ConferenceCloud

Video Conferencing in the Cloud

April Whitzman
June 30, 2015

The term “cloud” or “cloud computing” refers to the accessing of software, files and more over the web, as opposed to being hosted on a physical computer. Think of the difference between owning CD’s versus accessing iTunes. The files are the same, but the way we access them has fundamentally changed.

“The Cloud” has quickly become one of the hottest buzz-terms on the internet today. A quick search yields over a billion results. A 1996 Compaq business plan is the first earliest use of the term in print — today, it’s a household term. iTunes, Netflix, and Dropbox all store information in the cloud as the backbone of their business. Instead of driving to the video store, or browsing your DVD collection, you can sit back, open Netflix, and access millions of titles, all from the comfort of your couch.

For some consumers, moving to the cloud is an obvious decision. Less stuff, less clutter, less driving, more freedom. For others (those of you that still buy DVD’s for your collection), the shift will be more difficult… but it’s inevitable.

Cloud for Business

For businesses, cloud computing offers tangible solutions to help organizations perform more efficiently and productively — while saving money.

Consider an organization that runs projects on an in-house or deployed server. In order to continue to grow a project, they’ve determined that they need more memory space or computing power. But this move would require a significant deployment, costing the firm more than the value of this project.

By moving to the cloud, they have the opportunity to only pay for as much of the server as they need. This as-you-need-it option can save them money, and the fact that it can happen quickly will not slow the project down.

Cloud Applications for Video Conferencing

In a nutshell: video conferencing digitally compresses audio and video streams in real time, allowing participants to see and hear each other across vast distances. Hardware compresses the audio and video using a “codec,” compressing the data into packets at rates of up to 1:500. These packets are then transmitted through a digital network and displayed on the receiving end. The technology requires a video input and output source, an audio input and output source, data transfer, and software that will tie together all of these components.

Video conferencing exists in one of three ways: traditional hardware (or dedicated systems), desktop systems, and video conferencing in the cloud. Let’s whip through a description of the classic methods to set the stage for the cloud revolution:

Traditional Video Conferencing

Dedicated video conferencing systems come equipped with all of the required components that are deployed in an office conference room. The video is generally very high quality and transmitted via a remote controlled video camera.

These systems are generally non-portable, require significant deployment and can be trickier to use. If you have three or more remote points connecting to your conference, this requires a Multipoint Control Unit (MCU) to bridge the sources. All participants call the MCU or participants can have the MCU call their video conference system.

In the past, video conferencing meant making the investment in traditional video conferencing hardware deployment. This could mean thousands of dollars and countless hours spent procuring, deploying and supporting the equipment.

That equipment would then typically only work with the same brand of equipment elsewhere – these systems are very rarely interoperable, meaning that in most application it’s only used as an intra-organization solution. Want to host a video conference with someone on another brand’s system? Too bad.

Cloud Video Conferencing

Cloud-based video conferencing, like cloud computing, gives organizations all of the benefits of video conferencing technology, without the need for hardware and infrastructure. Instead of connecting directly, system to system, all parties on the call connect through a central software application accessed via the internet.

The software is usually system agnostic, meaning that participants can connect regardless of their hardware or software. These systems can use existing infrastructure, mobile devices, laptops, or by audio telephony only. Organizations that had previously invested in hardware can use the equipment in conjunction with the cloud-based application, allowing employees to connect to customers, other business groups and more.

Cloud video conferencing does not require any hardware deployment — it can be used by anyone that has a link to the meeting room on any internet-connected device, such as phone or laptop. As opposed to traditional video conferencing hardware which required participants to have the same system, cloud services transcode data into one uniform format that allows the systems to speak to each other. Participants no longer need to be on the same system, instead, they simply require the link to your conference and they are able to join.

With some cloud video conferencing providers, meeting hosts can invite up to 100 participants to the same meeting, without requiring MCU. The software also allows you to share content and video such as movie trailers and budget spreadsheets, which was not possible with traditional hardware.

How to: Cloud Video Conferencing

Cloud-Video-ConferencingHolding a video conference in the cloud should be pretty simple. It typically goes like this: to complete your next video conference in the cloud really is easy. Simply login to your service provider account, enter your pre-scheduled meeting, or start one ad-hoc and invite anyone from any operating system.

You can even start the meeting from within your internet browser. Next, choose your video connection (computer, room, phone, mobile) and platform, if relevant, and then start hosting your first meeting! You can typically send and receive video, and can control your meeting, including recordings, sharing content, group chats, changing the view, zoom and more.

What to Look for in a Cloud Video Provider

Interoperability

The number one reason most video conferences fail is that the system on the other end is different than the one used to host the meeting. Ensure that the cloud video conferencing provider offers a wide range of support for different operating systems.

It needs to work with every web browser on any operating system. It’s got to work with desktops, laptops, tablets, smartphones, and even the big expensive video conferencing systems.

Support

Need to get up early for a video conferencing with someone in China? Make sure you’ll have the support you need, when you need it. Check the hours and method of support before making a final decision. There are always hiccups – better make sure you can get someone on the phone at any time you’re trying to hold a call.

Sharing features

Does the software allow you to share your screen? Desktop and document sharing improve collaboration and reduce time on projects, improving your company’s ROI. Ask to see a demo of the features to ensure they are intuitive and easy to use.

Number of participants

Your organization’s average audio conference will provide you with a good idea of how many participants you’ll want on a video call. Once you go video, you may never go back.

This is another benefit of the cloud – because people can sign in from anywhere, you have the option to bring in many people from many places. Make sure your service provider can scale to meet the demand. Need 100 collaborators on the call? Some systems can handle that… and some cannot.

Security

The Cloud has developed a bad rap for being insecure. The reality is, computer security experts have proven that poorly configured or poorly supervised video conferencing systems can permit an easy “virtual entry” by computer hackers onto company premises, corporate boardrooms, and join your meetings secretly with their own video conferencing systems.

Use software that has visible and audible alerts anytime someone joins or leaves, and provides the ability to mute, remove participants, and lock a meeting so no one else can join. Also: the best systems will only allow people who have been sent the link.

Another important thing to look for is a default encryption on all standard video signaling protocols including H.235, secure SIP, SRTP, AES and https:// with SSL for all web sessions. You can protect your participant’s privacy by using temporary meeting ID’s so no information is ever shared.

Custom security options are often available as well.

The Bottom Line

Video Conferencing has been proven to reduce travel costs, improve relationships between clients, suppliers and employees by providing face-to-face, real time conversation, and improve collaboration across business units. Making the shift to cloud video conferencing can save your organization time, money, and increase the ROI on previous investments in hardware. No need to get your head out of the cloud — everyone is moving there anyway.

About the Author

With a personal social network of over 25,000 contacts, including 17,000 followers just on Twitter, April’s likeable personality shines across all platforms. Her social media savvy led her to working with Major League Baseball in New York City’s Fan Cave, where, as the first and only Canadian, she connected with millions of baseball fans. At Pragmatic, April leads the marketing team in the management of social media, content, web development, and much more.

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