When you need to meet with two or more remote parties via video conferencing, but want to keep the traffic on your own private (local area) network, you want a LAN video conference. Because so many companies find that they can reduce the amount of travel to meetings and conferences, the ROI from using secure, high-quality, LAN-based video conferencing systems often easily justify their cost. But LAN conferencing also requires some unique considerations, which we will explain.
- What is LAN Video Conferencing?
- How a VLAN Can Help
- Can You Conference via a VPN?
- Why Keep Traffic on Your LAN
- What Youll Need for LAN Conferencing
- Advantages of a Dedicated LAN Conferencing Server
- Consumer Grade Conferencing Products
- Total Cost of Ownership
- Questions to Consider Before Buying
- Request Information about LifeSize’s LAN Video Conferencing Software
Video conferencing over a corporations local area network (LAN) is different from video conferencing over the Internet, notes Andrew W. Davis, a senior partner at Wainhouse Research, a Boston-based market research firm specializing in unified communications. So if a pharmaceutical company in Switzerland wants to conduct a video conference with one of its offices located somewhere else, it would do so over what Davis refers to as a virtual LAN (a.k.a. VLAN). The networking protocols make everything work like its on the same network, he explains. Its a private network that connects all of [the companys] facilities scattered all over the world so someone at point A can video conference with someone at point B and that video traffic never touches the Internet.
|How a VLAN Can Help LAN Conferencing
A VLAN is a way of grouping network devices on different segments of a LAN so they function as if they were on the same LAN. An organization might have a VLAN that includes all of the group videoconferencing systems installed within a particular facility. Without the VLAN, these systems would be in different segments, sharing resources and mixing traffic with other types of network devices, including, potentially, users watching YouTube videos. With a VLAN, you can configure your video equipment to work as if it was in the same network segment, without any competing traffic. Traffic within a VLAN can flow more efficiently between systems in the same group and simplifies moves, adds and changes. So for example, if a group video system is moved from the 2nd floor to the 9th floor in a building (which would usually mean changing LAN segments), if the system was in a VLAN, it would remain in the same VLAN even after it is moved.
Many companies have adopted Virtual Private Network (VPN) technology to connect remote offices. A VPN provides a secure (encrypted) connection between two devices (a computer and a server for example) using a public, non-secure Internet connection. VPNs have, for the most part, eliminated the need for organizations to deploy leased lines between locations, according to Davis. The benefit is significant savings and increased efficiency without sacrificing security. VPNs depend on encryption and various VPN devices such as routers which can decrease network throughput and increase latency (either as a result of the devices or encryption burden, etc.) or divert network traffic to travel via a slower path. While some organizations conduct videoconferencing over VPNs, it is often problematic and expensive, Davis says. Specially optimized VPNs are, however, heavily used by videoconferencing managed service providers to gain controlled access to video devices installed on the customers premise. Its important to choose a VPN solution designed for video conferencing, or buy an integrated video conferencing system that includes VPN features.
The primary alternative to LAN conferencing is web-based services that use the open Internet. While the Internet is widely available and low-cost, the significant disadvantages include lack of control over bandwidth, and potentially reduced security. The advantages of a private network are you can control everything and implement whats known as QoS [quality of service], which means you divide your bandwidth into channels, like lanes of a highway, says Davis. QoS is an algorithm or software application that runs inside a companys internal routers. For example, over a LAN, a router could be set up to reserve one lane for video traffic, another for voice, and another for credit card transactions, thus guaranteeing a level of performance. QoS is becoming quite common, he says, and is typically implemented for long distance connections. Besides the ability to control traffic and bandwidth, the other main advantage of a LAN for video conferencing is security, quality, and ease-of-use. However a business decides to configure a LAN, Davis says to make sure theres always one megabit available for voice or video. A QoS network adds about 30% to 40% to the price of a network, he says, but says that most people would not implement it on their LAN because a LAN has such high capacity [they are] not worried about traffic congestion.
|What Determines Your Video Conference’s Quality?
When you initiate a video conference, your conferencing system (whether a dedicated system like the LifeSize Connections line or a PC-based solution) runs specialized software called a codec to format the audio and video signals for transmission. Audio and video streams are transferred in real time when they are converted into smaller chunks of bits and bytes called packets and delivered near-instantaneously to the receiving end through fiber optic cables, phone-lines, or IP-enabled networks. At the receiving end, the codec translates the digital signal back to an analog signal for display on the monitor. Depending on the quality of the equipment being used, the reproduced signals will either arrive clearly or with performance degradation during the translation process. The platform you choose will determine much of this difference.
The main tools needed to conduct a video conference are a web cam at each location, as well as some type of video output, such as a TV or computer monitor, and audio input and output, consisting of a microphone and speakers. HD conferencing requires an HD-compatible camera, more computational horsepower to encode/decode, and more bandwidth to transmit. The quality difference between an HD conference and a standard definition conference is significant: HD has approximately nine times the pixel density of a standard definition video. A few years ago you needed 2 Mbps (bits per second) bandwidth to send/receive HD videoconferencing, but today, vendors like LifeSize can do it in 0.768 Mbps; the difference is faster semiconductors and improved software due to their premier role in industry innovation. In terms of incompatibility today, David says, most systems can interoperate to the point that they can connect and send/receive video, but inter-vendor connectivity often leads to less than optimum connections and sometimes to having some features not supported.
Many videoconferencing software products are client-server applications that provide the videoconferencing client on a machine, and when booted up, connect to an enterprise server. The server provides a buddy list which makes calling remote offices more convenient, click-to-call capabilities, and automatically ensures every participant is running the latest release of the software (and can automatically upgrade software if needed). A dedicated LAN video conference server also provides some measure of bandwidth control (e.g., it knows that there are 23 calls going on simultaneously and that the bandwidth capacity is used up); and generally provides central control and monitoring.
The quality of consumer-grade video conferencing applications is getting better, Davis, says. In general, specialized hardware improves specific tasks like video acceleration, and can make resiliency better or faster (by using technology such as forward error correction). As a result, applications that use software running on general-purpose hardware (like PC processors) will always lag, according to Davis.
|LifeSizes new cloud-based video conferencing system, LifeSize Connections, combines the benefits of LifeSizes bandwidth-efficient software and reliable HD picture quality with the price and simplicity of a web-based service that can incorporate consumer-grade equipment.||Request Information|
He also notes that performance will be better when two parties are video conferencing with the same hardware system since its a dedicated appliance to running a video conference, and does a very good job. On the flip side, if running a software application on a laptop, the video conference performance will be very dependent on the performance of that device and whether it has high enough computing power, display, camera, etc. The bottom line is that your hardware can make a big difference. A lot of times, people use crummy cameras and microphones and they wonder why they dont have a good experience.
Whether you select an integrated video conferencing system or to piece together a system, you need to account for IT maintenance costs. If you roll your system, your IT team will need in-house staff to maintain video cameras and audio equipment on PCs, and deal with any issues that might arise, such as interoperability and bandwidth to handle video conferencing transmissions. Lets assume you do have all these things; my experience is the consumer [software] does an excellent job if you have enough bandwidth and horsepower, Davis says. But in a business environment, any trouble with a high priority video conference call often demands an immediate response from IT teams, which means those resources must be available and on-call. As a result, many organizations choose an integrated system that will minimize their support load.
- What quality level do you want to support? 720p HD is emerging as a standard for mid-range conferencing, and many businesses are choosing 1080p for executive conferencing systems.
- How many conference participants do you wish to support?
- How much bandwidth do you have available on your network? Some video conferencing systems use a lot of bandwidth, while others have developed clever proprietary optimizations that use less. Look for a system that can achieve high quality with minimum bandwidth, particularly with multi-party conferences.
- How much IT time will you have available? Consumer-grade equipment is cheap and ubiquitous, but may require more IT support to configure and maintain.
- Can you configure QoS throughout your network? If not, its even more important to select a system with the lowest bandwidth requirements.
- What other systems do you need to connect to? If you will be working with many different conferencing systems, look for a platform that supports the most ubiquitous standards.
- Will you need to support users accessing conferences via mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets?
- Will users need to conduct presentations, where they will display a slideshow along with a video feed?