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Podcast: How Not to Hate Video Conferencing

Greg Mooney| July 25 2017

| Podcasts, IT insights


It’s the bane of our existence—after printers, that is. At CiscoLive! 2017, we had the chance to talk with Ryan Lewis, IT professional, about video conferencing. 

He shared what he’s using for video conferencing, why he’s using it, and the challenges he’s overcome to make sure his users can do video conferencing quickly, efficiently, and without all the hassle.

It’s the bane of our existence—after printers, that is. Today at CiscoLive! 2017 with Ryan Lewis, we will be talking about video conferencing.

As we all know, the IT guy is always working his butt off behind the scenes to make sure that video conferencing is working right for his clients and that they don’t have any hiccups when they’re giving an important presentation or running an important meeting.

Lewis is going to tell us what he’s using for video conferencing, why he’s using it, and the challenges he’s overcome to make sure his users can do video conferencing quickly, efficiently, and without all the hassle.

Lewis has done a little bit of everything in IT: nonprofit management, automation and theater in cruise ships, stage management, hotel AV, sales—all of which touch IT. “It’s just knowing how to put it all together. It all seemed like a natural progression,” Lewis said.

Eventually, he got into a company doing live events, and they asked him to do video conferencing because the two paired very well.

So, how does Lewis tackle the day-in-and-day-out quicksand of video conferencing?


You’re Only as Good as Your Tools

He has Polycom Infrastructure RMX. He has a DMA system for all of the call routing. He has 20-odd endpoints spread geographically throughout the world.

“Overall, it works pretty well point-to-point,” Lewis said. “We have some network things that we need to work on internally, but that’s here nor there. We like what we do, but we need to kind of expand it out.” As if the globe isn’t big enough.

And the main issues users usually come in with when they’re doing video streams over long, large distances?

“Latency is a huge issue,” Lewis said. “It’s also trying to coordinate with the scheduler, like one-touch dialing, which Polycom has, but just making it work properly.”

With latency, you have to account for the video bridge. Lewis’s is located centrally on the West Coast—but if he’s trying to get Germany and China to talk to each other, they don’t have the nodes. “It can be a little bit of a pain trying to get them to talk,” he said.

Lewis also said he doesn’t have screen sharing integrated. There are a few options like People IP, but they haven’t worked to the extent that the users are willing to use it every time. (If the user has a problem with it more than once, they’re not going to put up with it after that.)


User Error and Other Problems

Video usage is comparatively low in Lewis’s organization—but it’s growing. For now, the video bridge and notes are in California, but Lewis wants to start clustering out and creating clusters. “Maybe have an RMX in Europe, and then maybe one in Asia,” he said, “but for right now, it just doesn’t make sense when we’re having such a low usage.”

At least his bandwidth issues aren’t as bad as they could be. “When you’re doing the multi-point, it’s having to go back to California, and then back and forth,” Lewis explained. “So, if you have three or four places, it slows down immensely. Bandwidth across the network was not really the problem, it was more the amount of jumps that it had to make.”

Occasionally, the biggest obstacle is the users. Lewis does some user training on the systems, but sometimes he is on-site to go in and set things up himself.

“For the most part, the user group we have is pretty good about knowing how to use the system. They have their extended meeting rooms that are always present. So they follow the same dialing plan, and they always go into the same bridge, so that’s not a problem,” he said. Whew.

He’ll set up C-level meetings himself, though. As well as B2B collaborations, a blue jeans sort of setting, or a law firm, for example. “I’ll have to be present just to make sure that the testing works well,” Lewis explained. “I want to make sure that my head of marketing’s event goes well. We’ll use one of the larger endpoints that we have and go from there.”

This might look like doing a test the day before, being present for the first 10 minutes, then sitting outside and to monitor it on the network.

What’s Up at Cisco Live

Defrag This and Lewis are both at Cisco Live. It’s obvious that Greg Mooney is there for the amazing conversation, but why is Lewis? What would be cutting-edge for video conferencing?

The coolest thing he’s seen so far is the Sparkwares. “I like collaboration aspect of that. They actually had a VR demo with the Spark Board, kind of like being able to white board in virtual reality. They announced it last year, but they were showing it off again here.”

Lewis also liked the Spark Room Kits, which he thought had some great functionality. “I’d like to see how they’d deploy in like a larger setting. I know they’re eventually going to be the replacement for the SX20.”

Some of the larger room kits, like SX80, have amazing camera smart tracking, where it can actually zoom in on faces. The Spark Room Kit has a 5K camera element that’ll center in on the two people speaking, then it takes the 5K camera and cuts it down into 1920 x 1080.

It’s probably picking up the audience signal in the room, and it knows where its coming from. Which is pretty outstanding.

The Spark Room Kit Plus has four cameras that can do close-depth of field and far-depth of field. Then it’s got like a dozen microphones built in that are specifically for audio triangulation, so it’s really good about picking up exactly where the people are speaking.

Features like these are incredibly exciting for video conferencing, because they could probably even handle a roomful of people arguing. (At least by zooming out.)

One drawback, the Room Kit Plus the microphones are built in only for audio triangulation. So you have to have regular table microphones, too. “I’m kind of on the fence about that, because that’s one more cable that you have to run through conduit,” Lewis said.

…Meaning that’s one more thing to worry about not breaking.

Same thing with HDMI—it’s a straight HDMI cable, not a HDBaseT extender, which would be easier to run through conduit.

About the news that Cisco is now a main partner with Apple, Lewis is looking forward to optimized wireless settings. Plus how some of the collaboration tools and tie into WebEx. “If you do a hybrid media node or a Cisco media server, if you’re wanting to deploy video conferencing, it’s interesting to see just how they have that distributed,” he said.

“I’m really excited to see how the CMR works with WebEx, and then how to integrate that with either our existing structure or changing around our infrastructure. Because if you can use Jabber and make SIP calls into a CMR, you can do the bridging function that we have with the Polycom RMX, but from a desktop perspective.”

This would allow people to get into video conferencing on a much smaller scale, like right from their desks. “You don’t have to have the Cisco DX80 with its desktop touchscreen to get things done, but it’s really nice, so you could if you wanted to.”

A lot of Defrag This followers have sent in questions about video conferencing, so here’s an official thanks to Ryan Lewis for bringing his insight and experience to the podcast and the blog about it. This is a fantastic start to talking about something so many people want to know about.

Don’t forget to listen to all of the episodes of Defrag This anyplace you find podcasts! Or tune in to our blog.

Topics: Podcasts, IT insights

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Greg is a technologist and data geek with over 10 years in tech. He has worked in a variety of industries as an IT manager and software tester. Greg is an avid writer on everything IT related, from cyber security to troubleshooting.

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