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What to consider before buying video conferencing technology

Learn about the different types of modern video conferencing architectures and how enterprises are incorporating these products into their infrastructure.

We've all heard the expression, "It's nice to put a face to the name." In today's digitized business world, this statement is especially true.  

Many modern communications methods such as the telephone, fax machine, email and instant message have completely removed face-to-face contact. In many ways, this has resulted in team, customer or partner relationships that are disjointed, impersonal and cold.

Yet there's one technology that can provide instant communications without physical location restrictions. Video conferencing technology provides a personal touch by enabling a person to see with whom they're interacting. And enterprises are embracing video conferencing at rates like never before.

Video conference architectures, platforms and software

Years ago, video conferencing products consisted of complex and expensive hardware and software appliances that were installed almost exclusively in conference rooms or boardrooms. That's no longer the case.

Modern video conferencing still happens inside conference rooms. However, today's conferences can now happen at the desk, at home or any remote location. Single-user hardware, along with desktop and mobile device video conferencing software, now allows anyone to join a meeting at any time with high-fidelity audio and high-definition video.

Let's examine the different types of video conferencing technology as well as the various hardware and software options and how they can best be integrated into an enterprise infrastructure.

Personal video conferencing vs. meeting room conferencing options

Modern video conferencing still happens inside conference rooms. However, today's conferences can now happen at the desk, at home or any remote location.

Today's video conferencing options can be loosely split into two categories. On one hand, there's traditional conference and meeting room options. This is typically a hardware appliance that's permanently installed in a meeting room. The room-based video or immersive telepresence resource is then shared by employees who reserve the room for a meeting with on site and remote participants. Remote meeting participants connect using their own conference room video conference system or a personal-use video conference system.

All other video conferencing endpoints can be placed into a personal-use video conferencing category. Personal-use video can consist of a dedicated endpoint appliance that sits on a desk, one built into a desk phone or it can be a software-based video conferencing product that uses a desktop or mobile device camera. Software-based video conferencing technology is often referred to as web conferencing.

On-premises, SaaS and hybrid video conference architectures

From an architecture standpoint, there are three different video conferencing deployment options.

A fully on-premises video conferencing platform. This type of system places all hardware and software inside the corporate LAN. This traditional architecture model is best for large organizations that require deployment flexibility and control and have dedicated staff to manage the video conferencing appliances and server components.

A SaaS model. Here, a service provider manages the intelligence behind the video conference platform in the public cloud. The business then deploys supported hardware-based cameras and personal-use software. The hardware and software endpoints then connect to the video conferencing cloud via internet.

The benefits of this architecture include less back-end hardware to maintain, improved scalability and a reduced need for dedicated in-house talent. The drawback is the organization relies heavily on the internet and video conferencing service provider to deliver a quality audio and video streaming to all participants. Some businesses are also concerned with sensitive audio and video streams extending beyond the corporate LAN boundaries.

The hybrid cloud approach. In some situations, on-premises deployments are preferred from a quality, resiliency and data loss perspective. In others, the flexibility and ease of deployment in a SaaS model may prove ideal. Thus, organization can choose to deploy different video conferencing architectures that can be merged to form a unified product.

Stand-alone video conferencing vs. integration with other UC tools

Video conferencing technology can be deployed as a stand-alone product or can be combined with other unified communications and collaboration tools. This includes tools such as voice over IP, presence, instant message, team chat, webinar software and file and screen sharing. Most IT decision-makers are finding a combined collaboration platform can save the organization time and money in the long run.

Use cases for video conferencing in the enterprise

There are endless ways an organization can use video conferencing technology to facilitate and enhance business functions. Here we examine three distinct scenarios that demonstrate the breadth of the technology from an end-user perspective.

Ad hoc team video collaboration. For companies with a team that's geographically dispersed, it's important to be able to start a video conference at a moment's notice to share and collaborate in a virtualized group setting. Additionally, the organization can use other built-in collaboration functions in meetings; including team chat; digital whiteboarding; and application, file or screen sharing.

Team members who are physically together may choose to reserve a meeting room containing room-based video conferencing hardware. Remote team members can choose to use a personal-use conferencing option. Regardless of their hardware or software method or physical location, all participants should be able to join the conference and use the same tools.

Company town halls. Organizations often use video conferencing software for companywide briefings or town hall meetings. This is more of a one-way communications stream, but is useful in distributing information to all employees no matter where they reside. The meeting can also be fully recorded for playback for employees who weren't able to view the video broadcast in real time.

Communications with customers and partners. Companies often use video conferencing to communicate with others outside their organization. Whether the organization is trying to sell products or services to potential customers or is working with an external partner, video conferencing platforms provide a simple way to collaborate with those external to the corporate LAN.

Video conference platform purchase considerations

Looking beyond architectural decisions such as on premises vs. SaaS vs. hybrid cloud, some additional factors should be considered for choosing a video conferencing platform and vendor. While every organization's video conference needs will vary, there are several considerations all must contemplate. Here are a few examples.

Geographic location of end users. Some video conference tools have restrictions on what regions or countries they support. This is especially true when looking at unified communications as a service.

Migration path from legacy video conferencing platform. An organization may already own a legacy video conferencing platform. As such, it's often wise to reuse expensive room-based video conferencing hardware whenever possible. The organization should verify what devices are supported on new video conferencing platforms, as it could end up saving money.

Integrations with same-vendor and third-party services. As mentioned, many video conferencing platforms can be fully integrated with other UC and collaboration tools. This integration is generally easiest when all collaboration tools come from the same vendor.

Additionally, businesses are beginning to seek out integration with popular third-party applications using APIs. This includes integrations with email and calendaring and customer relationship management and compatibility with third-party video conferencing software, hardware and platforms.

Pricing and licensing model. Video conferencing platforms offer a wide range of pricing and licensing models. This is especially true when comparing on-premises and SaaS architecture deployments. That's why it's critical to understand the needs of end users and what features and functionality each video conferencing technology can provide.

Technical support options. While video conferencing platforms are easier than ever to deploy, they remain a challenge from a troubleshooting perspective. Therefore, it's important to evaluate each vendor's technical support options, methods and capabilities before making a final decision.

Organizations should examine factors such as access to documentation, operational support hours, contact methods and on-site support capabilities to verify a vendor can provide the level of support the organization needs.

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