Latest Telepresence and Visual Collaboration News:
Enterprise Connect 2013: The Exhibit Hall Crawl Part 1
Earlier in the week, we presented our wrap-up of the Enterprise Connect 2013 conference sessions, which was co-authored with Dimension Data Principal Consultant David Danto and covered such themes as UC, Interoperability, WebRTC, "Good Enough" Video, and Future Visions. However, the conference is only half of the event, as there is always a lot of action on the floor. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to catch up with everyone at the show, but I did manage to get the scoop at a good number of booths. More importantly, as much as I appreciate chatting with everyone on desktop VC, it is always great to see everyone in full 3D and actually shake some hands.
No tradeshow is complete until you visit the troops in the trenches, our industry tradeshow warriors. Each vendor rep valiantly tries to share their company's message with distracted analysts in demo after demo, hoping that something will get through. As I dig through the pile of notes, I hope to share some of what we found interesting, and at least give a friendly shout-out to everyone kind enough to chat with us. With far too many companies to cover in one article, this article will be split into two parts. Part one covers Cisco, Vidyo, Polycom, Smart, TelyHD, BlueJeans, Vidtel, and Yorktel. Please check back in a few days for coverage of Magor, Zoom, StarLeaf, AGT, PanaCast, Nexistant, ClearOne, Logitech and LifeSize.
Please note, you will want to read part 2 as these companies are every bit as cool and interesting as the ones being covered today, I am just going through my notes in the order that I crawled through the booths.
In case you couldn't tell by the huge doctor on the wallpaper behind it, the product shown above was designed for telemedicine. Cisco decided to give us a few more clues by draping multiple stethoscopes and lab coats on the bot, so there would be no mistakes. Kidding aside, Cisco gets credit for giving telemedicine some love at the show. The telemedicine space has been a fantastic early adopter for visual collaboration technology, and the actual use cases are often incredibly heartwarming stories involving real people getting real help from our technology. I know telemedicine has its own conference, but I would still think it deserves special treatment at all of these events.
The big story at Cisco is the new interoperability between WebEx and their traditional videoconferencing platform. The established user bases of these environments alone makes this big news. The ability to join a meeting, and share content, from your everyday WebEx desktop account to a full featured Cisco TelePresence enabled meeting room will certainly be appreciated in the real world.
Otherwise, Cisco didn't have any mind blowing new tech at the show. They did bring back the big TX9000, which is still an impressive product, despite the fact that this year I didn't have to fight my way through the crowd to get a peek at it. Perhaps Andrew Davis is right and they are getting bored of their video toys and focusing on other areas. Cisco also was demoing some videophones (telephones with small screens for VC). It is still difficult to determine if the small screen videophone will ever gain traction. 20 years ago I would have guessed there would be one on every workers desk by this time. Now, I don't know if it will ever be anything more than an executive novelty.
Vidyo's H.265 SVC Demo - (Previously Covered Here)
The Vidyo booth was busy, as the company is riding a wave of momentum (as detailed in my recent interview with CEO Ofer Shapiro). 2012 was a banner year for this company, with big wins in the technology space (as competitors continue to follow their SVC lead), as well as big wins in the marketplace. As I listened to the briefings and watched the demonstrations I sensed a shift in the mood at the booth for this event. This was no longer the booth of an industry upstart, with that slightly nervous energy resulting from the need to validate their offering, approach, and mere existence to show attendees. This was the booth of an established leading player in the space, with the confidence that comes from the realization that they no longer have to explain why enterprise should use Vidyo, and they can instead explain why enterprise is already using Vidyo, in ever increasing numbers.
The most popular demo at the booth appeared to be, to no surprise, the Lync integration. Another difference between upstart and leadership, analysts want to know IF upstarts have Lync integration, but we want to know HOW leaders are doing it. That being said, Vidyo's Lync strategy is a multi-faceted approach, all of which leverages fully automated Active Directory integration for single source user management. With our heads spinning from all of the Lync demonstrations, we asked Mark Noble, Vidyo Sr Director of Product Marketing, to help us out with a quick summary of the Vidyo approach, which included the following:
- Vidyo enabled Lync Clients: This is a plug-in approach using MS Lync APIs to embed the Vidyo experience into the MS Lync client. All of the benefits of the Vidyo experience (error resilience, transcode-free multipoint, cost effective scalability, seamless integration with all form factors, etc.) with the convenience of a single client that has the Lync IM & Presence. This enables users to select one or more contacts in the Lync client and click a button at the bottom of the client to escalate to a Vidyo call. Far ends that also have a Vidyo enabled Lync client ring and can choose to accept or reject.
- Web browser guest access: Those without the plugin that are invited to a Vidyo conference get a hyperlink to the virtual meeting space via IM which they can click-to-connect via web browser. This is useful both for internal folks that haven't been Vidyo enabled and for meeting with third party organizations. Reduces the friction associated with installing a client and delivers same high quality experience.
- Native Lync client video: This offering provides transcoded real time video via the VidyoGateway interoperability platform. Virtual personal Vidyo rooms can be populated as entities in Active Directory so that native Lync users can look up a user's conference facility and call in right from the contact list. Behind the scenes the call is initiated via SIP URI."
Lync users have a lot of choices when it comes to adding video capabilities. While we haven't done a comprehensive head to head comparison of all the competitive approaches, it is pretty safe to say that the benefits which have made Vidyo so popular as a stand-alone video solution, will make it a compelling choice for the Lync environment. The final new announcement at the show was the completion of the virtualization of Vidyo infrastructure. With the VidyoGateway and VidyoPortal now virtualized, the shift to the cloud is complete and soon customers can take advantage of all Vidyo offerings and capabilities without any hardware purchases.
Polycom has been relatively low key at these events recently, and some analysts are quick to dismiss them as an old hardware company that doesn't understand the new cloud based world. I prefer to judge a company based on its products, rather than its stock fluctuations, and the fact is that their RealPresence cloud-based platform is actually pretty compelling. Furthermore, Polycom picked the right horse and got in the Lync partnership game early. As a result their booth was crowded with people seeking a demo of their Lync integration, and seeking to learn more about their new Lync related partnership with HP.
All of the big hardware vendors are undergoing a very difficult and even painful transformation into software now. There will be a lot of strategic choices to make, and plenty of opportunity to make mistakes. Polycom clearly realizes the seriousness of the market shift, and is working to reinvent itself accordingly, without losing its identity. They have the channel, and with RealPresence, they may have right offering. The only question is whether the new, nimble, competition will simply share in the growing market, or whether Polycom has a fight on its hands. Either way, it is spurring awesome innovation from all sides, much to the delight of consumers.
SMART Room System for Microsoft Lync
(Note: This section was guest authored by Publisher Howard S. Lichtman)
One of the solutions that impressed us the most at EC was SMART Room System for Microsoft Lync. The solution integrates an ultra-wide angle high-definition camera with a 109 degree field of view with either one or two SMART boards and creates a simplified workflow to get into a collaborative Lync session. The companies developed three different versions for different sized rooms ranging from 100 - 300 square feet with either a single 70" SMART Board, a single 84" SMART Board, or dual 70" SMART Boards. Each room is scheduled as a resource in Microsoft Exchange and joining a meeting and connecting the video and SMART Boards in each room has been simplified to a single click. Microsoft and SMART have developed their own control panel solution with a simplified GUI to launch calls, switch between presenters, and between presentations and inter-active whiteboard content. The cost are $20,000 for the 70" single panel, $25,000 for the single 84" panel, or $30,000 for the dual 70" panels.
The solutions addresses some of the biggest shortcomings of the previous iterations of connecting SMART Boards for data collaboration and interactive whiteboarding using SMART's data collaboration application, Bridgit: The remote locations didn't sign into the conference automatically (there was an authentication process that required people familiar with the software on both sides) and a the lack of GUI dedicated to the workflow of the session. These are superb improvements but there are still some shortcomings:
- This is a Lync-only solution. You can't get the improved collaborative workflow, control panel, and simplified GUI to improve an existing deployment of SMART Boards and videoconferencing end-points. Also, no options for integrating 3rd party control systems like AMX, Crestron, and Extron so if you have a corporate standard for meeting room controls you are out-of-luck
- The video quality is sub-par. Microsoft Lync is superb for integrating presence and calendaring and data collaboration into an interface that most of the world is already familiar with. Their video quality leaves much to be desired.
- No option for additional cameras: The camera mounted over the boards is the only camera option and it is designed for capturing the participants at the table not the presenter who is sharing information at the board. In our consulting practice we have designed solutions for capturing presenters standing at whiteboard which is a much better format for the remote participants. SMART Room System participants get the top of the presenter's head.
- Not backwards compatible with all SMART Board Solutions - Did you just buy a SMART board solution for enabling data collaboration between your rooms and now want to upgrade it to SMART Room System? Maybe you can and maybe you can't. It depends on if you bought the latest generation of the SMART 70" and or 84" 8000 series panels you probably can upgrade but the system won't work with any of the projector-based SMARTBoard solutions.
All-in-all, an excellent solution for improving data collaboration between rooms for anyone with an Microsoft Lync environment. Hopefully, the improved workflow and control system will make its way into other SMART solutions in a more open format with more options for all.
There was a lot of buzz around the TelyHD booth. I personally walked by it several times without giving it a thought, as I had already categorized them as a consumer product in my mind based on earlier coverage. After actually opening my eyes and ears and chatting with the TelyLabs team (shout-out to the Davids), I realized that this product has been completely re-envisioned as a result of TelyHD executing an exceptionally smart pivot.
The solution was originally marketed as a home / living room solution. While it did appear to be ideally designed for that ever elusive market, their customers went in a different direction and started using them in the workplace. Rather than adhere to their internal vision, TelyHD listened to their customers, and completely revised their product and partner strategies, which allowed them to quickly add business features (screenshare, interop, etc.) to their product.
The result is an affordable, acceptable quality, small meeting room solution. This isn't designed to compete with the premium quality Boardroom VC world. But it is very compelling for smaller, lower profile, huddle rooms. The wider angle camera provides better coverage than the typical webcam, to avoid the "crouched around the laptop" experience. Unlike webcam based solutions, the TelyHD is a completely plug and play solution, and no separate laptop or device is required to power it.
An interesting aspect of the TelyHD is that it may herald the return of the set-top meeting room solution. Set top provides better (although still not perfect) eye contact than table-top cameras in many situations, and can be less obtrusive. The reason that the old set-top category of solutions died isn't because we didn't like the set-top dynamic, it was simply because we couldn't balance the solutions of the time on a flatscreen.
I am a VC System, not a tightrope walker!
As we got rid of our boxy TVs and replaced them with flat screens, we had to move away from our set-tops, as much as we loved them. Until now, there was no real replacement. It would not be surprising to see TelyHD continue to expand into the efficiency huddle room market, and for other set top designs to follow.
Another highlight of the TelyHD booth was their BlueJeans integration. This is a very smart partnership for both parties, and a total win for customers who want to set up a video system in minutes, with integrated, drop dead easy, industry leading interoperability.
To see the other half of the TelyHD / BlueJeans interop demo, we walked over to the BlueJeans booth. This is another company which has been extremely interesting to follow since it first blew my mind a few years ago by allowing me to connect a traditional endpoint to a Skype client. Looking back, it almost seems that the analyst world didn't appreciate the significance of the BlueJeans vision. Perhaps they were just too "different" from the rest of the VC industry at the time. The VC world was primarily dominated by endpoint appliance manufacturers, so what were we to make of this new company that didn't have any boxes to sell?
A lot can change in a few years, and I can now honestly say that when I hear the word "BlueJeans," I don't think about pants first. Their success isn't just limited to recognition by slow moving analysts, they are doing very well in the market, and have great stories of user adoption and growth to share. We also saw almost universal acknowledgment that the BlueJeans marketing team knocked it out of the park with their extremely timely, and very funny, response to the Marissa Mayer / Yahoo drama.
Buzz aside, BlueJeans continues to push development hard. It feels like every time I talk to these guys, they have something completely new, working, ready to show me, and soon to be added to their platform, if not already in use by their customers. At the booth, I saw advanced collaboration features and mobile capabilities, as well as some new layout controls providing a better experience for users watching both video and shared content. And, of course, they were showing off their Lync integration (which I am starting to believe was a booth requirement).
BlueJeans also deserves credit for a particularly well designed and polished user interface. With cloud interop services being so cutting edge, some of today's offerings are clearly devoting all of the dev budget to functionality and leaving very little to the design crew. BlueJeans is a start-up, but they are a well enough financed start-up to provide an offering with the quality look and feel you expect from a company with some resources. The result is a professional and "ready for prime time" user experience. Finally, BlueJeans is noteworthy simply for being leaders in one of the hottest segments in the visual collaboration industry. Today, a number of companies, new and old, are announcing their cloud-based interop services. But would they be doing so if it wasn't for the vision and leadership of pioneers like BlueJeans?
Of course, BlueJeans isn't the only company making waves, showing leadership, and enjoying success in the cloud interop space. One booth over (within spitball range, although everyone was well behaved) was the Vidtel team. Despite the inevitable comparisons, they are very different companies with very different approaches. One interesting Vidtel differentiator is their cloud gateway service. Organizations with existing MCUs may want to add interop, without having to shift to a new cloud meeting room service. Vidtel allows the orgs to use their existing MCUs to host the meetings, leveraging Vidtel's cloud for the interop piece. Vidtel is also a little different in that they dont employ the same level of consumer facing marketing, due to the fact that they are 100% channel / partner based. In fact, their booth was set-up to include, and highlight, partner relationships with diverse companies representing both go-to-market, and technology partners.
- Solutionz: Video integrator / solutions provider
- ACT: Conferencing Service Provider
- Intelepeer: Telephony service with SIP Trunking & Video
- AVer: Equipment manufacturer
- Compunetix: MCU Provider
- Burstpoint: Streaming, Recording Solution.
Don't mistake Vidtel's lower key approach for a lack of activity. They are moving quickly in both the constant development and improvement of their platform, as well as adding new channel partners with almost 100 partners worldwide currently selling the Vidtel service. The company is extremely technology focused, and working very hard to lead in a number of directions. CEO Scott Wharton is quickly becoming synonymous with WebRTC due to both Vidtel's native WebRTC client as well as his thought leadership and participation in numerous WebRTC related events.
We spoke with Joseph Arena and Mike Swade from team Yorktel to get the scoop on their new VideoCloud service portfolio. There are a lot of managed service providers in the world, but managing video services has always required specialized skill. Yorktel has long been known as one of the companies that focuses on video, and really does video well. As a result, in my experience they are generally included in the standard "short list" of VCMSPs to consider.
The new VideoCloud service is the result of leveraging Yorktel's unique strengths and experience, to create an offering closely tailored to support organizations cutting edge B2B needs. The offering includes three solutions, which follow the three basic models for supporting B2B in 2013.
- VideoCloud Virtual Meeting Room: The market has spoken. Users like the dynamic of an ad-hoc meet-me room with strong interoperability.
- VideoCloud Managed Conferencing Service: Some users have more complicated environments and need some "high touch" assistance along with their cloud-based video bridging. Yorktel is known for providing the support needed to assure trouble-free meetings.
- VideoCloud B2B Service: This is a hosting and interop solution, offered as an accompaniment to the managed VC service offering.
One particularly noteworthy feature of their new offering is the full integration with Lync and Office 365. While everyone at the show was demoing Lync, Yorktel claims their level of integration with Office 365 is an industry exclusive. Yorktel understands that these Microsoft offerings can offer powerful value if properly integrated into the meeting room itself.
Yorktel is also notable for its consultative approach, working with customers to create vertical offerings as a service, meeting specific needs. They manage collaboration technology holistically across the communications environment and understand that designing the workflow can be more important than the technology product choices. Big MSP support, with a small company touch.
I asked how they have seen the VCMSP space evolve and they noted that one key difference is user demand. 5 years ago, customers were happy if the systems in the meeting rooms worked reliably. Now, every single customer is saying, "If I can Skype with my kid at school, why can't I do video with my colleagues and partners?" Yorktel appears to be ready to answer that question.
More To Come!
Please check back in a few days to see what I learned from the remaining vendors. I just couldn't write fast enough to include everyone in this first shot, but I promise that the companies covered in the next part are just as interesting and cool as the ones covered here, so you will definitely want to check it out.
About the Author
David Maldow, Esq. is a visual collaboration technologist and analyst with the Human Productivity Lab and an associate editor at Telepresence Options. David has extensive expertise in testing, evaluating, and explaining telepresence and other visual collaboration / rich media solutions. David is focused on providing third-party independent analysis and opinion of these technologies and helping end users better secure their telepresence, videoconferencing, and visual collaboration environments. You can follow David on Twitter and Google+.
Add New Comment
Telepresence Options welcomes your comments! You may comment using your name and email (which will not be displayed), or you may connect with your Twitter, Facebook, Google+, or DISQUS account.
See what happens when YouTube and TPO come together at the Telepresence Options YouTube Channel.