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Videoconferencing Start-Up Pexip Uncloaks From Stealth - Wainhouse Research Interview with CTO Hakon Dahle

May 22, 2013 | Telepresence Options


Story and Images by Andrew W. Davis / Wainhouse

Andrew recently caught up with Hakon Dahle, a well-known video technical guru from his years with Tandberg and Cisco and the Norwegian Navy. Hakon is now involved in one of the industry's newest startups, again based in Oslo.

Hakon Dahle

WR: Like Michael in "the Godfather" and Sal in "the Sopranos," you're probably thinking "just when I thought I was out.... they pull me back in." Seems like the video conferencing industry is one that people just can't exit. Like quicksand. So where have you been since you left Cisco?

HD: Well, first I took some time off to use up my frequent flyer miles for leisure travel. Then I began thinking about some of the unsolved problems in the video conferencing industry and how I might help assemble a team to tackle the challenges.

WR: What are you talking about? There are no unsolved problems in video conferencing.

HD: Let me start with some observations and suggest how they lead to problem identification.

WR: OK. Your observations?

HD: Here are my top four....

1. Enterprises are deploying video conferencing successfully, but video conferencing is still mostly confined to group systems and executive offices -- very few actually deploy video to everyone in an organization. This�is often due to cost -- cost of ownership, expensive hardware infrastructure, and bandwidth.

2. End users want to participate in meetings from wherever they are. As mobile devices are becoming increasingly suitable for high-quality video meetings, the need for conferencing ports will increase. Also, I think that for ease of use and pervasive deployment of video, everyone in an organization should have his or her own virtual meeting room, which again drives the need for conferencing ports.

3. Existing multipoint conferencing technology in the marketplace is expensive, and this cost is an impediment to large scale enterprise deployments.

4. Enterprises are increasingly moving towards data center virtualization. For cost and efficiency reasons it makes sense to run as many workloads as possible on the same server platform. WR: I can't argue with these. So how do you wrap these observations into a problem that needs to be solved?

HD: The bottom line is that interoperable, business-quality videoconferencing cannot be deployed cost-efficiently at scale and usually requires a huge upfront investment in equipment and network upgrades.

WR: Well, it seems like there are a couple of dozen service providers out there who have recognized your challenge and are offering a "no-up-front investment" option to lots of enterprises thinking about large scale personal video�conferencing deployments. One of them is even run by some of your old buddies from your Tandberg-Cisco days. Let's cut to the chase. Is Pexip a product or a service, and how are you different from what's already out there? ]

HD: Let me be clear. We are a product company, and we are just about to make our first product available. WR: Is this just another MCU then?

HD: This is not just another software MCU. We are introducing Pexip Infinity, a scalable software platform providing personal meeting rooms for any number of users on video, voice, and mobile. I think of Pexip as a distributed architecture company, and our first application is a distributed conferencing product. We have designed a software solution from the ground up that is optimized for virtualization -- this is not just a port from hardware to software of an existing application. In short, Pexip offers simple deployment, simple usage, simple scaling -- we introduce simplicity to the world of video conferencing. This simplicity is a type of disruptive innovation we think is much needed in the industry.

WR: So, simplicity is related to virtualization. Is this the magic ingredient? Please explain.

HD: For starters, a scalable, cost-efficient conferencing solution must deliver on five key principles. Once these are satisfied, an enterprise can provide every employee with a dedicated "meet me" conference number, much like employees are provided with email, phone, and a computer today. Here are the five elements; virtualization is only one.

1. Interoperability: This goes without saying - across protocols, products, standards, and vendors. For us, interoperability also means more than just making the connection. Whether you connect using a telephone, soft client, or group system, we want everyone to have a vastly improved user experience, with easy access to roster lists, to be able to see who is speaking, and to be able to view the presentation.

2. Software only: This gives us a fast development cycle using standard tools and platforms and ultimately provides the customer with investment protection, because there is no custom hardware that eventually will become obsolete.

3. Virtualization: Reduces the cost of ownership and management and gives us the capability to run on any standard server. We can deploy anywhere in a matter of minutes using standard IT tools.

4. Distributed: Reduces bandwidth for global conferences while improving latency at the same time. We are not talking about old fashioned cascading here, but truly distributed resources acting as one.

5. Flexible licensing: Licenses are not tied to any single location and customers do not have to buy ports in blocks of 8, 12, or 24, but in any way they want. And the software can be installed on multiple servers for redundancy. WR: So, to summarize, this is a next generation distributed conferencing system, software based, virtualizable, and targeting large enterprises. What is your go-to-market strategy?

HD: Through partners only. However we aren't limiting ourselves to enterprise customers only. This should also be very attractive to smaller enterprises also -- you don't have to have a massive data center to use our technology. A single, standard Intel-based server will do.

WR: Can you shed any light on pricing?

HD: Details will be forthcoming in June. As a pure software product we will have the most flexible pricing models in the industry, offering a simple licensing model. And remember, our goal is to reduce the barriers to deployment and growth. But -- you really should talk to Simen Teigre, Pexip CEO, about pricing -- he handles the business side of things. I am just an engineer.

WR: Speaking of Simen, what can you tell us about your team.

HD: We have 40 people in 5 countries, many with Tandberg experience. Our development team has a strong track record and over 200 years of experience in media coding, protocols, virtualization, call control, and scalable systems. And yes, just when they thought they were out, they got sucked back in! By the way -- you should stop by InfoComm in June this year -- I hear it will be exciting.

WR: So, where did the name Pexip come from? What does it mean in Norwegian? Rumor has it that it is the term for gelatinous Lutefisk that has gone bad while waiting for the video conference to start.

HD: The name actually doesn't mean anything, but we kind of like it. Don't you?

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