MCU in the Cloud

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Article written by Rob West

If you’ve got Lync, or another Voice over IP and collaboration solution in your organization, you’ve likely also got another video conferencing solution. Or, let’s say that you only have one, but your clients and partners have another one or two or three.

What happens when you want to bridge these together? How can you get your clients and partners to join you in a videoconference if you have incompatible technologies?

Old School is Expensive

The traditional way is to spend a lot of money. A. Lot. Of. Money. Bridging solutions for videoconferencing are often in the US$50,000 to $100,000 range. Sometimes more, sometimes less, but expensive either way.

Hardware bridges, or “Multipoint Control Units” (MCU) are great because they do their job well. But if you are a small or medium sized business, they are a bitter pill to swallow, especially if your videoconferencing use or adoption is less than it could be. Its pretty challenging to understand how, as adoption grows, your MCU capacity will need to grow as well. It’s too easy to buy way too much or way too little capacity and then end up paying for it in wasted ROI.

I’m working on a project just like this – trying to bridge a Cisco/Tandberg system to a Microsoft Lync system. The primary use case is providing the ability for Lync users to join Tandberg conferences (and vice versa) and enjoy the same “peer video status” as their colleagues (i.e. showing up in the “Brady Bunch” format, being able to participate in application and document sharing.)

New School : Take it to the Cloud

Yeah, you probably saw this coming if you read technology blogs at all. Some companies out there are working to help organizations unwilling or unable to commit to a hardware MCU by providing a bridging technology in the cloud.

The concept is simple: instead of installing a proprietary hardware-based MCU, you create a videoconferencing “hub” on the Internets and each participant dials in using there preferred technology. The hardware and software on the back end does the bridging and translation from technology to technology, feeding back the other participants to the requesting participant in their format of choice.

That’s a confusing sentence. One other way of saying it: it just works.

The “Cloud MCU” model works like this:

  • You pay to play: you can use as much or as little capacity as you need, paying as you go.
  • Multiple videoconferencing technologies are supported
  • No infrastructure is required – the technology is hosted in the Cloud – just sign up and start bridging

Cool Concept

This is pretty cool, in concept. What it means is that small or medium sized businesses can select a cheap, easy-to-deploy videoconferencing system and be assured that if they choose the right Cloud MCU, they can bridge with their partners, vendors, clients and colleagues no matter what technology they use (within reason.)

The best thing about this concept is that it follows the principle of “embrace and extend” and allows for more productive flow. The less a user has to stop and think about how to join a videoconference or invite someone they don’t work with, the greater the chance for adoption.

In addition, increased adoption leads to other benefits: greater trust in and facility with video underwrites corporate calls for reduction of travel. Users will travel less if they can get what they need out of video meetings, and they can get it quickly and easily.

Try it?

If you’d like to try this, there are more than a few options. But – here’s an easy one: I invite you to sign up for BlueJeans.com. Yeah – I don’t know what the name has to do with the technology. I also don’t know why the company’s logo bears a suspicious resemblance to JetBlue’s. Perhaps its the fact they used the same font…

Oh, and BTW, I’m in no way affiliated with BlueJeans. Probably never will be now that I’ve called them out on their font…

BlueJeans has a 14-day trial – more than enough time to give it a whirl, especially since you don’t need to hire an engineer to do any fancy integration work. If it turns out the workflow it imposes works for you and your users, they have quite an attractive tiered monthly pricing model.

Check out the List of Supported Systems it works with. If yours ain’t on the list, then you probably got sold a bill of goods.

I’ll try and keep up with the progress of Cloud MCUs, and if I end up deploying one for a client, I’ll report it here.

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