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Editor's note: In this three-part series on video conferencing, we look at some of the ways you can use the cloud to deliver enterprise-grade services. Part one explores the factors driving video conferencing adoption. Part two looks at the emergence of new conferencing services, and part three discusses the requirements for cloud-based video conferencing and considers ways to ensure a quality end-user experience.
Implementing cloud-based video conferencing
As more and more companies send more and more of their computing processes to the cloud, it may seem like they've also outsourced their need to manage application performance. That may be true for non-latency-sensitive services like backup and storage, but implementing cloud-based video conferencing creates new and unique challenges for delivering a high-quality user experience.
Key factors to address with cloud video conferencing include local and wide area networks, the connection to the service provider and support for mobile and desktop endpoints using wireless network services.
Video conferencing is arguably the most challenging traffic type to support on an enterprise data network. It combines the need for low-latency, low-jitter performance of voice over IP (VoIP) with an additional need for high bandwidth, often from 2 Mbps to 6 Mbps for high-definition sessions. These requirements don't disappear when an organization moves to a cloud provider, although traffic patterns will change.
In an on-premises deployment, a multipoint control unit (MCU), typically at large locations or in a data center, will handle session setup and management, as well as transcoding between dissimilar endpoints (e.g. between H.323 and SIP). Moving that MCU functionality to a cloud provider doesn't eliminate the need to manage the underlying enterprise data network to ensure that latency and jitter goals are met or that sufficient bandwidth is available to support high-quality conferencing. If sites do not have enough bandwidth to support high-definition video, moving to a cloud provider doesn't change anything.
Technologies like scalable video coding (SVC) help video applications better adjust to available network performance, but they aren't a panacea for a poorly engineered network, and they don't provide much benefit if endpoints don't support SVC.
Moving to a cloud video conferencing service means all those connections into the MCU now require sufficient bandwidth, low latency and low jitter as they leave the enterprise network. Some providers offer private network links using MPLS or Ethernet, while others simply allow endpoints to connect via the Internet, meaning that video conference quality is dependent on the quality of the Internet connection itself. This may not be an issue where workers are connecting over high-speed residential or business DSL, cable or fiber networks, but a rural employee with a poor Internet connection may not get high-quality video conferencing.
Watch out for wireless
Wireless is the second area where network trouble can be introduced in terms of video conferencing. As more and more employees use their tablets, smartphones and WLAN-enabled laptops for video conferencing, they put a strain on over-used, under-engineered wireless networks. According to the Nemertes Research 2014-15 Enterprise Technology Benchmark, more than one in five employees relies primarily on wireless LAN for their network access.
Older wireless LAN technologies, like 802.11b and 802.11g, do not support the prioritization of real-time applications like video over other wireless traffic, which means video traffic may be degraded when the network is congested. Those outside of enterprise WLAN coverage may run into data cap issues or service-provider throttling if they do a lot of video conferencing over cellular data networks.
Successfully navigating an implementation of cloud video conferencing means addressing network concerns before they adversely affect performance. Make sure your locations have enough bandwidth for video, especially in small and remote branch offices. And be sure your network link, or links, to the cloud provider meet acceptable jitter and latency specifications, or invest in privately managed links.
Finally, pay careful attention to the wireless network and proactively address capacity and quality of service issues. If ignored, these lapses can make wireless workers second-class video conferencing citizens.
Using the cloud to deliver enterprise-grade video conferencing
Read the rest of the series:
Video services break out of the boardroom
Implementing cloud-based video conferencing
Requirements for cloud-based video conferencing
Check out some enterprise-grade cloud video conferencing service providers
Five reasons to move video conferencing to the cloud
Cloud network management for the WLAN booms