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When video conferencing was first introduced as a serious business tool, it was almost strictly on premises. Calls were hosted on an appliance called a multipoint control unit, or video bridge, which sat on your local network and had limited access to the public internet. This restricted video calls to within an organization. Business-to-business video conferencing was possible, but not easy.
These limitations were primarily due to the technology at the time of video conference systems. Video conferencing signals and protocols were not as resilient as they are today. A slight bit of packet loss could severely affect a call. Even just 3% to 5% packet loss could cause a video conference to drop entirely.
Meanwhile, the internet was less stable than it is today, with much higher levels of packet loss. Thus, it was often not possible to make a business-quality call over the public internet.
In addition, video conference systems require a high amount of bandwidth. The typical public internet connection 10 years ago could barely support a single high-definition call. It required expensive business-class networking services to provide enough bandwidth to support moderate levels of B2B video.
While some businesses enjoyed more resilient and higher-bandwidth internet connections, they still might hesitate to conduct B2B calls due to security concerns. For example, assume a video call between two companies is hosted on Company A's video bridge and its private network. Company A would have to let Company B through its firewall and onto its private network to connect to the video bridge and join the call.
While this can happen in a secure fashion, it could be expensive and complicated. Also, since this setup raises security concerns, it could hamper deployment and use.
Cloud video services revolutionize conferencing technology
In this video, learn why cloud-based video conferencing is gathering steam.
As the public internet improved and video protocols became more sophisticated and network-resilient, business-quality video over the internet became possible. The technology, market and public expectations were ripe for the rise of cloud video services. However, this didn't just result in more B2B calls; it changed the model of how we host and support business video calls.
As is said, the cloud is nothing more than your software running on someone else's server. There isn't much magic to it. But by hosting video calls on a cloud video provider's server -- rather than using an on-premises video bridge -- you get several benefits, including:
- Flexible scaling and pricing. An on-premises video bridge may support 100 simultaneous calls, for example. If your business grows and needs to support 101 calls, you must buy a second bridge. With cloud video services, you can pay for the exact number of accounts you need at any given time.
- Futureproofing. As video technology continues to develop, companies with on-premises bridges must occasionally purchase a new model. With cloud video services, the service provider is responsible for updating the technology.
- Accessibility and efficiency. If an organization has a video bridge in only one location, all its video traffic would route through that location. Cloud services generally have global coverage through server nodes in multiple locations.
- Manageability. Cloud services often are accompanied by managed services, or at least management tools. These are generally designed to support today's massive desktop and mobile user bases. On-premises bridges, on the other hand, are traditionally designed to support a handful of meeting rooms.
- Security. A cloud service provides a neutral meeting ground for B2B video calls. Neither party is required to allow the other to bypass their firewall and access their private network.
The need for on-premises video conference systems
Despite the benefits of cloud video, some organizations still require on-premises services for security reasons. Cloud video traffic is usually heavily encrypted, and cloud video services offer high levels of security assurances. However, some organizations have extremely stringent security concerns. These types of environments still require that certain kinds of video traffic remain on their private network.
In addition, keeping local video traffic on premises provides reliable efficiency. For example, if a video call between two people in the same building is hosted on premises, the signal is pretty direct within the building. However, if that same call is hosted by a cloud service, then each signal must leave the building, go out to the cloud service and back into the building. This could add some latency to the call and cut into your available internet bandwidth.
Quality used to be a primary factor for choosing on-premises video conference systems. Business-quality video over the public internet was not an option. Today, this is no longer the case. Cloud video vendors can provide a business-quality experience over a typical public internet connection.
An on-premises service over a private, protected network may provide a superior experience with lower latency. This setup may be more advantageous for remote locations that are farther away from cloud service hubs.
However, despite the more controlled experience on a local network, today's cloud video is undeniably business-quality. Therefore, quality may be a minor factor in choosing an on-premises service for most users, but it's not a determining factor.
The appeal of hybrid video conference systems
Some vendors offer hybrid deployments with both on-premises and cloud elements. These can be a little intimidating to configure and manage, but may be worth it to many organizations, as it provides the best of both worlds.
A hybrid environment consists of an on-premises server to handle local video conferencing traffic, supported by a cloud service for overflow capacity and B2B calls. This allows for the efficiencies of on-premises systems and the flexibility of cloud for greater scaling and reach.
While today's cloud services are generally very resilient to weak connections, some handle bad networks better than others. If your organization hosts meetings -- including participants with questionable connections, such as team members calling from Starbucks -- you may want to do some A/B testing.
Many cloud video services have free trials or freemium offerings. Be sure to test a few of these services in your most challenging network conditions so you won't have any surprises.
Find the service that aligns with your video collaboration needs.
Size up cloud and on-premises video tools before buying.
Make sure your network can support future video demands.