Video over IP

Are Cloud-based Multi(Video) Conference Units (MCU), a good idea?

While consumers have cloud-based services like Google + hangouts, Skype, etc. to initiate multi-point video calls, why don’t we commonly hear of cloud-based multi (video) conference units (MCU) for enterprise/corporate customers, instead of dedicated MCU’s for each company? Well, the enterprise video conferencing scenario is slightly more complicated, that’s why!

In enterprise companies and large organizations, people generally buy room-based and personal video conferencingĀ  systems that give a much better user-experience than web-cam based consumer systems. Some of the high-end room-based video conferencing systems have limited multi-conferencing capabilities. Common models can initiate video conferencing sessions between 3-5 sites, or slightly more.

This surely is not sufficient for many companies that have a world-wide network. Or even a country-wide network. These companies have to either buy an expensive multi-conferencing unit (multi-point control unit), deploy it in one of their locations and then make video calls involving personnel from multiple branches, simultaneously (or) they need to buy even more expensive Telepresence systems.

If the deployment of these systems are properly planned (which in many cases involves buying MCU’s and endpoints from the same vendor), the user-experience remains excellent. Large organizations and MNC’s might be able to afford such MCU’s, but it might be outside the purview of smaller and distributed organizations.

There are video conferencing solutions that can offer the same multi-point capability using cheaper/commodity-based computing devices like servers and proprietary software, but this approach might only reduce the initial/capital expenditure, somewhat.

A cloud-based multi(video) conferencing unit on the other hand, involves little or no upfront expenditure for the customer and would allow them to pay based on usage (number of minutes, number of locations, etc.). As many companies do not host a multi-conference video call on a daily/weekly basis, this might be a more appealing/cost-effective solution for them. Also, as multiple customers sign-up with a single multi-conference service provider, the equipment can be utilized for many more hours (than what can be done by individual companies) and the service provider can realize good revenues on scale.

While cloud-based multi(video) conferencing is possible, there are some questions.

  • Can it accommodate video conferencing units from multiple vendors/multiple brands?
  • Can it work with professional as well as personal/mobile/desktop video conferencing systems?
  • Can it give the same reliability for video conference sessions (like earlier) as VC systems need to use public Internet connections instead of enterprise-optimized networks, like MPLS?
  • Can it be priced competitively, reduce capital and running costs for customers and still manage to generate profits for the cloud-based video conference service provider?
  • Can it be scaled quickly to accommodate the large number of conference locations, as and when required by enterprise companies?
  • Can it enable existing features of enterprise video conferencing systems like sharing presentations/documents, along with video?

The question is not whether such solutions exist, they do. But the question is, whether distributed companies will adopt such solutions and whether these solutions be able to satisfy the demands of such customers?

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