The Future Of Videoconferencing For SMBs... And 7 Mistakes To Avoid

By Fredric Paul,


Videoconferencing is growing fast, but is the Great Recession helping or hurting? Plus, Blue Coat Systems asks whether your company's network is up to the task.

This would seem to be videoconferencing's perfect moment. With new technology offering a better, more affordable alternative to increasingly expensive and difficult travel to in-person meetings just as the economy tanks, you'd think that just about every small and midsize business would be jumping all over the videoconferencing bandwagon. Many are, of course (even the New York Times has taken notice), but what's holding everyone else back?

To find out, I checked out a Frost & Sullivan analyst briefing on Visual Collaboration and spoke to Blue Coat Systems' senior product manager.

The Great Recession: Videoconferencing Boon Or Bane?
Dominic Dodd, Frost & Sullivan's global program director for unified communications and collaboration, said the big question is whether the recession will hurt videoconferencing adoption as companies look to cut costs, or whether companies will invest in the hopes that the technology can actually save them money.

Dodd says the evidence shows while the recession has reduced the dramatic growth of videoconferencing adoption, he still sees demand rising in 2009, 2010, and beyond. The reason is partly technological, Dodd said, as videoconferencing is finally able to provide an affordable video experience on a par with users' everyday video experiences on television and elsewhere. In addition, the need to cut travel and other costs for increasingly mobile and dispersed workforces makes "conditions ripe for pull through demand." Finally, he cited the rise of new "generation wired" workers who are ready to embrace the technology. (In the past, social factors have often been a hidden barrier to the acceptance of this technology.

Other researchers agree. Wainhouse Research reports that 2009 videoconferencing growth will be essentially flat, while returning to a five year growth rate of 13% - 15% per year in 2010.

The Networking Factor Economics isn't the only issue. Technological factors can make or break the experience. Blue Coat doesn't make video conferencing systems, but its application delivery networking products are often used to facilitate videoconferencing. As a networking vendor, Smith warns that videoconferencing can be "pretty unforgiving" about quality problems. “It's gotta be pretty perfect or people won't put up with it. Glitches, stuttering, audio synchronization issues, and, to a lesser degree, artifacts — can be distracting enough to keep people from using the systems.

The problem, he says, is that many things are competing for the same network bandwidth. Blue Coat solves the problem with "admission control," allocating a certain amount of bandwidth to the videoconference, and not letting too many conferences start to keep performance from being affected. And that matters, he says, "even if you go all way down to Skype."

This is becoming a bigger deal as more and more companies look seriously at videoconferencing. Smith says that the number of Blue Coat customers asking about videoconferencing has jumped 60%. "People want to do video conferencing over their existing networks," Smith says, ranging from high-end Cisco telepresence to increasingly servicable desktop conferencing options.

The most mainstream use, Smith says, is internal meetings. One reason is that many proprietary video conferencing systems still can't work with systems from other vendors, making it difficult to set up ad hoc meetings with outside companies. "Today, we're not at that point," Smith acknowledges. (Glowpoint is working to support Polycom videoconferencing across different carrier networks, but that's not the same thing. And the Telepresence inExchange Network (TEN) is still in the early phases.)

For SMBs, then, Smith says, videoconferencing is a function of company size. “If you have a distributed workforce, even if there are only two people at each site, you're a candidate for videoconferencing. Small offices are more likely to rely on desktop Web cams than telepresence, but you still need it to work.

Obviously, the effect of these network issues varies according to what kind of videoconferencing technology you adopt. The higher-end the solution, the more stress it will put on your networks.

Frost & Sullivan says there's a big difference between PC-based video conferencing and high-end telepresence.

According to Smith, Blue Coat sees its customers make seven common networking mistakes when they try to implement videoconferencing:

  1. Assessment — failure to assess the network's readiness for video conferencing
  2. Bandwidth Provisioning — failure to provision adequate bandwidth for each video conferencing session
  3. Proactive Monitoring — lack of ability to proactively monitor the quality of each video conferencing session
  4. Troubleshooting — lack of ability to troubleshoot a video conferencing session if the quality is impaired
  5. Unprotected Session Set-up — lack of bandwidth for set-up transactions causing significant delays in starting a new video conferencing session
  6. Limitations Of Existing Infrastructure — belief that the existing networking infrastructure readily will be able to establish the proper quality necessary for video conferencing
  7. Disrupting Other Applications — improper management of video conferencing resulting in excessive bandwidth use or network contention that prevents other applications from running properly

Bottom line: better, cheaper video conferencing is prospering amidst the recession. Depending on what level of the technology you embrace, there are a number of things you can do make sure it delivers value for your company. End of article.

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