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New SaaS Offer: The Lifesize Cloud

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Lifesize, a division of Logitech

The revamped and refashioned logo of Lifesize indicates its desire to rebrand itself in the video collaboration circuit and bring in new innovations and technologies to better suit the needs of organizations and businesses today. Having brought in HD video conferencing nearly a decade ago, an introduction that changed the face of business communication, Lifesize has reinvented its video conferencing technologies to suit today’s need for easy, flexible and economical collaboration to ensure effective and efficient transfer of data and information within and among organizations. With “cloud” playing a predominant role in video collaborations in recent times, Lifesize has come up with the new “Lifesize Cloud” to bring the benefits of cloud into video conferencing.

Introduction to Session Border Controllers

High definition video conferencing is a standard right now. If it will change, it will only change to an ever higher definition such as Ultra HD (involving 4K and 8K). Virtual workplaces, telecommuting and working from home becomes more and more easy and so organisations go expanding, sometimes forgetting about network requirements ending up with new capacity limits or reduced quality of their video communication solution.

A Session Border Controller can help with many problems there might be, but it is not a remedy for every issue ever to occur on your video conferencing network. I wrote this article to give you some more insight into what a Session Border Controller is, what it does and how it can help your corporate communication.

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What is a Session Border Controller?

A Session Border Controller is a network component designed to safely link networks with a different security requirement and setup. They are mostly utilised for VoIP and video conferencing networks to establish secure connection sessions. The Session Border Controller therefore allows control of signaling and transfer of media data in a secure way.

What can I do with a Session Border Controller?

Session management allows service providers to control the session routing, establish interoperability across environments with differentiating standards, enforce bandwidth policies or create an interface to a third party application. To keep it short and simple: A Session Border Controller optimizes solution performance and overall service quality, it allows a rapid service deployment or growth and it protects infrastructure from malicious attacks.

Who develops Session Border Controllers?

Based on Gartner’s Magic Quadrant for Session Border Controllers from October 2012, Acme Packet (recently acquired by Oracle) excels in execution as well as vision scope, making them the leader of the magic quadrant (see graphic). Other competitors are Huawei, Sonus, Genband, Metaswitch Networks, Dialogic, ZTE and Technicolor.

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Magic Quadrant for Session Border Controllers by Gartner Research

Acme Packet is very interesting due to their focus on unified communications networks and even offering solutions especially designed for video conference networks of manufacturers such as Alcatel-Lucent, Avaya / Radvision, Cisco (including former Codian / Tandberg technologies), LifeSize, Polycom and Vidyo. Supporting and enabling interworking these technologies the Acme Packet solution avoids potential for vendor lock-in, protecting the investment made in video conferencing infrastructure and endpoints.

What are the technical functions of a Session Border Controller?

The functional scope of a Session Border Controller can vary, depending on what the individual device is designed to do. However to reflect a maximum of capability information, we would like to list the following functions that can be found in Session Border Controllers:

Connectivity

  • IPv4 / IPv6 interworking
  • SIP manipulation
  • NAT traversal
  • VPN connectivity
  • H.323 / SIP interworking

Quality of Service (QoS)

  • Traffic policies
  • Call admission control
  • ToS / DSCP bit setting
  • Resource allocation
  • Rate limiting

Security

  • Defense against DoS attacks
  • Can prevent toll fraud
  • No topology hiding possible
  • Malformed packet protection
  • Signaling protection via TLS and IPSec
  • Media protection via SRTP

Media processing

  • DTMF delay and interworking
  • Media transcoding
  • Tones and announcements
  • Data and Fax interworking
  • Support for Voice and Video calls

Regulatory

  • Call prioritization (e.g. for VIP usage or emergencies)
  • Auditing functions for internal audit or for law enforcing organisation
  • Business Intelligence, reporting, management information, source for billing information

Summary

Even though not a mandatory part for VoIP or video conferencing networks, Session Border Controllers have a great potential to add value to the communication services of organisations. The relevance increases for service providers companies as the functions described above can significantly increase the quality and performance of a serviced network.

If you have questions, remarks or other types of feedback please drop us a line in the comment section below. Thank you!

Innovative Technologies for Investor Relations

The utilisation of innovative technologies in Investor Relations gains more and more weight. The global finance crisis led to uncertainties across financial markets. The reactions on incoming news and information from Investor Relation departments impacted the market heavily.

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Jan Johansson (President & CEO of SCA) during an annual general meeting (Photo: SCA)

That is why it is now an important task for the management of such companies and their Investor Relations departments to re-gain trust. The target is to enable a target-driven direct communication to investors, analysts and other stakeholders without giving a wrong impression or deliver data that would lead to wrong assumptions. For this communication to happen, more and more organisations utilise innovative technologies. Such technologies are also known as “Unified Communications” tools and aid Investor Relations significantly with the efficient communication with a usually large number of recipients. On top of that many investors and analysts are scattered across the globe and therefore subject to time zone related difficulties.

Important technologies within the Unified Communication tool-set utilised in Investor Relations are:

Video Conference Services

Video conferencing services allow organisations to rapidly and easily get in contact with one or many investors or analysts. This way of communicating is becoming more and more attractive as the prices for video conference system deployments have significantly going down recently – becoming a much more affordable solution. Beyond the normal functionality of communicating with audio and video dimensions, high-end video conferencing technologies also allow sharing screens or other digital content into the video conference, such as Microsoft PowerPoint presentations or business plans in form of a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet for instance. Now one is able to present such files live without sending the data per mail prior to a meeting., which cuts a lot of issues like “having an out-dated file” at hand during the conference. Video conferencing not only is a great way of delivering high quality communication, but also can save a lot of costs and increases productivity of teams. While Investor Relations officials would be required to take a plane to fly to an appointment, now the very same person can save time and costs by arranging a video conference and getting the message across to many even on the same day.

Live Video Streaming via IP

Another way of delivering information from important events is the live video stream via internet or intranet. Like this an organisation can easily broadcast from an annual general meeting (AGM) and deliver a video feed in HD not only to on-site audience but also to remote investors and analysts. The video stream could be watched from Notebook, PC, Mac, Tablet or even from Smartphones. With Digital Signage the event could be embedded into information displays that could be deployed in meeting rooms or public areas. The possibility of facilitating IP Video Streaming do not always require an own infrastructure and staff for events that happen only once per year. They can be also booked as a service and the streaming solution will be provided by specialists at scalable costs. If an organisation however runs events at a high frequency or requires video transmission for other reasons, they can invest in own infrastructure and managed services to look after their infrastructure. This would enable an organisation to flexibly utilise video streaming solutions and would save costs on long-term outlook.

Video-on-Demand Platforms

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Analyst focused on watching an annual general meeting (Photo: QSC AG)

A Video-on-Demand solution serves archiving purposes and enables the playback of any previously recorded videos, video conferences or events in case someone could not attend the live video stream. You could for example provide access to shareholders, who would usually not be able to see the live broadcast due to being in another time zone. This kind of solutions is also known as “Corporate YouTube” using the role of YouTube as “mother” of all Video-on-Demand platforms. Also for Video-on-Demand solutions organisations can choose between solutions managed and hosted for them or deploy them in their own infrastructure and have it supported by managed services to ensure a maximum availability to the users.

Summary

In summary we can see that innovative technologies such as Unified Communication tools are utilised in Investor Relations and being a great value-add to the communication and delivery of information towards stakeholders of internal and external nature. A business case is relatively quick assembled, since the technologies increase quality in communication and also steadily decrease costs that would normally be spent on travel and hotels. Also the technologies can greatly increase productivity of teams even if they are not in the same place.

Software MCU Comparison – What does the market offer?

A Videoconference Multipoint Control Unit (MCU) is a crucial part of every serious Videoconference infrastructure. It’s a system used to connect multiple media streams into a single Videoconference, therefore very often the MCU is referred to as a “bridge”.

The traditional MCU is a DSP (digital signal processing) based hardware whose primary functionality is to decode all incoming media streams, compose a single stream for each far-end participant and finally re-encode that stream before sending it out, needless to say all this requires a huge amount of processing power. More over, hardware-based MCUs define scalability on a per-port basis, which means if we want to have more participants connected in a Videoconference at the same time, we need MCUs with more video ports i.e. more DSPs and DSP hardware does not come cheap.

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LifeSize UVC Multipoint used on a Tablet

That is why a lot of companies are turning their attention towards a new type of product when it comes to multipoint Videconferences – the so-called “software MCU” or soft-MCU. A soft-MCU serves the same purpose as the hardware-based, except that all the transcoding and signal processing is done in the software which introduces big advantages in terms of cost, scalability and flexibility.

The soft-MCU eliminates the need for DSP hardware and can run on virtualized servers on private or public clouds, therefore it is significantly cheaper to deploy than the expensive hardware MCU. In terms of scalability, customers can often just purchase the number of ports they require at the time and then scale up or down easily as the need changes. Software MCUs offer also more flexible deployment, updates and feature enhancements are easy and more frequent, which gives them advantage in today’s fast evolving demands in the Videoconferencing world. Manufacturers can offer the soft-MCU for on-premise deployment on company’s internal servers (usually preferred by enterprises) but the lower end of the group video conferencing market will also benefit from the hosted services (cloud services) offered by providers.

Current market of Software MCU solutions

Although still in relatively early phase in terms of adoption, the market is all but short in offering soft-MCUs solutions for multipoint Videoconferencing. Some of them offered as pure software to be installed on industry-standard servers, some of them require some sort of hardware usually from the same provider which makes them a kind of  “hybrid” solution. I will just go briefly through some of the most talked about products out there at the moment:

 Avistar

Avistar offers the Avistar C3 Conference, a software-based MCU that runs on standard off-the-shelf hardware and operating system software, and on virtualized servers. It is mainly designed for on-premise deployment in enterprise environments, but service providers offering managed Videoconferencing services could also take advantage from it.

Each conference server can support up to 12 ports of simultaneous conferencing, video standards supported are H.263 and H.264 up to 1024 kbps call rate per endpoint with 30 fps.

 Polycom

The Polycom RealPresence Collaboration Server 800s, Virtual Edition is a multi-protocol, integrated, software-based multipoint MCU running on x86 servers. Mainly designed for mid-sized enterprises or to expand an existing RealPresence Collaboration Server (RMX) environment, it provides open standards scalable video coding (SVC) support and interoperability with systems that use advanced video coding (AVC). It can support up to 40 H.263 or H.264 video ports with 720p and 30 fps.

 Vidyo

Vidyo solution consists of Vidyo Router at its center, offered also as a virtual edition (VE), which performs transcoding-free packet switching using their patented Adaptive Video Layering (AVL) technology which introduces low-latency video-streams for endpoints over any IP network. It can be deployed on industry standard servers and is “VMware Ready” certified. Interoperability with legacy systems requires the use of VidyoGateway. The VidyoRouter VE comes in two models – VE 100 and VE 25 offering 100 and 25 concurrent HD connections respectively, supporting native rate and resolution matching per endpoint, up to 1440p at 60fps. Vidyo technology is available through service providers such as Videoconference24.

 Pexip

Pexip is a new start-up that offers pure-software based MCU called Infinity, which will be available from September. It can be deployed on industry-standard servers in a VMware virtualized environment and port capacity can be easily scaled up by adding more servers. It will support H.263 and H.264, SVC, VP8 video codecs as well as interoperability with WebRTC and Lync. We are yet to see how this product will perform in the real-world but it definitely looks promising with of supporting wide range of software clients and endpoints.

Acano

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Acana Software MCU Example

Acano is also also a new player in the industry, offering software solution that unites “previously incompatible audio, video and web technologies” in “coSpaces” which are essentially cloud virtual meeting rooms. People can use whatever devices they have to call into a coSpace, including mobile phones, tablets, PCs, Microsoft Lync clients or video endpoints. Designed for the x86 architecture, it runs on their optimized hardware, standard servers, as well as in virtualized environments and can support thousands of users per server, with further scale and resilience provided by native clustering. Major video standards are supported including H.264 AVC, SVC, WebM / VP8, Microsoft RTVideo, and said to support H.265 as well.

 Vidtel

Vidtel is primarily a service provider; does not offer soft-MCU for on-premise enterprise deployment, but they do offer hosted cloud Videoconferencing solution, labeled MeetMe – it’s a cloud-based, “any-to-any” video conferencing service which supports interoperability between SIP, H.323, Google Talk, Skype, and WebRTC. It supports up to 20 video conferencing endpoints with 720p. The infrastructure for video conferencing is hosted on a Vidtel central cloud and each participant is given a private meeting room ID and a login PIN; they use this to join the Vidtel MeetMe meeting and start communicating and interacting almost as if they were in the same office.

 LifeSize

LifeSize UVC Multipoint is a software-MCU that can be installed on industry-standard servers. It supports H.263 and H.264, SVC video standards and interoperability with Lync (Microsoft RTVideo). Customers can purchase and scale one port at a time and administrators can selectively control the quality and capacity of each port, ranging from 360p for mobile users to 1080p for room-based environments (with the Enterprise edition) and maximum of 128 participants in a single conference.

 Cisco

Cisco became the undisputed king in Videoconferencing hardware, with the acquisition of Tandberg, but they do not offer software-MCU that can be deployed on-premise. They do however offer cloud Videoconferencing service called – Cisco WebEx Telepresence, which can support up to 12 participants per conference with 1080p. At the moment it’s only available in the U.S. and Canada.

 Blue Jeans Network

Blue Jeans – similar to Vidtel, Blue Jeans is a service provider offering hosted hosted video bridging with multi-vendor interoperability including Skype and Lync. Also they are the developers of their own solution and allow re-selling. It supports up to 25 participants per meeting with 720p at 30 fps  and offers easy web based management capabilities for administrators as well as reporting capabilities.

 Avaya / Radvision

Avaya / Radvision is offering the Elite 6000 Series – software-based hybrid multi-point control unit providing high port density up to 40 full 1080p HD ports (80 720p) on a single 1U system. All the major video standards are supported as well as interoperability with other vendors.

As we can see there are lots of different flavors and there are more solutions out there, opening new opportunities for those who could not own standalone MCU before. It’s hard to say what the future holds, certainly it’s too early to dismiss hardware-based MCUs in which companies have invested a lot of money. It’s clear that the two solutions will coexist for some time and it’s up to the customers to choose the best solution for their business based on their requirements in usage, cost and features.


Software MCU Example Video by Pexip

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Unwanted Guests: How Easy Is It To Hack Into Corporate Video Conferences?

Is your video conference solution safe? It’s up to you, to set it up safe.

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Image by codepinkhq

History

For as long as recording technology has existed it has been used for espionage. From the ever-so-stealthy tape recorders (often hidden in books in James Bond films) all the way top the wires used by police agencies to catch a criminal in the act, there is no better way of foiling your enemy than listening to him when he doesn’t think he is being heard.

Nowadays

These days however it is not just living people you need to worry about. It is often said that your computers webcam can be accessed even when you’re not using it; a terrifying prospect for many and considering how long people have been able to listen in on phone calls, are video conferences really that safe? Video conferences are now an important and effective way for modern businesses to communicate. Instantaneous communication with anywhere else on Earth is amazing, but being able to visually gauge the reaction of the person you are talking to make it one of the most powerful tool in any company’s arsenal.

But..

But what if you are being looked in on? If someone watches in on a business deal than they can make money at your expense, work to crush your plans or even make your move before you do. So how safe are they? Hackers like HD Moore say not very! Moore, the creator of Metasploit, has managed to hack his way into the offices of law firms, courtrooms and even the boardroom of Goldman Sachs with ease, suggesting that peeping toms might have more power than previously thought. While this may seem fairly reminiscent of Back to the Future II there isn’t really too much to worry about at home. Moore says that the reasons these companies fail so spectacularly at securing their cameras is because they set them up outside of their company’s network firewalls, meaning easy access to those with prying eyes and hacking know-how. At home in fact, it is not the outside hackers you should worry about but the companies themselves.

And beyond the board room?

Skype has previously stated that it is able to gain access to cameras even when not in video call and a simple Google search can turn up thousands of programs designed purely to hack into webcams without people knowing. It’s not just the anonymous hackers you have to consider. In the early 2000s there was controversy over the US government’s plans to allow phone hacking to counter terrorism. Last year the US government set up an agency called the DCAC (Domestic Communications Assistant Centre), collaboration between the FBI, the DEA and the US Marshall’s Service which is specifically designed to enable wire-tapping on wireless and internet conversations. A court order is required to allow the agency to listen in on their targets (the same as with phones) but this time there was very little controversy at all.

Conclusion

So what conclusion can we come too? Is video conferencing safe for corporations or people at home? While there is plenty of evidence to the contrary I would say yes. If you have the right firewalls, security and managed video conferencing infrastructure then it is incredibly difficult for any peeping toms to get it and if anybody is really that determined to listen in to your conversations then video conferencing is just another tool in their box. If you learn HD Moore’s lessons and don’t underestimate the importance of online security, your company’s secrets should be safe. Are you guys convinced by Moore’s Argument?

The difference between Video Conference, Telepresence and Immersive Telepresence

Have you been wondering what all this is about?

There has been a lot of change in terminology in the video conferencing / telepresence business. New technologies were introduced and legacy technology was still kept and is still being developed. In this article I would like to explain my point of view even though usually every organisation uses different terms.

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Video Conference

Video Conference (or sometimes written videoconference) is the most common term for video communication. It replaced the term “videotelephony” which was somewhat redundant, even though we will meet the “tele” segment again. A video conference is the form of any communication using image and audio of two or more locations, exchanging data in real-time and in all directions at the same time. Private video conferencing solutions such as Skype also find their home in this category but are not industry standard.

Telepresence

Telepresence is the “new term” for video conferencing. However most people would agree that the term telepresence includes only high-end codecs that support high bandwidth and provide HD resolutions. To be exact even we can break down the term into the two segments “tele” and “presence” so we are talking about being present in a remote location. And even though it is not really related to video conferencing entirely this also include the robotic telepresence or telerobotics.

Immersive Telepresence

If telepresence systems are set up in a concept to provide a high degree of immersion  those solutions are called immersive telepresence. The degree of immersion defines how much the users  feel like the remote site is actually sitting at the other end of the table in their room even though they might be continents apart. In order to provide this a very complex rule set has to be followed on the design of all participating rooms. If only one of the “illusions” are broken it will not be immersive any longer.


Opinion of the People

In reaction to this article becoming very popular with people looking for a comparison of telepresence terms we have started a poll to find out what the most preferred term is. Vote and check the results here.


Introduction Video of the Cisco TX9000 Immersive Telepresence Solution

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