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TPO Feature Interview: Magor's Ken Davison on Industry Trends and Aerus

February 25, 2014 | David S. Maldow, Esq.


It's been almost a year since we checked in with�Magor. At the time, the Aerus solution had just been announced, and we were able to provide a sneak peak from the Enterprise Connect tradeshow. Since that time, Aerus has been released to the market where it has been well received by a growing user base. Magor has continued to develop the platform since that time.

As I said back then, Magor appears to be paying close attention to both industry trends and shifting user expectations, and developing Aerus accordingly. We spoke with Magor's Chief Marketing Officer and SVP of Sales,�Ken Davison, to learn more about how Magor plans to navigate through the seas of this ever changing industry, as well as his thoughts on user expectations, visual collaboration trends, and where Aerus fits into the picture.

TPO News: A few years ago I took a close look at Magor technology and concluded it was designed to support the workflow of tomorrow. Do you think we're there now? Are users ready for such a dynamic collaboration environment?

Ken Davison: My premise for the past four years has been that the traditional video conferencing market constrains users with a 'meet-me' only workflow model for multipoint sessions. That's what has been driving the video interaction experience. Magor has always used video stream switching in its technology. By doing so, we introduced a unique level of flexibility. You get to choose the type of experience you want to have, according to your task, when you use video. If we go back to 2010, when we first entered the market, back at the point when you initially evaluated our technology, I'm sure you saw that switched video was positioned as a substitute for how a hardware based MCU works. I look at the opportunity for switched video very differently. I think we should look at what today's knowledge worker needs to be productive and what role video and collaboration should play in that environment-- then use the flexibility that video stream switching offers to meet that need.

To answer your question, is that happening now? Absolutely. The traditional video conferencing market is currently transitioning to adapt to many new requirements. It's evolving from hardware to software, and expanding to offer new service delivery models for different cloud models and to support more collaborative interactions.


TPO News: So the world is ready for Aerus, but our industry has been adjusting to a number of simultaneous trends, including technology advances, shifts to software, and evolving user preferences and workplace dynamics. How has Aerus been shaped and influenced by these factors?

Ken Davison:�We spoke a while ago about the launch of Aerus and how it was differentiated in response to these trends, like the shift to software, the migration from the boardroom to the desktop, demand for new collaborative abilities and others. But there are two key influences that have shaped Aerus.

First, we knew we needed to respond to the fact that organizations will be navigating the course of these trends at different rates, so they need flexibility in the way they deploy new solutions, depending on their environment for change. So we didn't simply shift a CAPEX sales model to an OPEX subscription model - we also offered our Aerus platform across Private, Public, Hybrid or even Community cloud deployment models in order to deliver a truly flexible offering.

There's a lot of trepidation about moving all the IT spend from on-premises to the public cloud. It will never happen 100 percent. But how do you move forward? Do you build hybrid clouds or do you build a private cloud for your video requirements? We made sure Aerus would accommodate both.

Secondly, from an architectural point of view, we wanted to make sure Aerus wasn't built around a single workflow. That's why Aerus has two service layers. One is designed to get people onto the service via different device clients, which we refer to as the "onramp service layer". A second service layer gives us the ability to offer a set of optional, on-demand services that can be specific applications to extend the capabilities of the service or vertical solutions targeted at specific communities. This layered approach enables us to support a wide set of workflows that gives users choices. For example, we offer recording of sessions as an on-demand service for those who need this capability.


TPO News: Flexibility is certainly apprecaited. Now, a few years ago, Magor had to differentiate itself from a small handful of hardware providers. Now you're swimming in a sea of countless new software providers. With so much competition, what makes Aerus stand out?

Ken Davison:�We have always looked to differentiate Magor from traditional hardware centric vendors. However, the real differentiation wasn't the fact that we were software as opposed to hardware. It was the fact that we came out with a different way to do scalable video coding, which brought significant benefits in terms of both bandwidth efficiency and the ability to switch video streams. One of the inherent challenges of scalable video coding, however, was the lack of interoperability. We took a different approach. Rather than transcoding or using interoperability gateways, we do scalable video coding between Aerus clients while interoperating with SIP and H.323 based systems that use non-scalable video codecs, such as H.264 AVC. We basically bring together two different worlds, at the same time and use video stream switching to retain the quality of experience for both approaches.


With Aerus, we took a basic model of scalable video coding and video stream switching--as opposed to transcoding--and applied it to a distributed cloud platform. As we go forward and video becomes pervasive, we'll provide a different perspective for users who are remote with laptops or mobile devices, specifically those who need to participate in multipoint calls. And our unique collaboration model allows users to bring to bear multiple items of data from multiple sources at once. For example, we're currently seeing pull from some verticals such as law enforcement, which need more advanced collaboration capabilities within a more flexible interaction model.

The Aerus Unique Collaboration Model

TPO News:�While Aerus' unique capabilities are certainly interesting, at the end of the day we still have a lot of typical meetings to support in our existing environments. Is Aerus a replacement for those existing VC deployments, an enhancement or are you selling towards greenfield environments?

Ken Davison:�I think substitution of a video conferencing deployment for a cloud service that does the same thing, albeit on a software-based platform, really isn't offering a change for how people interact or work with video. I question the long-term value proposition of these approaches, beyond lower cost. We need to think about how people are going to interact and how video is going to be used by people in different interaction modes of working.

But please don't misunderstand me. Is the workflow that people predominantly engage in with video today - a pre-coordinated meeting environment - going to go away completely? Absolutely not. What I'm saying is, through the course of a normal work day, how many scheduled meetings do you have? How many interrupt-driven interactions do you have? And how many ad-hoc meetings do you have? Traditional video conferencing architectures have always imposed a scheduled meet-me workflow model when users interact on video. I believe that limits usability.

So, with the Aerus architecture we knew we had to build Aerus to support multiple workflows. We therefore support meet-me as an additional on-demand service offering that you can subscribe to--whether that's to transition or consolidate off current VC architecture, or to support new ways to work using virtual meeting rooms. This compliments our ability to offer users a broader capability of true ad-hoc calling for multiparty sessions - especially in a more collaborative mode. I call you David, you call Howard, you share something, I drop off, and then you bring me back in later. We really want to extend beyond the pure "meet me" model and look to give today's workforce more flexibility on how they want to work.

TPO News: Now you are speaking my language. VC meetings, in and of themselves, aren't the real endgame. Video as a flexible collaboration tool, to be used in different ways based on the nature of the project, is the real goal. Speaking of long term goals, interoperability is a huge topic in the VC world. Where are you now in terms of interoperability and what is on the roadmap?


Ken Davison:�I'm amazed that we're here in 2014, and this industry still has codec wars driven by different vendors. I think we should use the right software codec for the best application and provide high performance interoperability.

As you know, from day one, we knew we had to treat interoperability very seriously and work with incumbent video conferencing vendor's systems like Tandberg, at that time, LifeSize and Polycom. So we designed our scalable video coding framework to provide scalable video coding between Aerus clients, while delivering seamless interoperability with SIP and H.323 based systems at the same time. And we did it without the use of interoperability gateways. We're often asked how we do native interoperability while doing scalable video coding. Here's how-- we have a component in our platform called the Aerus Media Engine. Think of it as a SDK with all the signaling protocols needed and an extensive media codec library that sits on every client to provide each user with the flexibility to connect to other types of systems regardless of what they are. As new codec innovation is released to the market, such as vp9 or H.265, we simply add it to the library and use it where appropriate. Today we apply scalability to the H.264 HiP codec for use between Aerus clients and provide the requested codec when we interoperate, which includes VP8 for WebRTC.

The users are the real casualties of the codec wars. We need to find innovative ways to enable users to connect with whom they want, when they want.

TPO News:�I guess it follows that they should pay for it how they want as well. Enterprise consumers are used to a shared licensing sales model. It follows the old "port based" pricing from the recent hardware days and works with existing budgets. It makes sense then that Aerus would follow this pricing model. Do you think this model will shift down to small and medium businesses, or will they demand a per user, per month model along the lines of other small business services?

Ken Davison:�I'm not sure I agree with you that today's cloud based license sales models should follow the old port based models related to video conferencing MCU ports. We need to shift from infrastructure centric models, such as dollars per port, to a user centric model where we simply enable users to get access to a service and align licensing with the user profile. That's really a central theme of our Aerus strategy. Obviously, we can offer a service on a per user basis for individual users. However, for larger organizations that want to maximize the number of users to whom they provide the service while paying for only what they use, we can address this with active user licensing. If you have 1,000 users, you can choose to adopt an active user licensing approach and essentially pay for active service operation, rather than user licenses. This approach allows enterprises to focus on active service, while still enabling mass deployment of user access - you pay for what you use. When the pricing strategy is focused on user behavior, we can work with customers on a collaborative basis, recognizing that as utilization goes up, increased productivity and ROI is achieved.

For the SMB market, they would simply get access via a multi-tenant public cloud service. There's no difference in the subscription approach as compared to private clouds, with the expectation that usage will likely based on per minute/hour basis, enabling different price points and flexibility to be achieved for this market segment.

As our industry transitions to the cloud, there's no fixed way that people want to work or to procure and deploy. As a vendor, we have decided to not dictate but to provide flexible options.


TPO News: I see. A little more to that than I realized. Again flexibility is always appreciated. Speaking of flexibility, how about VC on the common browser? No one can agree if WebRTC is the wave of the future, or just the hype of the moment, but everyone is talking about it. Obviously, browser based videoconferencing is incredibly compelling. Can you give us some details on the Aerus WebRTC support, and where you see that heading in the future?

Ken Davison:�Before I answer this, I've got a question to you. Let's consider a compelling use case enabled by WebRTC. Let's say I have a question about a product so I go to a company's website. They offer me the option to connect with a support person via video right within the browser, enabled by WebRTC. That person can then conduct a 360-degree consultation with me and even push content to me to support the session. So is that a video conferencing call? Or is that just a workflow model that hasn't existed until now? Here's another example--I have an incoming audio call from a web browser and my back end CRM system can detect that the incoming WebRTC call is from a high priority customer and escalate the call to video. Is that video conferencing?

"Is WebRTC the wave of the future?" My point here--and to answer your question--I think it's a set of technologies that has huge potential, but it's not a video conferencing client. It's a set of APIs embedded into HTML5. I believe it is going to be disruptive because it's another way that we are going to expand how we interact with video and collaborate across the 1.2B browsers out there. We're all for that.

Aerus WebRTC Interoperability

Being an enterprise grade visual collaboration vendor that markets and sells into the video conferencing market, we decided to take the VP8 codec used by WebRTC and add it to the media codec library of each Aerus client for two reasons. First, we saw the opportunity to bridge between B2B and B2C communication contexts by providing native interoperability between web browser users and enterprise grade SIP or H.323 based video solutions. By the very nature of how Aerus works, each user can host multiple incoming video calls at once from a range of 3rd party systems, and now we've extended this to WebRTC users. In fact, we've built a new on-demand Aerus service around this capability. It allows Aerus users to host up to 25 web browser users in a call with full video and content sharing for webinar or training use cases. There's no downloading of clients, they just point to a URL, and launch a call to the Aerus user who conducts the session.

Secondly, one of the more interesting things is in the migration of call centers into contact centers and the use of WebRTC as another communication channel for audio and video. With the integration WebRTC into back-end CRM systems, combined with the ability to bridge between the browser and SIP and H.323 enterprise video systems, there's lots of potential to offer some interesting applications. A challenge, however, is that a lot of the WebRTC development has been driven by smaller startups with larger companies standing back cautiously. I was encouraged to see Genband's recent announcements and I think that's an interesting indicator of the potential of WebRTC for UC environments. I think it should be an interesting year ahead.

TPO News:�At the end of the day, it's all just streams of video, audio, and data. Traditional VC, webcasting, and even broadcasting solutions are starting to overlap. Aerus, with its unique stream management capabilities, seems adaptable for many uses beyond typical VC meetings. Have your users come up with any particularly interesting use cases that you can share?

Ken Davison:�I have some good examples for you. To address the first part of your question, I couldn't agree with you more, it is all about streams. It's about recognizing those streams of real time video or collaborative video, and integrating them with audio and data streams. And it's about making sure you can bring them in from multiple sources at the same time and manage them all within the mix. And absolutely there's overlap in capabilities when you consider all of the solutions available.

Easily Manage Multiple Video Streams with Aerus and Choose the Layout You Need

What we're seeing now in terms of pull from our user base and prospective customers, especially in some specific market segments and vertical applications, is that they have workflows driven by unpredictable events that require people to get together and collaborate on a course of action, within in a very short period of time. With law enforcement and first responders, for example, when an incident happens and there's an escalation process that involves bringing multiple people from multiple disciplines together, they can use Aerus to do this and then share multiple sources of data to create a level of situational awareness that wasn't available before. Those shared sources could even be live or recorded video streams from IP cameras or wearable camera devices on officers. We've taken this model and applied it to oil and gas, mining, and construction sectors, which have their own types of unpredictable events that require immediate action.

We're actually seeing a slower trend to more creative workflows in video from traditional enterprise markets such as financial institutions. But as access to, and dissemination of, information become the primary driver of interactions, in the not so distant future, I can see that enterprises will want to get people together at the moment of insight for increased productivity.

So, David, you might get together with colleagues in a more traditional virtual meeting room environment at a scheduled time or maybe you start conversation with someone, but at some point you receive new information that brings about the need to involve Howard immediately. There's no concept of conference owner or meeting room or invites. You make it happen by calling him and collaborating on whatever data you guys need to bring in.


TPO News:�We sure have come a long way from the days of video being limited to the weekly boardroom meeting. Now, the last time I checked in with you, Aerus was available and out in the marketplace, but you were still working on some remaining OS support. How close are you to knocking out the remaining integrations?

Ken Davison:�Last time we spoke, we announced the availability of Aerus, which is a service delivery platform based on a distributed video stream switching cloud architecture for media processing. Initially, to deliver both room-based and desktop dedicated appliances comprised off COTS hardware, our market focus since the outset in 2010, access onto the Aerus service delivery platform was via a Linux-based Aerus client. And as you may recall, our current strategy is to deliver Aerus access across a range of operating systems with a collection of device clients.

The first step was to redesign the user interface to provide users with a more context aware experience that can be customized to how they want to work. That also separated the user interface from the operating system, which enabled us to streamline the expansion of our Aerus clients to other operating systems to support a range of devices and environments.

In a few weeks, at Enterprise Connect, we're introducing the first of these new clients with a Windows client for Aerus that runs on desktop PCs and laptops. This client offers users at the desktop all the capabilities we've offered on our dedicated appliance clients such as the call set-up flexibility that includes peer-to-peer networking, advanced collaborative capabilities and robust interoperability. We're really excited and encouraged by the response this evolution is getting and we're looking forward to offering something completely different to users when it comes to interacting with video on Laptops and PCs.

TPO News - Final Thoughts:�Thanks to Ken and the Magor team for this interview, and we look forward to checking out the new Aerus for Windows at this year's Enterprise Connect. See you in a few weeks!

About the Author
David_Maldow, Esq.David Maldow, Esq. is a visual collaboration technologist and analyst with the Human Productivity Lab and an associate publisher 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 visual collaboration environments. You can follow David on Twitter.

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