The traditional architecture
Traditional video conferencing hardware (Lifesize, Polycom, Cisco) is based on the H.323 standard. In its simplest form, this allows devices to call from one to another using an IP address; this is simple and effective. All of today's vendors support a common subset of standards that gives a good level of interoperability. A common subset is:
- H.264 video at 720p, 30fps
- H.239 for screen sharing
- AAC for audio
- H.245 for far end camera control
- H.460 for firewall traversal
Traditional H.323 video deployments will fall into one of two categories: standalone environment (without infrastructure) or a with-infrastructure deployment.
Video network without infrastructure
Where there is no H.323 video infrastructure, it is necessary to place endpoints outside of the firewall and simply dial other video systems by their IP address. This can be expensive as it means the customer cannot use a simple Internet Provider. They need an advanced service with static IP addresses. Endpoints are often configured to auto answer because they are difficult to operate. The use of auto answer causes security vulnerabilities. All StarLeaf devices can be installed behind firewalls, they use DHCP (allowing automatic network configuration), and do not allow auto answer.
Video network with infrastructure
To solve the problems of security and connectivity posed by a standalone environment and to achieve more functionality, traditional H.323 video deployments will often have some or all of the following features:
- Gatekeeper: This is a server to which the H.323 endpoints connect. Once connected, endpoints can dial each other using numbers, (like extension numbers) and, if it is installed on the Internet it will often allow for endpoints to remain safely behind a firewall and allow connectivity to third parties. Gatekeeper functionality is automatic in the StarLeaf environment.
- Firewall traversal server: Some traditional video conferencing vendors require you to purchase and install a separate firewall traversal server. H.323 video conferencing uses H.460 for firewall traversal. However, H.460 often requires specific corporate firewall configuration. StarLeaf video traffic is tunneled such that it will pass through corporate firewall securely and without a problem.
- Multipoint options: To allow multiparty calling, the simple approach is to buy a multipoint option for an endpoint. This allows an endpoint to call out to more than one site at a time. It's a fairly inexpensive way to achieve multipoint functionality but has some limitations. Firstly the endpoint with multipoint capabilities needs to be involved in every multipoint call, this may be inconvenient if it's installed in a busy meeting room. This leads to buying multipoint options for all of the endpoints, which becomes expensive. The second issue is that the bandwidth required to an endpoint to make multipoint calls is much higher than is required to make a single call, and this leads to a much more expensive network connection. The StarLeaf service includes the ability to make multipoint calls from an endpoint without requiring a much more expensive network connection, and to schedule dial-in conferences.
- Multipoint Control Unit (MCU): A more scalable solution to multipoint calls is to use a Multipoint Control Unit or MCU. The traditional vendors will happily sell you one of these. There are also third party manufacturers, as well as service providers, including StarLeaf, who can provide MCU functionality from the cloud. Maintenance, management, scheduling and bandwidth allocation are just a few of the concerns of owning an MCU. The StarLeaf service includes the ability to make multipoint calls from an endpoint and to schedule dial-in conferences.
- Management server: In traditional H.323 video networks, you will often need to purchase and install one or more separate management servers to allow the management of firmware, users, directories, and scheduling. In the StarLeaf service, management is built-in and firmware updates are automatic.
- Gateways: A traditional H.323 network requires the purchase and installation of a gateway to allow users to call between different technologies. For example, to call between H.323 and the PSTN, or to Microsoft Lync or to Web RTC will require a gateway for each type of transcoded call. In the StarLeaf service the cloud will transcode calls where necessary and customers do not need to purchase any gateways.
- Server to support mobile clients: The traditional vendors all have clients for laptops and mobile devices. Due to the difficulty in configuring H.323 endpoints, these clients are usually tied in with infrastructure. In this way, the endpoint software can be free, and installed on multiple devices and the vendor sells an expensive piece of infrastructure to which to connect them. StarLeaf soft clients are available free of charge to every StarLeaf customer.
The StarLeaf solution
StarLeaf has designed a complete cloud-based collaboration solution which combines hardware, software, and services to remove the pain and expense of video conferencing, allowing the users to concentrate on the meeting and not the technology. A customer can focus on deciding on which locations need conferencing and not on how to deliver it.
There is no need for a customer to purchase or manage any infrastructure. All of the required infrastructure is managed by StarLeaf from data centers around the world. This cloud-based infrastructure can be used to support the traditional H.323 endpoints described above by providing them with gatekeeper and MCU functionality as well as soft clients in the form of StarLeaf Breeze software.
StarLeaf hardware endpoints for use in meeting rooms and on desktops differ from traditional H.323 endpoints in that they always connect to the StarLeaf cloud-based infrastructure, so configuration is very easy. The StarLeaf web portal issues a numeric quick-connect-code for each device. The customer then simply plugs the endpoint into a network which has Internet access, and enters the code on the touchscreen controller.
Once installed, a StarLeaf customer will have a system which exceeds the functionality of a full blown infrastructure solution. Features include four digit dialing, integrated ad hoc conferencing, corporate and personal directory, presence, video voice-mail, unlimited soft clients, guest user invites, scheduled conferences including PSTN dial in, and email integration. These will all be automatic and require no additional setup, and no additional cost.
StarLeaf brings the functionality of a full video infrastructure solution without any of the pain or cost that is normally associated with such an installation.