5 Myths of Telepresence and What They Mean to Your Business
If you’re reading this, there is a good chance you have more than a passing interest in collaboration, video conferencing or telepresence. Confused? You’re not the only one. You can’t use search terms like collaboration, or telepresence without coming up against different definitions, methodologies or applications. You walk away from a search like that inevitably asking: “What’s the right definition?”
That is the problem with terms like collaboration and telepresence. They are broad and sweeping and you will be hard pressed to find many people who have the same definition. But that isn’t a bad thing. Creating authentic communication and collaboration isn’t a “one-size-fits-all” industry.
5 Myths of Telepresence
Recently, Cisco published an article on their blog debunking five myths around telepresence. These myths are things that we, at ET Group, have come across time and time again when talking to clients. The Myths Cisco talks about are:
Myth #1. “It’s unaffordable and only for the enterprise”
Myth #2. “Web-based consumer services are good enough”
Myth #3. “Software vs. hardware”
Myth #4. “Telepresence is too complex to set up and use”
Myth #5. “The payback is limited to travel”
Debunking The Myths
Debunking the myths is important for three reasons:
- It gives existing telepresence users a way to gauge their investment.
- By putting the myths under the microscope readers can take stock of any preconceptions they might have.
- It helps people to make good decisions when developing a technology roadmap for the next five years.
Myth #1. “It’s Unaffordable and Only for the Enterprise”
I’m going to leave the telepresence ROI discussion to my peers. I’m going to focus on Myths 2-4 because they’re centered more on the technology involved behind the scenes and the user experience.
Myth #2. “Web-Based Consumer Services Are Good Enough”
In previous blog articles We’ve discussed the pros and cons of consumer grade services for your business Video Conference needs. Recently, Microsoft began folding its MSN messenger application and pushing those users towards their Skype platform. The only announcement which improves Skype’s business readiness as a result of this move is an improved mobile application. Mobility without security isn’t going to offer businesses a new experience with Skype. In fact, it would be my guess that the fanfare of the new Skype user base may impact performance with the sheer number of subscribers. Why do I say this? Skype and MSN have had high profile outages in the past due to congestion. It’s worth thinking about what would happen with their combined user bases.
Myth #3. “Software Vs. Hardware”
This question is at the heart of every video conferencing roadmap, and it feeds into three key questions:
- How do you want to collaborate? For an example read 3 Real-Life Solutions to Ensure Video Conferencing Adoption.
- Where do you want your teams to work? See a previous blog Do you Lack Meeting Room Space? Without Exception, Every Company or Agency I Speak with has This Problem.
- What can I leverage today, for tomorrow? Further discussed in the blog Conference Room Audio Visual Solutions are an Integral Part of a Well Executed UC&C Platform.
People often ask, how do I ‘future proof’ my investment? Do I go with a desktop client like Jabber, Lync, or Vidyo; or invest in an integrated boardroom solution? After we start discussing the three questions above, we often find that clients want to do both.
The reasons clients may wish to do both vary, but it boils down to one thing: In many telepresence deployments there is tremendous investment overlap in the requirements for mobile versus office deployments. Understanding this allows clients to prevent the conversation from starting as a “this or that” discussion and making it about workflows and where collaborative technologies can enhance productivity.
Myth #4. “Telepresence is too Complex to Set Up and Use”
I think that it is important to recognize the difference between complex, and flexible. Yes, there are many different ways that you can deploy telepresence. But, that’s true of your Phone System or PBX, and it’s just as true of your computing environment whether its Windows, Mac or Linux based. Options don’t inherently mean complexity, and anyone that tells you differently is avoiding the question.
Options mean that you have to take a very sober look at where your company’s deployment is starting from, and where you want to develop your collaborative ecosystem too in the next five years. But building the ecosystem is only half of the battle.
The other half of this myth is using telepresence; the user adoption of the technology. User adoption is a microcosm of how companies adopt new technologies. Most, will have a few highly evangelical adopters who will win over the office over a period of time. A few will adopt a technology and have it sit unused while they try to figure out what its business application will be. Rarely will everyone see the need to make a change and jump in with both feet. At its heart, user adoption is a battle of perception. Developing adoption comes down to three things, dispelling fears and doubts, kicking the tires, and users finding what’s in it for them.
What Will Telepresence Mean for Your Business?
A lot of what I’ve talked about, and Cisco’s blog post can be summed up into one question: What will Telepresence mean for your business?
If anything, this blog has shown you that there isn’t one-way to answer this question to satisfy everyone. The next time you go to search for collaboration or telepresence, instead of asking “What’s the right definition?”, ask yourself “How will my business define it?”
Cisco has done an excellent job of trying to dispel fears and doubts. If you’re still stuck on the definition we at ET Group can help you with the rest.
Skype for Business – A Unified Communications Tool?
The most “fame” Skype has received is probably from the sitcom “The Big Bang Theory” where the cast uses it regularly to communicate. For example, Raj’s parents who live in India are fringe characters in the show and viewers only know them via Raj who is using Skype on his laptop in the USA.
I use the word “fame” in quotes because TV has given Skype a level of notoriety, which most technology just doesn’t reach. The show has to some extent normalized the use of Skype. And note that the word Skype isn’t actually mentioned on the show but we assume that Skype is the program that is being used, as opposed to other system designs.
Skype – the Most Popular Internet Communications Software in the World for Voice and Video
Millions of people use it every day for personal communications.
According to TeleGeography, ”While international phone traffic growth is slowing, traffic from voice and messaging applications like Skype continue to increase at a stunning pace. TeleGeography estimates that cross-border Skype-to-Skype voice and video traffic grew 44 percent in 2012, to 167 billion minutes. This increase of nearly 51 billion minutes is more than twice that achieved by all international carriers in the world, combined.”
And those personal users are extending Skype for business use as well.
Skype is used for a lot more than video. In fact it really started out and is still primarily used for voice calls. Skype offers a full Unified Communication (UC) technology stack, which is pretty powerful, but not as “industrial” as some enterprise UC technology offerings from say, Cisco or Microsoft.
Skype’s full UC capabilities make it a lot more useful than any of the single communications capabilities on its own.
What Are the Core UC Capabilities Required in Order to Qualify as a UC Product?
- Instant Messaging (IM)
Skype’s UC Capabilities
Presence is about knowing the status or availability of the people that are part of your list of contacts in Skype. If you had 25 people that were on your list of Skype contacts, with a quick glance at the list you can determine if they are online, available, busy, etc. Presence is a handy tool to quickly see how your contacts are currently connected into the Skype world.
IM (Instant Messaging)
IM is no technology breakthrough but is very handy as part of a UC suite. IM let’s you send instant messages to your contacts, or create group message forums. This is handy in a number of situations; your contact shows as busy but may answer an IM message still keeping their voice or video call going; when you establish a voice or video call, one of the parties may have their mic on mute. IM allows communication to advise that they can’t hear the muted party; sending messages to one of the parties in a multi-party call as a side bar conversation. Interestingly Microsoft, which owns Skype, recently announced that they will be retiring Windows Live Messenger forcing users to upgrade to Skype.
Here is where Skype really shines. Free calling computer-to-computer anywhere in the world. That is how Skype went viral, established a huge user base and became a household name brand service. Skype’s voice offering capabilities have grown significantly since the early days and includes: Skype to landline; Skype to mobile; and multi-party conferencing calls (can still be dicey), and voicemail. Note: Most of the additional services are chargeable.
Skype video is pretty good for person to person but their multi-party video offering is chargeable, requiring one participant to have a premier account and doesn’t work that well. I have used other products that allow me to conduct a good video to video call with limited bandwidth, where the same call using Skype, has Skype telling me to turn off my video because there is not enough bandwidth.
Skype will likely continue to develop this part of their technology solution. A case in point is that they just recently announced a new Video Messaging service where users (for a fee) can leave video mail messages.
Beyond Unified Communications
Skype also offers features, which go beyond the UC stack, such as: content sharing, files transfer, and SMS messaging. These features make the product more powerful and useful.
Skype also works on lots of devices, PC, Macs, tablets and phones, but typically the full UC suite is not available on all these platforms.
Skype is a powerful communications platform and is getting better all the time. It is not always the best platform for business or for connecting outside participants to meeting rooms.
Time will tell whether this changes as the product continues to develop. Skype’s continued growth and feature enhancement paints a rosy future for it. Skype is a great starter technology for enhanced communications.
But as you start to pay for more Skype features and push the limits of the technology, there are other viable options, which solve some of its limitations and are offered at a comparable price point. Contact us to discuss these alternative options like commercial grade video conferencing solutions like our HybridX.
Rule #1 for Video and Firewalls: Say NO to Helper Services
Firewalls are probably one of the biggest peace-of-mind purchases that an enterprise will make to ensure it’s secure from the outside world. More comprehensive firewalls offer a vast suite of tools and features to make the life of the administrator easier by automating as much of the process of security management as possible. When it comes to video conferencing technology, the lion’s share of firewall solutions are not as video friendly as the feature set suggests.
Today, many firewalls are equipped with things like SIP ALG or H.323 helper services, which the vendor suggests will allow clients to easily traverse the firewall and make a more seamless, more secure connection. The problem is that it’s rarely –if ever- the case. These services while helpful in theory, are often part of what is called Stateful Packet Inspection (SPI). SPI’s role in your protection is to open each bit of data passing in and out of your network to look for any threats and neutralize them before they cause any damage. This can cause significant performance problems for video conferencing. Some firewalls can be “aware” or sensitive to the particulars of video conferencing protocol, although they also have some inherent risks, which need to be mitigated by your IT security policies.
What Does This All Mean? If it’s Not Fool Proof, Why Do it at All?
Every firewall is different and every enterprise uses their firewall differently. Hence, no two installations will be exactly the same. Because no two installations will be the same, firewall vendors have done quite a bit in recent years to provide the ability to turn off, or change the role of SPI and helper services on your firewall. Unfortunately in most cases, it isn’t enough. Video traffic passing through a firewall using helper services or SPI can severely lower performance because of the processing power required to monitor the traffic.
The other serious limitation of firewalls when it comes to video traffic and SPI is dynamic port allocation. All modern firewalls work very well against the model of fixed port allocation. In this model, the security admin defines what traffic on what port is allowed into and out of the network. As video and other business applications gain ground in network bandwidth usage this model becomes harder to maintain.
Video specifically requires very few fixed ports for connecting participants. It relies more heavily on dynamic port allocation, where a port or group of ports is chosen by the client to make a connection. Without a specific rule, most firewalls do not respond well to passing traffic through to allow this video connection. Ports used for video calls will fall within a set range as large as 10,000-20,000 possible port combinations and it’s a cumbersome undertaking to maintain. The firewall by design has to strike a balance between being porous and secure. Because that balance is required, video conferencing infrastructure has evolved to come up with ways of securely adapting to the needs of the network.
Two Ways to Handle the Firewall Question
There are two popular approaches to handling video traffic without compromising your network security. Video vendors understand that businesses want collaboration without compromising security, or network performance. With this in mind, two approaches have emerged to mitigate the risk to security and performance, and to provide the enterprise with peace-of-mind.
1. Larger Market Players take a Traversal Approach
They literally hop over the firewall, bypassing it with secured edge servers, or pass through it on a very limited range of open ports. This is a tried and true option utilized by large enterprises. It offers the greatest scalability and flexibility. IT Administrators prefer these solutions because they are designed with security policy in mind, resulting in an easy solution for the security minded to get behind.
2. Up and Coming Vendors Leverage Existing Infrastructure
Vendors can still offer rich experiences for their end users by leveraging existing infrastructure from the DMZ or the cloud. Depending on the deployment scenario, these solutions can require anywhere from 100 to as few as 0 ports. In fact, they can even be offered as cloud services almost removing your corporate firewall from the equation. They are mobile focused, sleek, stylish and their flexibility makes them a sexy option for the “Bring Your Own Device” crowd.
Firewalls are not the only ‘helpers’ that can come into contact with your video conferencing traffic. At their core, WAN optimization technologies try to apply some kind of order to your public traffic. Their greatest advantage is that IT staff will already be familiar with the idea of Quality of Service (QoS). They will also be familiar with traffic shaping, which is fundamentally what these tools accomplish albeit on the open Internet instead of your corporate network.
These are relevant to a firewall discussion because unlike firewall helpers, WAN optimizers are generally very media sensitive tools. They are geared to improve your experience with video conferencing, but can also work to your advantage on other lines of business applications as well. Regardless of the vendor and the way it’s deployed, all video conferencing solutions eventually come back to the firewall.
Things to Consider Before Deploying Video Conferencing
1. Make Sure You Know What Your Firewall Vendor Supports and Their Limitations
2. Most Importantly, Discuss the Implications of Video Conferencing with an Integrator Before Deploying Video Conferencing to Your Users.
Having these two on your strategy checklist will be the difference between a rich pervasive collaborative experience and a pixelated game of charades.
If you have any questions concerning what your firewall vendor supports and the possible implications of your video conferencing system, please contact us.