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Integrating video and unified communications: Video as a core UC tool

The prevalence of video products at this year's Enterprise Connect shows that integrating video and unified communications has become a key focus of providers in the UC market.

Perhaps one of the most telling comments I heard from an attendee at the recent Enterprise Connect trade show in...

Orlando (formerly VoiceCon) was that the show's organizers "should have renamed this 'VideoCon!'"

… the UC market is not just integrating video and unified communications, it's looking to quickly incorporate UC video as a core collaboration service.

Irwin Lazar
Nemertes Research

For a conference so steeped in voice and unified communications (UC), the prevalence of video products and services was a clear sign that the UC market is not just integrating video and unified communications, it's looking to quickly incorporate UC video as a core collaboration service. Our research reflects this trend as well.

Gone are the days when "video administrators" built out and managed standalone video conferencing systems. Instead, video has followed a similar path to VoIP, first migrating endpoint connectivity to the IP WAN from dedicated TDM or ISDN services, and now integrating video with other collaborative applications and tools such as presence, instant messaging and Web conferencing.

Successfully integrating video and unified communications requires IT architects to address several concerns, including network management and performance, end-user applications and growing demand for user-generated video. While video conferencing requires the same careful attention to minimizing latency as voice, video adds a new wrinkle -- the need for lots of bandwidth.

UC/video integration brings bandwidth and management challenges

Supporting high-definition video can require up to 6 MB per endpoint, depending on the chosen vendor and its ability to support bandwidth-minimizing techniques like H.264 Scalable Video Coding or Polycom's H.264 High Profile. The need for and cost of bandwidth is the greatest limiting factor in widespread UC video deployment, according to our research participants.

Not only do you need a lot of bandwidth, but once you push video out to the desktop, it becomes virtually impossible to predict "where" you need the bandwidth. Whereas telepresence room locations are fixed, desktop sessions can occur from anywhere on the network -- in the conference room, in offices or even in the cafeteria. More than one IT architect has told me that bandwidth concerns have halted desktop video rollouts. "We don't have the bandwidth to support desktop video, so we turned it off on our OCS deployments," says the director of telecom architecture for a global professional services firm.

Once you get past the bandwidth concerns, the next challenge is managing video applications at the desktop. Here network managers often lack insight into desktops, or must face situations whereby a processor-intensive desktop application is adversely impacting video performance. One IT architect told me that his standard advice to his employees is, "Shut everything else down when conducting a desktop video conference."

That may work in some environments, but more than likely, your help desk will get a call about desktop video performance that will require your team to look at CPU processor utilization. It gets worse when virtualization is introduced into the mix. Desktop virtualization doesn't usually support software-based voice and video without a dedicated phone and video camera, so make sure that you are fully aware of virtualization plans before marching down the road to UC/video integration.

Making video and unified communications work: It's about making choices

Most IT architects are still struggling with the right vendor approach for video-enabled UC. The choice often comes down to whether to utilize the native capabilities in Microsoft or IBM Lotus desktop clients, deploy a standalone desktop video capability or use the capabilities of Polycom or Vidyo desktop clients in conjunction with desktop UC applications. The decision is often based on quality, cost, bandwidth advantages of one approach over the others and the need to interoperate with existing systems.

Finally, video conferencing is rapidly emerging into video collaboration. Give employees video as part of their UC suite and the very next feature they will ask for is the ability to record and share their own video. "We plan to give employees the ability to record their own video and attach polls to video clips to gain user feedback," says a senior architect for a global manufacturing company. Companies delivering these services must address storage, compliance and governance concerns to ensure a successful deployment.

Bottom line: Expect to integrate video into your UC deployment, but make sure you have addressed factors such as bandwidth, network management, end-user client choice and the need to support user-generated video.

About the author:

Irwin Lazar, Vice President for Communications and Collaboration Research, Nemertes ResearchIrwin Lazar is the vice president for communications and collaboration research at Nemertes Research, where he develops and manages research projects, develops cost models, conducts strategic seminars and advises clients. Irwin is responsible for benchmarking the adoption and use of emerging technologies in the enterprise in areas including VoIP, unified communications, video conferencing, social computing, collaboration and advanced network services.

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