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Choosing video-conferencing equipment and services

In part two of our series on video conferencing systems, we examine how to decide what video conferencing equipment and services suit your deployment and business needs.

Editor's note:  In the second article of our two-part series on how to buy the right a video-conferencing system for your organization, we walk you through what video conferencing equipment or services you need to research before you buy.  In case you missed it, check out part one to see 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.

To decide whether on-premises or cloud-based video conferencing services are best for your organization, you should outline:

  • Goals for implementing video;
  • the number of sites to be covered and conference rooms in each location;
  • inventory of any existing equipment, including infrastructure;
  • and devices that users will use (video- laptops, tablets, smartphones, etc.).

This document can serve as the basis for a request for proposal (RFP) if you decide to go formal, or at least keep a level playing field so valid comparisons can be made. Cost models will vary considerably from the big capital investment needed for premise-based systems, as opposed to an expense model for cloud-based services. Looking at the cost over a five-year period is a reasonable approach. Also, note that if you buy equipment, a lot of it will still be usable after the amortization period.

Required video conferencing infrastructure

Video infrastructure components are the technical underbelly of video conferencing and consist of one or more bridges or multipoint control units (MCUs), management servers and possibly remote access devices like session border controllers and virtual private network (VPN) devices. Larger enterprises may have multiple sets of infrastructure devices, and are often deployed in different regions.

The bridge is a key device in the infrastructure and is likely the most expensive item. Bridges connect multiple callers into virtual meeting rooms (VMRs) and make calls interoperable by transcoding the signals between various brands of equipment. Infrastructure components are sophisticated devices that require support from engineering-level IT personnel. Consider whether your IT organization has the expertise and the staffing levels necessary to take on this additional support burden. If not, a cloud solution may be the preferred option.

Consider what level of integration and customization you need. Conference room controls like light and drapery controls, calendar integration and audio enhancements are the most common. Integration beyond basic audio enhancement in larger conference rooms should be carefully considered, especially at the beginning of an investment.  Calendar integration may be desirable when using a VaaS provider. Ask whether the provider has virtual meeting room capability or only allows scheduled calls. Integration can become a support burden over time. Focus on getting the video system right first, then consider which integrations are necessary. 

VaaS provider players

Cloud-based providers have a wide range of services. Blue Jeans Network, for example, connects a full range of clients on a full-featured platform. Teliris provides multivendor bridging, manages endpoints, provides in-call support and offers call production. Integrators like Carousel Industries can provide design, integration of audio and visual equipment in conference rooms, installation and equipment leasing, and cloud services offerings. Manufacturers of video conferencing endpoints like Polycom and Cisco offer cloud services directly or through partners for bridging and management platforms, and some may offer hosting for client infrastructure. Vidyo Inc. and Lifesize Conferencing also have cloud-based offerings.

Network circuits and devices will be needed for either type of service. Telecommunications carriers, network equipment resellers and video endpoint manufacturers can assist with consulting services for network assessments, design services and upgrades. 

Once the important step of choosing the right  video conferencing services for your organization is completed, you still have a number of tasks to complete to insure that the system works well and will actually be used.

Final checklist for optimal video-conferencing performance

In terms of which locations should have video, identify which sites work the most with others. Placing systems in key sites that already have a lot of communications with each other will facilitate collaboration between those sites and deliver a built in user base.  Video services become more useful as more users have access to the system. Imagine a social network site like Facebook with only 100 users.

Obviously, more sites on the network make the system useful. Also, remember the telecommuters: They are a natural constituency for video and tend to be very quick to adapt to improvements in their work platforms.  Remember to make the system convenient to the workers who will need it, not just executives.

And don't forget these:

  • Get the network right. The ultimate quality of the video image and audio quality are dependent on a good network connection.
  • Support is important. Be sure and follow up on complaints and be responsive. Nagging technical problems can kill employee interest in using the system.
  • Provide training, especially to key users like executive admins.
  • Market the system to your user base. 

If you can get C-level support behind the project, it will increase your odds of a successful deployment. Moving to video involves a culture change, and it's always helpful to have the employee base aligned with the path you are taking.

Next Steps

How to evaluate video conferencing service providers

Beyond travel: Looking at the soft costs of video conferencing

 WebRTC offers a web browser solution for video conferencing

WebRTC focuses in on user experience

Dig Deeper on Collaboration Applications for Unified Communications

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Thanks for sharing it with us! Now I feel much more confident with my ClickMeeting platform than before.