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Adopting video conferencing is easier said than done for many businesses. Faced with barriers such as hefty price tags and integration concerns, some companies have turned to consumer tools like Skype to get the job done. Google, a once consumer-focused company, is making moves to turn Google video conferencing into an enterprise-grade option via enhancements to its cloud-based Hangouts application and its recent release of Chromebox for Meetings, a portfolio of four physical appliances and accessories to enhance the quality of Hangouts sessions.
SearchUnifiedCommunications caught up with Rajen Sheth, director of product management for Google's enterprise business line, to discuss the evolution of video conferencing tools such as Google Hangouts and Chromebox and what Google is doing to make its once consumer-focused cloud-based services more appealing to businesses.
Consumers are already sold on Google Apps like Hangouts, but what is the level of interest from enterprises?
Rajen Sheth: We've seen a lot of interest in Hangouts from businesses. It's become a very easy way to communicate via video, and we really added to that package earlier this year with Chromebox for Meetings. Essentially, whether it's in a room or [is used] with a laptop, you can connect to the meeting wherever you happen to be. This is really expanding the concept of video conferencing to many of the rooms that don't have [video equipment] in a much more affordable way.
We've seen tremendous growth across the board and that goes anywhere from a one- to two-person mom-and pop-shop, all the way up to very large corporations using Google for business. We are seeing usage across the board for a variety of our different tools, including Gmail and Calendar, but also for [tools like] Hangouts, Google+ and Drive. We are really seeing a transformation in the way people are working. They are finding that the collaboration tools that we have are making employees more productive.
What is Google doing to reassure business customers that Google video conferencing with Hangouts is enterprise-grade, in terms of reliability?
Sheth: From the very beginning, we've offered a 99.9% SLA [service-level agreement] for Google Apps, and that was one of the key things driving the growth of Google Apps for [businesses]. Starting now, we are wrapping that into Hangouts and announcing enhanced reliability. This means the same terms of service that cover our Google Apps for business products -- like Gmail and Drive -- now cover Hangouts. Hangouts is now covered by our 24/7 phone support for Google Apps and our 99.9% guaranteed uptime, as well as a variety of certifications, which are key things businesses would look at in terms of evaluating whether or not to use a cloud-based service.
Like reliability, security is also a major concern for many businesses adopting cloud-based tools. How secure are Google Hangouts and Chromebox video sessions?
Sheth: Security is one thing we really focused on with Hangouts. For example, all traffic between our servers and the endpoints is encrypted. For Chromebox for Meetings, we are building on top of the Chrome architecture, which is highly secure. The other thing we have done is by adding a lot of the new management controls, it gives the monitoring and management facilities that really go hand-in-hand with the security that [many] enterprises [need].
Can you talk about what Google is working on in terms of integrations and partnerships to simplify video collaboration for business users?
Sheth: We wanted to make it simpler for [users] to get onto Hangouts. We now support any Google account, even those without a Google+ profile. This means that if you have something like a Gmail account, you can now join a Hangout. One of the key use cases we were seeing for Hangouts was users trying to interact with their customers and partners, and others outside of their company. This makes it a lot easier to do that. They can have these meetings from the tablet or from their Chromebox for Meetings. We are also working on additional integrations between Google Apps [and Hangouts], which will be supported by the end of the year.
In the same way, we wanted to give people [an even] simpler way to access those meetings, so we've done this through a variety of partnerships. The first problem we encountered was how to make [Hangouts] work with other video conferencing systems out there. We announced a partnership with Blue Jeans that would enable users on traditional H.323 or SIP-based video conferencing systems to join the meetings. Our partnership with InterCall helps to deliver voice for business. If [users] have an InterCall bridge, it's easy to add that to a Hangout and then bridge into [a conference] via phone.
Ideally, we want to make sure [Hangouts] works well with the existing infrastructures [businesses] have right now so they can extend their existing investment in unified communications. We think this brings UC into play for a lot of users that wouldn't otherwise have had access to [such tools].
How is Chromebox for Meetings helping to make video conferencing more accessible for businesses?
Sheth: When we released Chromebox for Meetings, we really focused on the six- to eight-person conference room, which is the majority of the market that is not covered by video conferencing vendors. A few things we are doing now is [we are] extending Chromebox to more rooms. [Businesses] can now use multiple monitors with Chromebox for Meetings, so you can extend to a 12- to 15-person conference room fairly easy. Or, you can bring it down to a one-on-one [video session] … using a Chromebox right on the desk to fire up a personal meeting.
We've also done personal calendar integrations with Chromebox, and we've added a variety of features for IT so they can remotely manage [a] video meeting, which is key for many companies -- especially large enterprises. [Additionally,] we recently announced greater availability. We've expanded [sales of Chromebox] into more countries, including Japan, Australia and New Zealand, as well as the UK. Dell will also be releasing a Chromebox for Meetings solution by the end of this summer.
Do you believe tools that got their start in the consumer space can help to further video conferencing adoption for businesses?
Sheth: We think [they are] going to open up the possibilities of video meetings for many more companies. We are already seeing [interest] from two major places: one is within larger companies looking to expand their video footprint, but never had the budget to actually be able to do this in the past -- just a couple of the board rooms. With Chromebox for Meetings being under $1,000, they can now expand into many more conference rooms.
The second thing we are noticing is a lot of growth within the SMB [market]. A 100-person company might buy a few [Chromebox for Meetings] units for a few conference rooms and potentially pepper some additional units throughout the office, for example, and for remote employees to use from home. These are well beyond the typical board room, large company video conferencing environments.
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