Friday, 16 May 2008

High Definition Videoconferencing - new way of life for VIPs

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When CIO Michael Williams pushes the "connect" button on the LifeSize videoconference system at the California University (where he works), big egos and big money are at the digital table. Williams, who is not permitted to use his university's name when promoting a commercial product, is a big fan of LifeSize Communications Inc.'s high-definition (HD) videoconference technology, a $500,000 upgrade of the university's low-definition legacy system.

"We represent a half-billion dollars' worth of clinical translational research with tier-one scientists at the top 25-ranked universities in the U.S," said Williams, CIO of the Epilepsy Phenome/Genome Project and director of IT for the Immune Tolerance Network. Note that these are two large and federally funded research projects aimed at better understanding the biological underpinnings of epilepsy and other serious conditions.

"This is an important improvement because it essentially allows the scientists to have 12 times the amount of visual data and about five times the quality of audio data for these important discovery, business and resourcing discussions," Williams said. A year after launch day, the system now encompasses 50 high-definition videoconferencing endpoints located in about 40 buildings from coast to coast, with the capacity for 20 participants to pow-wow up close and personal, Williams said.

Green and poised to grow
At a time when many CIOs are looking to hold the line on IT spending, a new HD videoconferencing system might seem like a luxury. Certainly, the technology is not high on many IT shopping lists. According to an analyst, HD videoconferencing is in the early stages of maturity, with market penetration in the single digits, or less than 5%. But as prices fall, with some high-definition systems selling for less than $10,000 per endpoint, Gartner is urging organizations to pay the purchase serious mind. An investment in new HD videoconferencing equipment can produce long-term benefits for the customer and the environment. Decreasing the amount of executive travel is an important factor, especially with fuel prices so high. The technology can contribute to a company's "Green IT" initiative, as well as arguably increase employee productivity and quality of life.

Ready for your close-up?
For Williams' clientele of "VIP" scientists, "collaboration is everything," and videoconferencing is becoming a way of life, he said. He estimated that the créme de le créme in his group spend an average three to five hours a day in videoconferences.

"This is a very green technology," he said. "It has literally saved us a huge amount of money in terms of travel, and a huge amount in money in terms of communication being more precise and clear." His proof points? An instant message transmits 1 kilobit of data per second (Kbps); a phone call, 64 Kbps; and a legacy videoconferencing system, 384 Kbps with about four times data compression, Williams noted. An HD videoconference is 1 megabit, or 1 million bits per second, with 10 times data compression. "So if you are a scientist, on a videoconference you are getting 10 million bits per second of information that your brain's massively parallel neural network is very well adapted to process and interpret and make meaning and purpose out of," he said.

'A bunch of crap'
CIOs will also likely get pushback from their network experts. Network administrators will tell you, you can't do that, you need quality of service this and you need package filtering that and you need firewalls, this is impossible!. Don't believe them. Web Conferencing now made easy. Securely collaborate, present and demonstrate online with
GoToMeeting™. You can also use Central Desktop – the collaboration tool voted “Best of The Web” by Business Week. Organize projects, share files and meet online.

Also, the notion that you have to buy a premium network to optimize the video is, well, "a bunch of crap," you can very well use any tier-one service provider. One important warning: HD videoconferencing is not a mature enough platform to share desktop data that requires high resolution. Though this is a controversial statement, from a vendor's perspective, but if any CIO in the country tries to do that with a VIP stakeholder, given the state of the art, they would hurt themselves -- that would be a very bad decision.

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