Building, running and maintaining enterprise networks is getting more complicated and difficult all the time. Part of the problem is the proliferation of real-time applications such as voice and video communication. Such applications demand more bandwidth and better-quality connections than others. Part of it is unavoidable changes in user behavior. Employees' insistence on connecting their own devices to the network is one of the more visible examples of this.
Cloud-based video conferencing represents one of the greatest advances in small to medium-size business communication in years. It gives smaller companies a powerful means of communicating that was formerly available only to large enterprises. But the available services are far from consistently useful. They come with a large variety of approaches, capabilities and features. At the same time, SMBs come in a larger variety of forms and structures than larger companies. Thus, for smaller companies choosing the right cloud video conferencing service to meet one's specific needs can be tricky.
There's no question that video conferencing is well on its way to becoming a routine business tool. It is already common in enterprises, thanks in large part to Cisco's success in pushing high-end telepresence systems into the largest organizations. But it's also growing rapidly among SMBs, largely due to the increasing availability of affordable cloud-based services. And for companies of any size, all signs point to more of the same. Case in point: A new advance by ScienceLogic Inc. has serious potential to accelerate both enterprise and SMB use.
Video conferencing was a lot more interesting to watch in 2011 than was VoIP. It wasn't that nothing happened in VoIP during the year. It was just that a lot more happened in video conferencing. This was especially true in the SMB space. Early summer saw a slew of significant announcements from vendors and providers. These announcements figured prominently in the VoIP Evolution report "SMB Video Conferencing: Getting Beyond Clouds & Interoperability."
It's little exaggeration to say that Vidyo was meant for the cloud. The high-profile startup provides video conferencing technology that does away with MCUs, the multipoint control units that combine individual video streams to create multiparty conferences. Instead, Vidyo employs video routing software that runs on standard servers. It's useful for companies that want to video conference but can't afford expensive MCUs. And a recent announcement makes another advantage clear: Vidyo's approach makes it easy to move video conferencing to the cloud.
When Cisco announced that it was going to stop selling its ūmi "home telepresence" product to consumers, the reason seemed clear. Although ūmi offered a superb video conferencing experience, it was obviously too expensive for even the affluent households the networking vendor was targeting. But Cisco's real mistake wasn't wanting too much money for its product, it was wanting any money at all for it. In a market where competitors were giving away video communication applications as part of other consumer products, wanting to earn revenue selling a dedicated home video conferencing product was a recipe for frustration.
One of the great attractions of IP-based voice and video communication is their capacity for integration with other applications and services. Such integration becomes even more compelling when it involves social networks, which represent the hottest tech trend going. So it was no surprise when the winner of the recent StartupCamp Comms Edition was a company that had created a platform for integrating voice, video and chat with Facebook, as a tool to help students study better together.
From the viewpoint of video communication, two of the most interesting startups at the just-ended TechCrunch Disrupt conference didn't present on stage. Rather, they had displays in the "Startup Alley" area that attendees passed through on the way to the presentation hall. Significantly, both involved non-real-time video communication. Both also worked through Web browsers, Web cams and e-mail rather than through specialized software or equipment. As such, they highlighted one of the most prominent trends in video communication: the push for simplicity, ease of use, flexibility and breadth of availability.
The recent unconfirmed report that Cisco was interested in buying Skype got a lot of attention. Many analysts and pundits pronounced the idea a good one. They pontificated about how Skype service could complement Cisco products and services. Some focused on video communication as well as voice synergies. Few, however, mentioned the fundamental long-term threat Skype poses to Cisco's video conferencing business – and not just Skype, but any Internet-based video communication service. That threat will only grow as time passes. Acquiring Skype could help Cisco cope with the threat.