Blue Jeans a tight fit for video call issues

Video systems rarely interoperate well but are things about to change and open up the market? Fleur Doidge investigates

Something is going on in San Francisco’s Silicon Valley right now that has been tipped to soon rip open the market for video conferencing around the world, and provide even greater opportunities for the channel in the process.

Robin Jest, the co-founder and head of Audio Visual at Luton based solution provider Admiral, said a start-up called Blue Jeans has technology in beta in the US that is expected to solve many interoperability issues in video conferencing.

Video conferencing as a market is really on the up for Admiral, Jest said, but in the near future it is predicted to become even more lucrative as one of the final and most frustrating barriers to usability is lifted – that of interoperability between different sets of kit.

“Video conferencing is going really well for us, and we are expanding. There has been some depression in audiovisual at the moment, because of people cutting budgets. But people are moving premises and expanding and upgrading,” Jest said.

“But the biggest frustration and problem has been interoperability, so if you have got [Microsoft] OCS, connected through to standard room systems, for example, it is really difficult to have it interoperate.”

For video calling to really go mainstream, you must be able to communicate with a different vendor’s room system from the one you use, whenever you want. Not only that, you need to be able to communicate with Skype, via a mobile device, or on a PC, and in any combination.

BT, for example, hit headlines in November for its new inter-provider connectivity for Cisco TelePresence end points – hailed by analysts as a step forward for the industry and for collaboration – but truly ad hoc, anywhere, anytime, any brand functionality has so far eluded developers.

“But we have been in beta testing with a company in California called Blue Jeans Network that will very soon release a software-based bridge that will allow you to mix all these things. When we have clients on Skype it’s not quite there for us yet, but it will be -- with PC HD or SD over open-standard systems like Tandberg, Lifesize or whatever,” Jest said.Robin Jest

Validating its technology

CRN sought out Blue Jeans Network in San Francisco to find out more. Stu Aaron, chief commercial officer at Blue Jeans Network, said the start-up is conducting a closed beta programme to validate its technology with a select group of large and small enterprises, educational institutions, and VARs, among others.

“We have not yet formally launched our company or our service to the market,” he said.

Aaron said that Tandberg users, for instance, would be able to video conference with Skype users. The service is intended to allow easy conferencing between heterogeneous video end points.

“We are targeting a wide range of room-based, desktop, and mobile systems from the leading vendors,” he said. “As it is a cloud-based conferencing service, all that our customers will require is a video end point – for example, from Polycom, Tandberg, Lifesize, Skype, Google, or others – one or more other parties that they wish to conference with, and a Blue Jeans account.

Aaron said each Blue Jeans customer will get a private ‘meeting room’ in its cloud they can use to schedule, and host their meetings. Participants would join the meeting by dialing a number or clicking on a URL. No new infrastructure would be required by the customer."

He said he could not comment on the exact timing of the official and commercial launch of Blue Jeans. “However, I can say that the feedback on the beta programme thus far has been extremely encouraging,” Aaron said. “The beta trials have been going on for about eight weeks now.”

He said he was not at liberty to disclose the names of other companies that have been testing the software bridge in its beta form. However, asked whether Blue Jeans’ offering, in its final form, would include a solution or service that the channel could offer to end user businesses, Aaron said that it would.

“Blue Jeans is building a service that could be offered either directly by Blue Jeans or through other resellers or service providers,” Aaron said.

Interoperability UC’s biggest challenge

Irwin Lazar, vice president for communications research at US business advisory firm Nemertes Research, said in March 2010, in a blog for Network World, that interoperability has been a major obstacle for unified communications (UC), with 58 per cent of the companies that Nemertes had spoken to saying at the time that interoperability was their biggest challenge.

Lazar noted that although Vidyo pioneered H.264 SVC support, SVC is only partially standardised. Polycom offers an alternative – but only for Polycom kit. Tandberg has opted for H.265, which is still emerging. Session Initiation Protocol (SIP), meanwhile, is so extensible that developers can – and do – build in their own capabilities.

Cisco’s Intercompany Media Engine, again, is Cisco-only at the moment. Interestingly, Krish Ramakrishnan, serial entrepreneur, co-founder and chief executive of Blue Jeans Network, used to work at Cisco. Most recently, Ramakrishnan was vice president and general manager of Cisco’s server virtualisation business unit, and before that, of its content networking business unit.

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