Competitive Edge: Blue Jeans and The “Meet Me” Model

by Scott Lomond, VP and GM, LifeSize Cloud Services

Given what I do for a living, I’ve been reading with interest the latest articles and blogs about new hosted alternatives to traditional on-premise video conferencing deployments like Blue Jeans. It’s clear that viable cloud alternatives to video conferencing have arrived on the scene, and they have the potential to provide new ways for organizations to get into the game of video communications and start reaping the benefits of this incredible technology.

These companies are touting new pay-per-minute video conferencing business models and even the “death of the MCU,” but I find myself wondering, “how much real innovation is going on here?” The pay-per-minute approach will be familiar to anyone who has participated in an audio conference call over the years (although one would hope with better hold music). But scheduling a video conference, issuing calendar invitations to the participants, dialing into a bridge and waiting for people to dial in seems a bit archaic when all I want to do is ask one or more colleagues a question over video.

As for MCUs (bridges), they aren’t going away. What’s really happening is that cloud providers are running new software MCUs that can do video and audio mixing pretty much like the old hardware-based systems. Instead of buying your own MCUs, the cloud providers want you to pay them by the minute to use their MCUs, just as we all used to pay for voice conferencing. Aside from changing who owns and runs the infrastructure that enables my conferencing, it doesn’t offer me a new kind of experience. I don’t understand why, with all new capabilities that become possible with cloud services, companies aren’t doing more to innovate around how we use video communications today.

At LifeSize, we think differently. That’s why we built LifeSize Connections. Connections is not simply video conferencing ports in the cloud. LifeSize makes industry-leading room endpoints, a full lineup of innovative infrastructure products, and we operate a globally distributed, standards-based signaling network. We asked ourselves, “if we could redraw what cloud-based video conferencing should be, what would it look like?

It starts with everything working seamlessly together. Have you ever tried to deploy an HD room endpoint in a sales office on the other side of the world? They are difficult to provision without on-site IT expertise. With our service, you can create an account for an endpoint before you ever take it out of the box, ship it to its destination and when the colleague on the receiving end enables Connections, it will call the cloud, provision itself and download the company directory. You are up and ready to call other users in minutes.

Video conferencing that enhances how we really work. Yes, I could use a bridge service to schedule my video conference. But I’d rather look at my presence-enabled directory and know right away that the person I need to see is available. One click and we are face to face via HD video getting business done. If we need to bring in another person or a conference room system, that’s another click – and so on up to nine participants. We can share presentations and documents on the fly, and if I need to drop out it’s no problem. Our conferences are hostless and will continue until the last person leaves.

It needs to be easy to manage. Every LifeSize Connections account comes with access to a secure web-based administrator’s console. An office manager or sales leader can quickly deploy, re-assign or add desktop and conference room seats without help from IT. All I need is a colleague’s name and email address and I can quickly create an account for him. The service handles the rest.

It needs to be affordable. Let’s face it – historically, on-premise video deployments have been expensive. Hosted services can price themselves relative to the on-premise model or they can pass along the significant savings of scale and concurrent usage. Blue Jeans Networks recently announced pricing of $300 per month per port. If you wanted to have the ability to talk to nine team members at the same time,  that would cost $32,000 per year. For the same price, you could deploy 50 desktop users and 12 room endpoints for a year on Connections, and each of these user accounts would get unlimited 9-way click to call bridging, data sharing, firewall traversal, presence enabled directories and unlimited free guests.

Today, you have more options than ever before for deploying video conferencing in your business. At LifeSize, we believe that in the era of cloud-enabled video networks you shouldn’t be stuck with the old rules for video conferencing.  We didn’t set out to build a conference calling experience – just with video this time. Solutions need to be easy to deploy, simple to use, flexible and affordable, for sure. But when the video solution has been designed to improve how you and your colleagues work together, video stops being a nice-to-have and becomes a necessity.

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