Sunday, August 1, 2010

Enterprise video

I often get asked if consumer video technologies like Skype provide a competitive threat to enterprise-focused technologies like Avistar, since Skype video quality is getting better and now includes HD support. However, HD video quality by itself is not what makes video conference technology enterprise class. In fact, it’s probably only one of 5 requirements that enterprises mandate. The other ones are:
  1. Manageability: this is the number one requirement for Enterprise Video: enterprise network managers need to have full control over video technologies and in particular over how much bandwidth these technologies consume on their networks. Without such controls, widespread use of interactive video could affect other (potentially more mission-critical) applications on the network or in the worst case bring the network down to its knees. This is an area where consumer technologies fall woefully short. In fact, Skype (having its origins in the peer-to-peer file sharing world) goes out of its way to obfuscate itself, which makes it almost impossible for IT people to manage. That’s one of the reasons why many large organizations ban Skype on their networks altogether. Even technologies like Microsoft OCS today do not include the necessary bandwidth management tools to enable large organizations to turn on OCS video enterprise-wide.
  2. Interoperability: enterprises tend to deploy many communications technologies for various use cases (e.g. VoIP, rooms-based video conferencing, desktop video conferencing, webcasting and web conferencing, etc.). They can ill afford to deploy proprietary silo technologies that cannot interoperate with the full complement of other communications technologies deployed in the same enterprise. This is another big impediment against enterprise adoption of Skype (which is probably the most closed and proprietary technology in the voice and video industry today).
  3. Security: the level of security required by enterprises is significantly higher than what’s typically provided by consumer-class tools. Enterprises need to prevent unauthorized access to enterprise resources (such as video conferencing infrastructure), need to ensure confidentiality of their communications (using enterprise-class encryption technology) and need to prevent communications tools from being used as a mechanism for malware to intrude corporate networks.
  4. Functionality: enterprises have come to expect a certain amount of basic functionality for their video conferencing tools, especially in the area of multi-party video conferencing. They expect continuous-presence layouts where all participants can be seen at the same time, transcoding architectures that adapt to each participant’s unique bandwidth and capabilities (thereby avoiding a lowest-common-denominator problem), some amount of conference control, etc. Consumer tools don’t typically provide these basic features.
So, while Skype is excellent technology that enjoys tremendous adoption-including in business settings-there are significant opportunities for other products to address the unique requirements of Enterprise Video.

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