesize, in my opinion, has really hit the mark with its next-gen SaaS, subscription-based cloud offering. The setup was easy and little training was required. Because it is subscription-based, there is no long-term capital or commitment involved.
Lifesize will need to commit to the 24x7, subscriber-based model short- and long-term, and there will be little forgiveness in the market for a poor end user experience. All bets are on, and I think that the "ships have been burned here."