First, let me start by clarifying I have been a huge fan of the personal VC appliances such as the old Tandberg 1000, T-150, Polycom 3000 to the newer Tandberg 1700 or E20 and the latest Cisco EX, Polycom 4000 platforms. The arguments for deploying personal video appliances can be summed up as: Easy to deploy, highly reliable, easy to use, remote management, easy to support, high quality video and overall a great user experience.
The alternative to personal video conferencing appliances was using the desktop PC. The biggest drivers for this approach was perceived cost, UC integration, better utilisation of physical desk real estate, “just” a software deployment and better integration for content sharing. As a technology manager it was easy to get caught up in the” I can just install this software and I am done” camp but the reality was that few companies managed large scale desktop video conferencing deployments the main downsides to the desktop video conferencing solution were that in reality:
- A support visit is required to install web cam/microphone and speakers,
- The software was hard to be installed and configured remotely (manufacturers did not make this an easy task as each client needs its own specific configuration and dial plan alias / E.164 number)
- Windows XP really does not do a very good job of echo cancellation
- Older PC’s really struggled with the processing power required for video conferencing especially with other applications and agents running
- The technical tool set and skill set of the technicians used to managed the existing VC environment are very different to what is required to manage desktop video conferencing
- The departments responsible for video conferencing and desktops are entirely separate
Until recently the status quo was pretty much that Polycom PVX ruled the roost for standards based desktop video conferencing, Cisco and Microsoft kept to their own proprietary offerings(with variable success) and there were a few other smaller players like Mirial, Vcon and Avistar to name a few.
The landscape has now changed
The faster computers required to run windows 7 with vastly improved echo cancellation has made a difference, the fact that millions of consumers worldwide are using Skype, MSN or Google+ has made a difference the wide adoption of the SIP protocol has made a difference and new entrants into the desktop video conferencing space have made a difference and there is now an additional alternative to video appliances and desktop VC. But are the benefits of the desktop appliances still balanced in their favour?
The most recent entrant to encroach into the enterprise video conferencing space is the tablet. Be it IOS or Android based there is now a wealth of low to no cost software allowing you to do enterprise video conferencing from “an appliance” that many people already own. All of the major video manufacturers have launched their own applications (my own view is the Radvision Scopia app is leaps ahead of the Cisco, Lifesize, Vidyo or Polycom apps) All of the applications provide the advantages you would have previously only got from purchasing a traditional desktop VC appliance.
Industry changes are also helping in changing the balance with the desktop video conferencing software. The Cisco Movi/Jabber application combined with TMS goes someway in providing a decent connection between software and management, the Polycom M100 software is also vastly improved in terms of video quality than its previous PVX incarnations.
We are also starting to see the emergence of light weight clients that either require a small user context install or just run in a browser session. These greatly simplify any deployment and also allow adhoc attendees to simply join a video conference.
With the current level of maturity in software, hardware and tablets now in the mix providing high resolution video calls I find it hard to argue for desktop appliances anymore in anywhere other than in a small “huddle” type meeting room or executive meeting office.
Software is getting better, PC’s are getting faster and HD video conferencing is now available on tablets. So is it time now to kill the desktop video conferencing appliances ?
Mark Stainton-James is a recognised technology leader with over 20 years of experience in managing global teams and setting technology strategy for many of the worlds leading financial institutions.
http://www.VCEverywhere.com is a video conferencing exchange provider allowing any video conferencing endpoint to communicate with any other endpoint regardless of platform.