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Buying the right video conferencing system

Shopping for a video conferencing system for your enterprise? In this two-part series, we break down how to evaluate evaluating room-based video, telepresence and cloud-based video-as-a-service options.

Editor's note:  This two-part series addresses how to buy a video-conferencing system for your organization. Part...

one looks at what's driving increased interest in video-conferencing systems and the types of systems available, from room-based and telepresence systems to cloud-based video-as-a-service (VaaS) options. Part two helps you decide what video-conferencing equipment and services you should assess and the infrastructure considerations you should take into account before making your buying decision.

Video conferencing has been around for many years, but thanks to advances in technology and falling costs, video has now become a mainstream means of collaboration for businesses of all sizes. The options range from free social platforms like Skype, to web conferencing platforms like GoToMeeting, room-based video at around $10,000 per room to equip, or telepresence rooms that can cost $100,000 or more to outfit. All of these options offer the ability to join meetings from mobile clients ON  smartphones, tablets and laptops.

While video conferencing and telepresence are focused on delivering clear visual images of the participants with high-fidelity audio, content sharing is also provided so spreadsheets, PowerPoint presentations and other documents can be looked at by all attendees. Web conferencing services like GoToMeeting and WebEx are historically more focused on content sharing and now offer high-definition video with their services. This series focuses on room-based and telepresence video conferencing, which requires equipment, as opposed to web conferencing, which is generally accessible over a computer or mobile device by logging into a web platform.

In terms of social drivers, the infusion of younger workers into the workplace has accelerated the adoption of video. Millennials are adept with technology and comfortable with video, and tend to have a preference for working in teams. They use video more readily than older workers, who have been more accustomed to meeting via phone conferences. While millennials may not yet be making the purchasing decisions, their influence is significant. Companies have had to adapt to changing demographics in order to recruit younger workers.

Businesses have become more accepting of the benefits of video conferencing: improved collaboration, better teamwork and the ability to "travel" instantly to distant locations, thus reducing the need for physical travel. It has proven difficult to measure video's impact on travel costs because employees who adapt to the new technology stop reporting trip-displacement events. Travel costs may go up or down depending on many business factors, but high video-conferencing usage unquestionably increases collaboration for people in different locations.

On-premises, cloud-based and hybrid video conferencing choices

If you're planning to buy a video-conferencing system or service, one of your first decisions might be whether to look at on-premises or cloud-based options. The decision process will be influenced by a number of factors, including company size, available budget, the number of locations and employees to connect and what the system will be used for.

Cloud-based systems are particularly appropriate for organizations that aren't ready to make major budget commitments to video, such as smaller companies, organizations with limited experience with video or those lacking the resources to fully support the technology. If many sites and far-flung locations are required, cloud-based video can reduce implementation time, since the core of the solution already exists, along with deployment standards and a support staff.

As the organization gains experience with video and determines what the ongoing usage levels and support burdens will be, they will be better equipped to trade off the costs of bringing in the infrastructure part of the solution as capex or lease costs, vs. ongoing expense costs of a cloud service solution.

Whether you ultimately decide on a cloud-based service, or a premise-based solution, here's what you'll need:

  • Endpoints (the actual video conferencing devices), for either  room-based video conferencing systems with flat screen monitors or PC's running desktop clients;
  • bridge or multipoint control unit (MCU), which hosts the calls from multiple callers and provides virtual meeting rooms (VMRs);
  • and a network to tie endpoints together from other sites.

Cloud- or premise-based solutions will have physical endpoints at site locations. The bridge/MCU will be in the cloud for a VaaS solution. Network connectivity will be required for either solution, but the configuration will vary based on the chosen option. With the cloud approach, each site will have to access the cloud service provider, either directly from the site, or through a central connection somewhere within the enterprise. This might be at a central site or data center. Cloud providers usually have browser-based access for third parties, and applications for iOS, Android and Windows mobile devices. Some can connect Google Hangouts or other social media video services into calls.

Cloud-based video conferencing offers the potential for reduced complexity (with no need for an on-site bridge), lower up-front investment and minimized interoperability problems between different video brands. Premise-based solutions may have a lower cost over the life of the system, and give the business the ability to customize and integrate the video service with other in-house solutions such as phone and collaboration and conferencing products.

Consider a hybrid model – one offering both in-house and hosted bridge/MCU for overflow, disaster recovery and interoperability. Even if you use an in-house bridge, having a service available -- maybe on a pay-as-you-go basis -- can bridge in calls your bridge can't handle. Starting with an outsourced bridge allows the organization to gain experience with video before making an investment in this expensive and complex piece of gear.

Next: In part two of our series on how to buy a video conferencing system, check out what video conferencing equipment and video conferencing services you should assess.

This was last published in September 2014

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