Videoconferencing Tries to Improve the Ties that Bind

Carl Weinschenk

There is one element in the world of videoconferencing that is particularly confusing to somebody who thinks it's a great tool but doesn’t follow the category on a daily basis: What do organizations do when they want to conference with folks using equipment from different companies?

This can cover a lot of folks: employees working in offices that formerly belonged to an acquired company, Skype users at home, business partners, consultants and others. The list is a long one.

David Carr at InformationWeek does triple duty in this well-written piece. On one hand, he describes the problem. He also outlines a free offering from Vidyo aimed at solving it and, finally, outlines the differences between that product and others that are not free.

The key is the cloud. Before it came along, the melding of videoconferencing system A and videoconferencing system B was a far more difficult chore. Efforts at interoperability standards fizzled. The emergence of the cloud, however, acts as sort of a middleware layer that allows different systems to be cobbled together far more easily.

VidyoWay, the story says, is offering a barebones way of doing this for free. The story quotes executives as saying that customers aren’t required to use Vidyo equipment. The idea is that the elimination of this problem — one that was faced by the SMS sector years ago — will benefit the entire business, including Vidyo. The story says that more fully featured — but not free — systems are available from Blue Jeans Network, Vidtel and others.

VidyoWay is not the only news on the interoperability front. Blue Jeans Network is based on providing such a service to end points from different vendors. Last month, the company announced that it had raised $25 million in a Series C round led by New Enterprise Associates. The round includes Accel Partners and Norwest Venture Partners, according to ZDNet.

Also last month, Cisco System joined the Open Visual Communications Consortium, an industry group geared toward promoting interoperability in videoconferencing. The big question really is why it took so long for Cisco to join the 8-month-old group. Quite possibly, there is behind-the-scenes activity as various parties maneuver to exert more control over the segment. Cisco is a networking behemoth and may have been pushing to somehow tweak the OVCC’s agenda in its favor.

In a related area — software-defined networks (SDNs) — observers are suggesting that the position Cisco is taking favors its incumbent position. There is nothing wrong with this, of course. It is, however, something of which observers should be aware.

The videoconferencing interoperability challenge will be met. There is too much money on the table for any other outcome. It will be interesting to see whether that solution comes from the industry group or directly from the companies themselves.

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