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Integrating video conferencing solutions with UC

More enterprises are turning to video conferencing technology to facilitate improved communications among members of a distributed workforce. But as video conferencing adoption increases, so does the importance of effectively integrating video conferencing solutions into existing enterprise unified communications (UC) environments. Integrating video conferencing requires careful planning and judicious deployment of resources, and if done properly, it can ensure that your users are able to reap the benefits of video conferencing while retaining ready access to the full complement of UC applications in your setup.

In this video, John Bartlett of NetForecast speaks with Technical Editor Michael Brandenburg about the benefits of integrating video conferencing into an enterprise unified communications environment, including the increased likelihood that users will take advantage of video conferencing capabilities if the processes for initiating video and voice calls are the same.

Bartlett also identifies which specific infrastructure elements must be joined when integrating video conferencing to ensure optimal performance, and discusses several common pain points -- including a lack of unified communications interoperability among key vendors and the demands of fulfilling video conferencing bandwidth requirements on your network -- that enterprise IT departments must consider when preparing to integrate.

About the speaker: John Bartlett is a leading authority on real-time traffic, application performance and Quality of Service (QoS) techniques who specializes in helping enterprises manage voice, video and data application performance. Recent work has focused on designing global networks to best support video conferencing and telepresence systems. Bartlett has 32 years of experience in the semiconductor, computer and communications fields in marketing, sales, engineering, manufacturing and consulting roles.

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Read the full transcript from this video below:  

Integrating video conferencing solutions with UC

Michael Brandenburg: Hello, and welcome to a Search Unified Communications video. I am Michael Brandenburg, Technical Editor. Joining us today is John Bartlet, principle consultant for NetForecast. John is going to talk to us about video conferencing. John, what are the benefits to integrating video conferencing into unified communications?

John Bartlet:    Unified communications really provides much a simpler interface for the users. It brings together all the different forms of communication that users take advantage of, such as instant messaging, audio, obviously, data conferencing, WebEx like data conferencing, and also video, if video gets integrated. The advantage of having video conferencing integrated with the UC environment is that it is very familiar to the users. Once they have learned that UC interface, it is almost exactly the same to bring up a video call as it is to bring up a voice call, and of course, that makes it much simpler for the users to use. The advantage of simplicity, of course, is uptake. The idea is that if you are going to have these technologies within the company, and you want your users to take advantage of them, you need to make it as simple as possible for them to get it, to learn how to use it. That is really the biggest advantage of UC integration.

Michael Brandenburg: What needs to be integrated to make these pieces work together?

John Bartlet:    If you go with the video that is supplied by the UC vendor, then, of course, the integration is done for you. As an example, OCS from Microsoft, the client has a video capability in it. That video is fairly low-end. Really, what we are taking about when we talk about integrating video is bringing in the best product player, let's say Polycom, as an example, Avistar, Video, or one of the other vendor’s capabilities, to bring that in and integrate it in the UC environment, so when I bring up a video call within the UC environment, I get that high quality that we are used to with those other vendors. What needs to be integrated is clearly, the client needs to be integrated; the video conferencing end point client needs to be integrated with their signaling infrastructure. In a Microsoft case, that is OCS, in the CISCO case it is the Communications Manager, and so on. What that allows is the signaling infrastructure, which is presence-driven in a UC environment will, in fact, reach out to that client and enable it at the right time, bring up the connection to whoever it is you are trying to connect.

This second thing that needs to be integrated is the directory infrastructure. You are trying to be able to use this video environment to talk to the folks on your buddy list. The question is who are they? Where are they? Also, in an enterprise environment, you need to look at permissions or capabilities. You want to allow certain users to use the video, use the video at a higher bandwidth, and use the video during certain hours -- whatever that capability is. To get that kind of information, you often have to look into a directory structure, to leverage the common directory structure of the enterprise, which is often LDAP or Active Directory-based, so that is a piece of integration that has to occur, the video infrastructure with the LDAP infrastructure.

The third piece would be the scheduling or calendaring. If there are resources that need to be managed as a part of that video conferencing environment, might be that you are trying to integrate with Rune-based video, it might be you are just needing to manage Bridge resources, that needs to be built into the standard calendaring environment. In a UC space, we use, as an example, Outlook. I can send you an invite for Outlook to set up a time for us to meet. You would like that same approach to be able to reserve the room resource, the bridge resource, the bandwidth or whatever else is needed for the video call, so that again, the users use the same approach. Now there is modules within the video environment that have to be able to communicate with, as an example, Microsoft Exchange, if that is what you are using, or Lotus Notes, to support to support the scheduling capability.

Michael Brandenburg: What are the gotchas IT needs to consider when planning integration?

John Bartlet:    There is a whole list of those. Clearly, when you are doing this multivendor integration, then there are all the possibilities that those two vendors do not have it together, in terms of the components. You have a vendor here with the video infrastructure that is going through software revisions and adding complexity and functionality, and you have over here, the UC vendor who is doing the same thing. The question is how well have they been able to manage the relationship between those?

One of the keys, in my mind, is to look to see how strong the relationship between the video conferencing vendor and the UC vendor; clearly, when they are the same vendor, they have a stronger relationship, they have an inside relationship. When they are separate vendors, you have to understand how well they are communicating because if the UC vendor suddenly moves a software revision and that changes some interface or some functionality, then the other vendor needs to be moving with them in order to support that, and when the enterprise upgrades, they are going to have to move together. During integration, you want to look and see how that relationship is put together and whether or not they are well connected. Clearly, you have to understand how all those components are going to integrate and the video vendor may not be supporting a full range of how the UC environment works or how the Active Directory environment works. For instance, there may be limitations as to how complex an Active Directory structure is supported by the video conferencing environment. Are you taking advantage of Active Directory features that the video environment does not understand? As an example. That would be some pre-engineering to figure out whether there is full compatibility there or not.

There are those kinds of issues. There is learning curve, there is a bunch of integration pieces here that your team may not understand well, and you need to come up to speed on, which means either putting the right folks in your team on it soon enough that they can figure that stuff out, or potentially going for outside resources, either consulting services from the vendor who has done this kind of integration before or from a third party who specializes in that kind of capability.

Last but not least, do not forget the network because the deployment of video conferencing, especially high definition video conferencing, is going to create a substantial demand on the network for additional bandwidth and may also require classification quality of service capabilities. Look carefully at what that looks like, and make sure the network team understands the requirements of the video conferencing environment, understands the roll out plan, that you have a good idea of how quickly this stuff will deployed across the company and how much use it will get, and make sure the network is ready to take that on.

Michael Brandenburg: Thank you, John. I appreciate you being with us.

John Bartlet:    My pleasure.

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