Many of the barriers to adoption of Unified Communications (UC) solutions have been banished. High-speed bandwidth and quality-sensitive applications like videoconferencing have become more affordable and video systems have become simpler to deploy. Now videoconferencing is becoming one of the standardly deployed components of UC systems.
According to an October 2013 study by Infonetics Research, 87 percent of enterprises surveyed plan to add videoconferencing to their UC architecture by August 2014. “The biggest change we’re seeing in unified communication deployments is the adoption of video,” notes Diane Myers, principal analyst for VoIP, UC and IMS at Infonetics Research. “Businesses have been implementing more mobility into their UC architectures over the past year and now are looking toward videoconferencing to help drive further productivity.”
“The vendors that can effectively deliver integrated video and mobility into their UC solution and do so in a simple and easy-to-use manner will be best positioned for success,” adds Myers. “According enterprises participating in our UC survey, Cisco and Microsoft are the leaders in unified communications thanks to their installed base and perceived positions of leadership.”
“It’s a perfect storm, helping the adoption of video. People are collaborating…some with people from three to five locations. Travel budgets are being cut, and it’s easier to adopt video,” says Bill Zakowski, senior manager in Avaya’s Unified Communications Solutions Marketing group. “We’re seeing product managers, program managers, engineers see video as a way to help build teams and help people perform better.”
While companies have been focusing their investments on established enterprise vendors with roots in networking hardware, business software and communications applications, many new companies are entering the market as well as rebranding and banking on the adoption of UC solutions. In October, 2013 Siemens Enterprise Communications changed its name to Unifyto take advantage of a growing interest in hosted unified communications.
Each of these vendors offers an integrated UC package that includes an integrated video collaboration tool. Cisco’s version is called Jabber, Microsoft Lync includes videoconferencing and Avaya’s UC platform has Aura. That’s not to say that the choice of UC vendor necessarily determines an organization’s entire video strategy. A UC solution’s video collaboration applications are usually used only among employees, while an enterprise video conferencing system is used to communicate with people outside of the organization.
Stephen Held, chief information officer of Leo A Daly, an international architecture and engineering firm, describes their “best of breed” approach to video. “Three years ago, we decided that we would leverage Microsoft to satisfy the software component and Cisco to address the hardware component of our UC platform. In an organization of 1,000 employees across 31 locations, we have several hundred webcams deployed to utilize the system,” says Held.
In fact, Leo A Daly came to video collaboration through videoconferencing. Held says that international clients wanted to be able to communicate through video, which demonstrated for the firm the value of the medium for both external and internal collaboration. And because they had established a Microsoft Exchange environment for calendaring, it made sense to choose Microsoft’s UC package.
“Once you get people comfortable with using [calendaring] technology to make themselves more efficient on a meeting basis, it was moving them to the next step — [to] coordinate more easily, communicate more easily,” Held says.
Leo A Daly has been using Microsoft Office Communication Server (OCS) for the last three years and recently upgraded to Microsoft Lync Server 2010. Users naturally came to prefer using the UC platform for communication than their conference bridge, especially because they can start talking in an (IM) message chat and easily escalate to a videoconference as needed.
As Held hints at, Microsoft’s video collaboration feature is inextricable from the rest of the UC platform. Through one interface, users can access Web and videoconferencing, voice, presence, and IM. Lync is accessible through Microsoft Office applications like Outlook, Word and SharePoint. It allows for both scheduled and spur of the moment videoconferences, and participants can join from their computers or smartphones.
Lync Server 2010 is available in two different versions: Standard and Enterprise. According to Microsoft, the Standard Edition is intended for organizations with fewer than 5,000 users and no high availability or performance requirements. Along with the usual UC features, its videoconferencing capabilities allow users to launch PC-to-PC video communications and authenticated internal conferences. The Enterprise Edition handles an unlimited number of users, provides scalability and high availability, and allows for videoconferences with internal and external users.
Lync’s videoconferencing goes beyond a simple chat window. It can display a 360-degree video panorama of a meeting room, and, if there are several people in the meeting, it can detect the speaker and display that person in the video window for all the other participants. It enables application and screen sharing and whiteboarding, a feature that Held calls a “necessity” for Leo A Daly’s engineers.
“We want to be able to do markups of drawings and documents right there, and [get an] instant digital recording,” he says. And, as Held explains, it can be used for more than videoconferencing. “When we launched our latest intranet, we made training videos with Lync and posted them. We’ll be recording more training and more recording presentations — Lync has made recording and publishing that content a lot easier.”
Lync can be purchased as an installed client-server solution or subscribed to as a hosted service. Microsoft’s most recently published pricing for the client-server model is $31 per Lync 2010 Client, $699 for the Standard Edition server software, and $3,443 for the Enterprise Edition server software. Lync Online pricing for Plan 1 (whose features are the same as the Standard Edition) is $2 per user per month, and Plan 2 (which mimics the Enterprise Edition) is $6.50 per user per month. Mobile clients can be downloaded for free through the appropriate app store.
As a networking hardware and communications software vendor, Cisco products span everything from the infrastructure that supports a voice and video network to the applications that enable all modes of collaboration. To deploy Cisco’s video collaboration application, you need to install Jabber, a key part of the Cisco UC suite.
Jabber is in most ways the same as Lync. It also includes voice, presence, instant messaging, desktop sharing and conferencing, and allows users to