An invaluable guide from StarLeaf CTO: William MacDonald, which clears the way when considering a cloud video provider.
As video infrastructure starts its steep decline in sales, the Lifesize Cloud announcement and Cisco's impending Collaboration Meeting Room come as no surprise to me. In both cases, the transition from 'big tin' to services is designed to maintain market share. It's great news, and a coming of age for all of us with established cloud video services. And here's "the but": just like the infrastructure they aim to replace, not all cloud services are equal. There are many variations that can trip up the end user, so here are my top tips for what to demand from a cloud service.
- Scheduled conferencing and ad hoc calling - in one service please! Seriously, choose a service with both capabilities. Scheduling has to be easy, via a web portal, and accessible to all employees at no extra cost. Calendar integration is essential, and somewhat obvious, and so too is global-audio dial in for conferences. What has made the phone so pervasive? The ability to just call someone without pre-arrangement and this is just as important for video. Users must be able to instantly video call anyone at anytime. There's no getting around it, most cloud services do not support instant collaboration or allow for a 2-way conversation to escalate to a 3, 4 or 5 way meeting. Without this you have unknowingly placed a restraining order on video, and have no way for users to jump on a video call straight away. You might as well stick with the phone!
- Interoperability - full on and every which way Only consider services that allow people to use any system to call anyone else on any hardware or software video endpoint, from any manufacturer. Make sure your provider supports SIP, H.323 and Microsoft Lync across their devices and yours (BYOD). Also make sure they have a track record of bringing new technologies on board, such as WebRTC. Ensure support for firewall traversal and easy dialing - both for their own hardware and software, but also those of other manufacturers - don't be forced to rip-and-replace just because you want a new service.
- Security - never to be underestimated Require industry standard encryption and authentication for all calls. Demand a service that does not scare your firewall administrator with unrealistic demands, such as needing to open large numbers of ports on your network. Ideally your solution will "just work" without any changes to your firewall rules. Ensure the provider is in full control of their datacenters and do not rely on others to provide this hugely important part of their service.
- Integrated appliances - a perfect world In the perfect cloud, video endpoints are tightly coupled to the service. Here the endpoints are continually enhanced - so make sure the provider has a record of innovation with automatic delivery of must have features. At a minimum, ensure automatic firmware updates, integrated scheduling and one-touch-to-join-a-conference are provided. There needs to be a full range of appliances to fit all needs - from the desktop to the boardroom. Professional AV and AMX/Crestron support should be available and all endpoint settings must be controllable from the cloud. Together with this, multiple logins for your management portal should be available, to allow you, your IT staff, reseller or other partners to support your deployment, without requiring you or an onsite presence to address any configuration fixes or changes. Finally, in my perfect world easy provisioning becomes available removing all notion of traditional settings to do with gatekeepers, registrars etc. which only cause support and usability issues.
- Quality - choose wisely as it's never guaranteed When using the Internet as a transport network, the cloud provider must guard against packet loss. Make sure multiple approaches are used - as one or two is never enough. Look for forward error correction, robust codecs such as SVC and AAC-LD and dynamic bandwidth management. Another factor that affects quality is latency. This is greatly improved by having the media flow directly between endpoints where possible, rather than always traversing the Internet, and by having points-of-presence in your vicinity. Ease of use is critical to the quality of the experience. If a user cannot figure out how to call someone, it doesn't matter how good the video would have been. So consistent user interfaces, one touch dialing and an automatically generated corporate directory are essential.
- Cost of ownership It's true that with the cloud you'll no longer be dealing with the expense and maintenance of big metal, but pricing models from one cloud vendor to another vary greatly. Some charge by the minute, and/or by the user, others offer a flat rate. With such variations you'll find it difficult to compare apples with apples. However, if you steer clear of per user and per minute pricing you will not be facing a massive bill should your deployment turn out to be very successful. Look for a provider where you can scale video by opting for a model where adding users does not add cost. Really, your business should look for a flat rate with predictable costs, and this should allow for unlimited calling and conferencing with no surprises!
In summary: the good news is that with StarLeaf you can check all of these boxes. We guard against any unwanted surprises, enabling you to benefit from products and services that continue to deliver a return on investment.