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The VCaaS Future: Cloudy With a Chance of Hyperbole
The video conferencing market is undergoing fundamental change and the struggle for the existing vendor community is to remain relevant (and solvent).
Cisco's announcement last week of Collaboration Meeting Room (CMR), a videoconferencing-as-a-service (VCaaS) product, reminds me of the old bit about "fooling some of the people some of the time." CMR is not the company's first foray into VCaaS (it's actually #3). It's neither the first nor the last salvo in the VCaaS wars: Three days after the CMR announcement Lifesize announced "Lifesize Cloud," coincidentally that company's third generation VCaaS offering as well. Both the Cisco and Lifesize announcements, as well as one earlier by Polycom, are generally viewed as reactions to the "Blue Jeans threat." But the real story is much more than that, as even the guys from "too big for their jeans network" will attest. The video conferencing market is undergoing fundamental change and the struggle for the existing vendor community is to remain relevant (and solvent).
VCaaS is kind of like "Skype for the enterprise." The VCaaS provider provides all the video infrastructure needed by the customer, including bridges, gateways, NAT/firewall traversal, etc. These are delivered as a monthly subscription. Most VCaaS services today provide users with a virtual meeting room to which they can invite meeting participants - a well-established paradigm. Some services enable direct point-to-point calling as well. With VCaaS, customers avoid infrastructure CapEx (they still need hardware or software endpoints) and the responsibility for managing and scaling a complex infrastructure system.
Cloud: Unfortunately, the term "cloud" has been hijacked by many marketing gurus and used loosely to describe many services and architectures. The phrase "in the cloud" has become a metaphor for the Internet and often refers to platforms, software, or infrastructure that is sold "as a service." In truth, despite widespread marketing claims, a server hosted inside a data center or service provider facility is not by itself a cloud service. A true cloud service requires multiple data centers (with physical and/or virtual servers) operating in tandem and providing some level of redundancy (against network or power outages, hackers, hardware failures, etc.) and scalability while the architecture typically remains invisible to the user. Furthermore, a cloud service intended to deliver high quality, real-time video communications has an additional requirement: low-delay. Hence VCaaS really calls for a quality-of-service network for connecting cloud centers. This low-delay requirement is not crucial for services like Web applications and streaming services.
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