Challenges in managing a heterogeneous video conferencing network

by Parijat Bansal and Prithvi Ranganath, LifeSize Control team

Management software is an integral part of a complete video conferencing solution. It provides the ability to manage/monitor devices, schedule calls, log/report on usage, a centralized directory and many more functionalities. Every provider faces certain challenges that limit their management solution’s ability to work seamlessly with video conferencing endpoints from different providers. Few of the challenges are related to user network designs, however. At the moment, the industry is more focused on issues related to video call data. Management must be an area of focus, because while having a good video conference is important, having easy manageability and scheduling of devices is what makes the solution more user friendly for both the IT staff and end users.

Video Conferencing Management Challenges

No standard followed by endpoint manufacturers for managing devices – Video conferencing endpoint manufacturers do not share common guidelines unlike mobile manufacturers who follow OMA, which allows independent software vendors to configure, upgrade and monitor devices in a provider independent way. This causes different management programs to limit their management capabilities to a set of providers. Moreover, it causes lot of effort in understanding and implementing provider specific management capabilities, often resulting in partial management capability for endpoints from different providers.

Managing devices behind Firewall/Network Address Translation (NAT) – Firewall/NAT are unavoidable components of an enterprise network mostly due to security issues. These present a big hurdle when we talk about video conferencing. Providers have come up with different solutions that have their own pros and cons. In general they are focused on solving traversal issues with data flowing for a video call. However, managing an endpoint behind Firewalls/NAT is quite a challenge and is generally overlooked. There are different challenges for both enterprise users and less technically savvy users (like individuals and home users) to solve this problem. Some providers use alternative ways such as making a SIP call to manage devices, which is provider specific: i.e., it’s not applicable to all available endpoints. Another way is asking network administrators to configure reverse proxies, which causes multiple issues with network security by exposing devices for DOS attacks and is not feasible for less technically savvy users. A user having a video conferencing device behind an ISP network has no idea about the network through which he or she is able to connect to a host, and in general is not able to configure a reverse proxy so that it can be reached from management software through the public network.

Securely exposing endpoints Even if somehow you made endpoints reachable to the management software, there are lot of chances for different kinds of security attacks. The situation is even more severe when an endpoint doesn’t support protocols that provide security (such as HTTPS or SFTP or SNMPv3). Also, it may require a lot of holes in the firewall.

Managing endpoints by all providers – Most management solutions only support the endpoints sold by that particular provider. For example: TMS does not support management of LifeSize endpoints. This limits choice for the customer, who is limited to buying endpoints only from their management solution provider. Ultimately, this type of lock-in leads customers to second-class deployments, away from best-in-breed solutions.

Endpoints expose different subsets of application layer protocol – Different providers expose their endpoints through a different set of application layer protocols. Some providers even use ways proprietary to them. Having a predefined minimum subset to be available on all devices would have helped management software vendors to limit focus to only a predefined set of communication protocols.

Affordable solution – Small/medium business customers often find it difficult to take advantage of management solutions due to the significant cost of buying, deploying and maintaining them.

At LifeSize, we are the only video conferencing provider with a management solution that manages LifeSize, Polycom, Tandberg, Sony, and Radvision video equipment. We are actively looking to address the other challenges in each generational release of LifeSize Control.  With every release of LifeSize Control, we introduce new features and functionality, as well as new devices from multiple vendors.

In general standardization is good for the industry. But it is a tough, time consuming and expensive process in which all stake-holders must come together and agree to cooperate. Evidently video infrastructure management is not at the top of the list for a few reasons:

  1. Scale of management is still too small to generate enough interest in the process of standardization. With the increasing adoption of video in communications, we think that the scale of operations will definitely increase over time.
  2. The number of multi-vendor scenarios for management servers to handle is not as significant, because of the fact that every organization would like to standardize infrastructure equipment from a single vendor and a management solution from the same vendor. Again we think this will change over time as the competition in this domain heightens.

We at LifeSize think that cooperative standardization could hold the key to easier video infrastructure deployment in the future.

One Response to “Challenges in managing a heterogeneous video conferencing network”

  1. McKay Clarey

    An unmentioned challenge of managing a large number of video endpoints, regardless of make, is reliability and supportability. When you have hundreds of endpoints (and hundreds of users) relying on a management system for call scheduling, directories and system configurations the last thing you want is that management system to go offline. Suddenly your endpoints become these old analog behemoths that have to be operated by IT and reached by IP address.

    I don’t really believe video systems, especially Lifesize, are that difficult to operate, but I know many non-technical users that would feel that way. And the general public that is slowly adapting videoconferencing is not that technical. So if you want to address the challenges in managing video systems or any other number of end user systems, I think you have to take reliability and up-time as one of the most serious challenges.


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