Software-based video conferencing on standard gear yields flexibility

A software-based video conferencing deployment has given one enterprise more flexibility and enabled it to use industry standard hardware and third-party applications.

Some unified communications (UC) managers enjoy the relative simplicity and predictability of off-the-shelf enterprise video conferencing systems. But that approach didn't satisfy the requirements of one enterprise UC pro, whose software-based video conferencing deployment has given him more flexibility in room layouts and enabled him to use industry standard hardware and third-party applications for enhanced features and functionality.

"There's nothing [proprietary]. We're not locked down with hardware," said Ashish Kudsia, global IT director at Christie Digital Systems, a visual projector and technology manufacturer headquartered in Cypress, Calif. "This, being a software solution, will pay off in a big way."

We're not locked down with [proprietary] hardware.

Ashish Kudsia
Global Director of IT, Christie Digital Systems

Christie has experienced rapid growth over the past three years -- especially throughout China and other parts of Asia -- and executives identified enterprise video conferencing as a way to enable disparate teams to collaborate and avoid frequent travel across continents. Besides basic voice and messaging services, IM and desktop sharing via Microsoft's Office Communications Server (OCS) had been the only other means of communications and collaboration for most of Christie's users.

Kudsia evaluated high-definition (HD) video conferencing and telepresence products from Cisco Systems and Polycom, but he found them to be too expensive and inflexible. Not every conference room could support a multiscreen telepresence suite. He believed hardware refreshes would be expensive and time-consuming, and he was concerned about how well proprietary video conferencing systems would integrate with third-party applications which were less mainstream, he said.

After three months of testing a software-based video conferencing system from Magor TeleCollaboration, which operates on industry standard servers, Kudsia has deployed seven room-based systems across North America and Asia using Dell servers, Samsung HD TVs and standard Internet connections.  

Kudsia will roll out more video conferencing rooms in Phoenix, Ariz.; Kitchener, Ontario; and Berkshire, UK. Although most of the software-based video conferencing systems have just entered production, he said users in Tokyo are already demanding access.

"We didn't make a public announcement [about availability] within Christie because we didn't know how stable it was going to be," Kudsia said. "It turned out to be very stable and very good, and by the third month of it being in the proof of concept timeframe, people were using it all the time."

Software-based video conferencing conforms to room, not vice versa

Conference room real estate is not something many enterprises -- Christie included -- are willing to sacrifice or expand to support telepresence or video conferencing. Using a software-based video conferencing system, however, enabled Kudsia more flexibility and creativity with his deployment options -- beyond choosing among one-, two- and three-screen layouts.   

"In Kitchener, we first wanted to have a three-screen solution in every room, but we realized some of the rooms aren't big enough," Kudsia said. "We didn't want to remodel the rooms just for this purpose alone."

Instead, he achieved that immersive experience in a smaller footprint by using a platform from DVE Telepresence, a California-based startup, which provides a hologram-like experience by projecting participants seemingly into the air. Kudsia achieved that effect by combining Christie's projectors and a Samsung TV that projects the video conference session in 1080p HD onto an angled, specially-coated pane of glass. This eliminates the physical borders and space restrictions of TV screens, he said. The camera sits behind the glass and is invisible to users, which encourages participants to look straight into it -- instead of above or below a screen, where cameras are traditionally placed, he said.

Although DVE claims it can support any video conferencing vendor's gear, Kudsia believed having a software-based video conferencing strategy made integration easier and faster.

"Magor, being a completely software-based solution, was very flexible," he said. "We plugged it into the Magor servers, and we didn't have to do any unique configuration either, because that's what Magor does."

For another room, Kudsia faced the opposite problem: A 400-square-foot room in Cypress, Calif., was so large that Magor's standard microphone and audio controls were insufficient. The system only provided for one small microphone and one mouse and keyboard control panel.

"If there are 20 people sitting in a meeting, anyone should be able to push mute or lower or raise the volume," Kudsia said. "We had a requirement for much more enhanced audio solutions, and based on the fact that [Magor is] a software product, we were able to come up with a solution to integrate third-party, high-end audio systems … for larger rooms."

Software-based video conferencing on standard hardware has also made support easier, Kudsia said. His team was trained in four days, and one engineer recently updated the servers with the newest release of Magor's software without requiring any support from the vendor, he said. 

"That was such a big reason to go with [Magor] -- they're going to keep coming out with these new features as the industry grows, and all we need is a software subscription," Kudsia said. "No hardware needs to be changed."

Software-based video conferencing: Too much integration work?

Proponents of mainstream enterprise video conferencing vendors might argue that constantly bolting on applications is a time-consuming way to compensate for feature-poor software, but Kudsia said he believed Magor's approach will yield long-term cost savings and allow his deployment to be more agile.

Kudsia anticipates Christie users will soon demand the ability to make video conferencing calls to customers, partners and suppliers, and he acknowledged that Magor offers limited interoperability guarantees. But he said Magor committed to being fully interoperable with other video conferencing vendors within the next year.

"We have to be able to [interoperate] with other vendors -- be it Tandberg, Polycom or if any of our partners are using any non-Magor video conferencing system," Kudsia said. "They already said they will deliver."

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Jessica Scarpati, News Writer.

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