Tech Notes: A universal approach to scheduling video calls using any enterprise calendaring service

By Babu Srithar & Sandeep Lakshmipathy, Infrastructure Team, LifeSize India

Ask any IT administrator. They don’t want ANYTHING installed on mission critical e-mail servers.

When we announced plans to deliver enhanced support for Microsoft Exchange/Outlook scheduling as part of a major software release for LifeSize Control, we received a lot of feedback from customers about seamless integration.

Video conferencing vendors take different approaches to integrating video call scheduling with existing calendaring services that are popular in enterprises, mainly Microsoft Exchange, Gmail & Lotus Notes.

Primarily, these can be categorized into two distinct approaches:

• Installing server-grade plug-ins on the e-mail server
• Installing plug-ins to the e-mail/calendaring client on the desktop

Server grade plug-ins

When installing server-grade plug-ins on the e-mail server, an IT administrator could potentially experience server downtime in order to get the integration going. In addition, incompatibilities or other installation issues could lead to more severe issues on the e-mail server.

Here are a few high-level issues that can plague a server plug-in approach:

1. Most of the time, server plug-ins are not certified by the e-mail/calendaring software vendor. This leaves you on your own when it comes to trusting the vendor providing the plug-in.

2. Since the plug-in is installed on the server hardware, server resources are consumed. Note that additional resources are provisioned on these e-mail server clusters in order to accommodate peak load conditions, and the installation of external plug-ins sacrifices the much needed headroom for these peak load conditions.

3. Regular software updates to these external plug-ins mean more risk of server downtime, which is not appreciated by an IT admin whose job depends on reliable uptime.

Desktop plug-ins

Another approach to addressing video call scheduling is to install plug-ins to popular email client software like Microsoft Outlook and Lotus Notes Client. When custom desktop plug-ins are installed onto e-mail clients, scalability and usability are the two most critical areas of concern. Desktop plug-ins may seem less risky to the IT personnel because the mission-critical e-mail servers are not being updated with plug-ins. But in this case, the lack of an elegant solution to address the video call scheduling process has simply been transferred from one centralized location onto thousands of computer systems across the enterprise. This makes the solution even less desirable due to the following pitfalls:

1. Each and every user in the enterprise has to install this plug-in onto their desktops. So, even if such an exercise is automated, maintaining the latest plug-in installation on all of a company’s machines is no easy task for any enterprise IT team.

2. Educating the company’s office administrator on how to choose the correct bandwidth for a video call she schedules isn’t exactly an IT administrator’s dream. Why should she even have to worry with it?

3. Desktop plug-ins are just not intuitive. Usability is probably the biggest inhibitor to mass adoption of the desktop plug-in approach to video call scheduling for enterprise conferencing systems.

The shortcomings of both server grade plug-ins and desktop plug-ins made us think that there has to be an approach that is:

• Simple
• Intuitive
• All complexity hidden behind the scenes

Something hassle-free

Rejoice! An approach that doesn’t make use of server side or desktop plug-ins was indeed possible. The integration approach that we use in the LifeSize Control support for enterprise calendaring is a non-invasive way of achieving enterprise product integration. Making use of a simple calendaring feature – server based auto-forwarding of calendar schedules – we were able to achieve seamless integration of video call scheduling.

Scheduling Video Calls via LifeSize Control

To fully recognize the simplicity of the LifeSize solution, you first need to understand one aspect supported by most of the major e-mail and calendaring services, whether it be Microsoft Exchange or Gmail: All e-mails and calendar messages coming into an inbox can be diverted into another central inbox. This way, when an inbox is set up for each of the video conferencing devices, all meeting schedules coming into them will get forwarded to the central inbox that is monitored by the management software. Management software such as LifeSize Control could monitor the central inbox handling all meeting schedule requests from users in the enterprise.

From scheduling out-of-call HD video recordings to multi-way calling with complex dial patterns, all the complexity can be hidden from the end user. Remember, the office administrator just wants to add conference participants, block the meeting rooms and fire away the meeting schedule! The rest of the critical aspects to any scheduling system are handled via:

• Conflict resolution: When a device is being booked for the same time that it has been already booked, the user receives an e-mail back about the conflict that occurred.
• Seamless mail server migration: When organizations migrate to newer or alternative mail servers/calendaring service, no additional work is required to retain the video devices scheduling support, since the management server handles everything.

Integrating video call scheduling with existing calendaring services does not have to be an IT nightmare. With auto-forwarding of calendar schedules, LifeSize Control eliminates the complexities of plug-ins and makes it easier for IT administrators to schedule and manage video conference calls.

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