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We’re Gonna Need a Bigger Boat….


As I write this blog I’ve just returned from this year’s Enterprise Connect conference in Orlando.  In 10 more days I head to Las Vegas to attend Interop and present the panel discussion on emerging video technology. Attending and preparing for these events has given me a unique perspective on the collaboration industry, which I think needs to be shared with all service providers.  In the words of the immortal Chief Brody (Roy Scheider) in the movie Jaws, “we’re gonna need a bigger boat.”

Jaws.jpg(Image source)

The industry was already buzzing with a relatively large number of new, lower cost devices even before the conference started.   Over the last seven years the cost of high-end systems used for collaboration (Telepresence) was sometimes prohibitive. What we’ve seen in just the last year is that, like the proverbial pendulum, what had swung too far to one side often swings back too far in the other direction.  We’ve seen the entrance of a number of collaborative hardware product offerings in the $1K US range.  These systems - by such manufacturers as Tely Labs, Logitech and Google - offer varying performance at a low price - more expensive than a desktop software video system but less expensive than a traditional appliance.  These systems are targeting the enterprise conference rooms that had displays but no videoconferencing – meaning far more rooms can be equipped at a much lower price.  While this increased penetration of video is good, there are a number of general caveats to using such systems:

  • The fixed-image webcams that some of these systems use are good at capturing images of people sitting directly in front of their displays.  However, they are generally completely inappropriate for capturing the images of three or more people sitting in a room.  Don’t let the marketing pictures or stories from even the most reputable firm deceive you into believing you’ll see anything but a wide shot of tiny people in a room with an installed fixed-image webcam.
  • Low-end appliances will generally produce better images than software alone, but are almost universally not monitor-able.  If you want to know the status of the video systems on your network  - in case someone has kicked-out a plug or experienced some other failure - than these are not for you.  If you’re deploying a collaboration device in a critical area, or for a VIP, you should spend a little more money at the front end, instead of spending a lot more time on the back end, explaining how you couldn’t determine that the system had failed even before the VIP tried unsuccessfully to use it.
  • The interoperability strategy of a low-end system is not always clear.  In some cases, they only work with other units from the same manufacturer. In other cases, the manufacturer provides an “off-ramp” for interoperability, but using it may result in poor user experiences, additional use charges, or both. Don’t assume that a system that meets an organization’s needs today, will be able to grow with that organization in the most cost effective manner.

At Enterprise connect this year, the world of low-end, software based systems was stood on its ear by Cisco.  In his keynote address to the conference (which you can watch here) Cisco’s Rowan Trollope introduced their new SX10 Videoconference Codec.  It is built to fit on or under a display, connect with two cables (HDMI and RJ45 with POE) and be ready to go in two minutes.  It has an HD Pan/Tilt/Zoom camera, a remote control (and a smartphone app for those that hate the remote) and sports a $1.5K US price.  Oh, and by the way, it’s a full video appliance –hardware!  For the same price as pc based systems that can’t be  monitored and can’t support dedicated QoS, organizations can now own an industry standard videoconferencing appliance that can be monitored on a network.

Danto with SX10.jpg

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist or shark catching police captain to realize that organizations are going to start buying these systems to use in locations where traditional videoconferencing systems were just too expensive.  That will mean the need for more bandwidth, more support – more everything.  We’re gonna need a bigger boat…

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