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How does Google Chromebox stack up for enterprise video conferencing?

Video expert Stephen K. Campbell explains how Google Chromebox compares to other enterprise video conferencing options.

Google just released the Chromebox for enterprise video conferencing. Are there benefits to using the Google Chromebox over other conferencing systems? How does the price compare?

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Chromebox for Meetings is a Google offering that includes a hardware video conferencing endpoint and a video conferencing service for $999. After the first year, there is a fee of $250 per year for management and support. The hardware includes codec, 1080p HD camera, microphone and speaker, and remote control. The user must supply the display.

As expected, the system integrates nicely with Google components such as Google Hangouts and Google Docs. Although you do not have to be a subscriber to Google Docs to use Chromebox for Meetings, you will need a Google Apps account for calendar integration. External users of Gmail or Google Apps can join meetings of any enrolled device, even if that organization does not use Google Apps. Users must have a Google+ profile to join a Chromebox meeting, however.

Google engineers have done a thorough job in developing a sophisticated product that can scale to hundreds or thousands of systems, according to their deployment guide. Google Chromebox can integrate with Active Directory and can interface with other video conference systems and PBX systems for voice integration, although extra hardware or services are required.

While Google emphasizes ease of setup, setup difficulty will be affected by the number of systems being deployed and the level of integration with other systems, such as PBXs or existing video conference systems. Chromebox for Meetings must be enrolled with a Google Apps account to add the organization's domain name. Enrollment can be performed by anyone within the domain name, so organizations not currently supporting corporate video could see these systems springing up without the knowledge of the IT department.

On the surface, the price for Chromebox for Meetings is compelling. If an organization has not deployed an enterprise video conference solution, Chromebox deserves a look. Traditional video conference manufacturers have recently introduced low-cost alternatives, but Google Chromebox for Meetings appears to be priced attractively compared to those systems.

There are a few caveats, however, that should be considered during the solution development process.

  • Chromebox for Meetings works over the Internet. While Internet video can be very high quality, interruptions and disturbances can occur at any time. Additional bandwidth and firewall capacity may be required to support a sizable Chromebox deployment.
  • Google highlights ease of setup, but be aware this is a more sophisticated solution than Skype running on a few laptops and tablets. Users may be enticed to set up rogue deployments based on claims of ease of setup, and this can lead to disappointments.
  • Integration seems to have been well thought out, but this is typically the Achilles' heel of deployments involving any kind of legacy equipment and systems. Planning should include the cost of services and testing for any required integrations.

As in most IT investments, total cost of ownership (TCO) should be calculated to understand how much a service will really cost. TCO could vary widely depending on whether there is an existing infrastructure to integrate with and on overall business needs. Top executives may want the stability of an MPLS connected video conference system, for example.

Chromebox for Meetings is reasonably priced and organizations might want to consider equipping all of their meeting rooms for video. Those contemplating a request for proposal for video will want to include Google Chromebox. Just don't forget about the other costs involved, like total support, integration, onsite service calls and staff to provide support.

This was first published in April 2014

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