OK….I am getting ready to evaluate several cloud based video conferencing services.
My definition of a decent cloud based video conferencing service is basic and simple (in theory…in practice, it may be a lot harder):
A cloud-based video conferencing service provides an easy-to-use, dial-in, ad-hoc, virtual meeting space for anyone, anytime, anywhere using any endpoint.
Before I proceed, I want to look back at what we did at ESnet back in the dark ages….
ESnet H.323 Architecture Basic Goals (circa 1999 to 2004)
From the customer perspective, our most important goal was to provide a video conferencing service that was easy to sign up for and, more importantly, easy-to-use.
Fundamental goal: Think telephone.
Making a telephone call is simple, anyone can do it with very little training. To make a telephone call you do not need to “schedule” the call. It is pure “ad-hoc”. And you call another phone using an easy “phone number”.
Video conferencing should be the same. You need to make a call….you make it. You need to have a meeting…everyone in the meeting dials into the same “virtual” conference room by dialing a simple phone number.
- On a train? Dial in using your cell phone and use voice only.
- In a fancy conference room? Dial in using the room based system.
- Sitting at your windows desktop computer? Dial in using your desktop videoconferencing application.
- Use Linux or a Mac? Use open source Gnomemeeting to call in.
We met these goals (and by late 2004 we had possibly the worlds largest production H.323 implementation) with these features:
- Web-based, automatic, registration (see actual web site here)
- Ad-Hoc (no scheduling)
- Dial-in only (using a “simple” 6 digit E.164 number)
- Supported ALL the standards-based endpoints available at the time
- Supported meeting participation via voice only (ie gateway…)
- Supported video call-in via ISDN (gateway again..)
- Provided worldwide access to our service.
- Of course we included a lot more features including: Various bit rate connections, different displays (various continuous presence to video switched), transcoding, gateway access, support hundreds of calls and thousands of hours of conferencing, always up and working, great support :-), etc etc.
What I Will Look for in Today’s Cloud Based Video Conferencing Services
A good cloud based service (according to me as a small business owner who needs to video conference with the outside world) consists of five parts:
Registration, Use, Administration, Support, and Cost
With that in mind, here the basic list I plan to use to compare cloud-based video conferencing services for this blog.
During the connection: I want to get a feel of each services architecture, goals, and future plans (if they can tell me).
How easy is the registration process?
Can I use the service as an “ad-hoc” dial-in service?
Does the services support ANY standards-based (H.323 / SIP) endpoint ?
Does the service also support popular video chat apps (Skype?, Google Chat?, Google Hangout?….other)?
Can I call in using my cell phone / telephone?
Can anyone, anywhere register and use the service anytime?
What is the video, audio quality during a meeting with two, three, or more people?
Does the service support data sharing / whiteboarding / screen sharing?
What administration features are available?
Can I add a person on the fly?
Can I mute people?
Can I drop people?
Can I change the default display (CP (and different flavors) or video switching)?
Can I record the meeting (video, audio, and data)?
What kind of support will I get?
live support via telephone?
live via chat?
I will send people to your web site for cost information, as that can sometimes be confusing…
Let the evals begin!