Understanding Virtualized Videoconferencing

Server virtualization has been and continues to be a top IT priority for good reasons like improving infrastructure manageability, lowering TCO, and improving business continuity and disaster recovery capabilities. In IT's quest to virtualize more workloads, however, videoconferencing has remained on its own island of specialized hardware due to its reliance on transcoding DSPs (digital signal processors), an incredibly compute intensive type of work. Transcoding is necessary for interoperability between unlike videoconferencing systems, and the performance of that specialized hardware has been difficult to match with software running on standard servers. 
 
That is, unless you turn to a model that doesn't use transcoding. Enter Vidyo, whose virtual edition infrastructure delivers comparable performance to its physical appliances since it doesn't have to transcode calls between Vidyo endpoints. Desktop videoconferencing solutions for the most part are available in virtualized models. However, transcoding based videoconferencing is also becoming available virtualized, with LifeSize offering its platform in this model. In the cloud, Blue Jeans -- the poster child for videoconferencing as a service -- has a virtualized platform based on transcoding that also provides a high quality experience. It will be interesting to see how the performance of virtualized transcoding workloads compares to traditional infrastructure.
 
Innovation in videoconferencing today is about making this historically cost prohibitive technology cheaper and easier to deploy. Server virtualization is key to that goal. In conversations with end user companies considering their videoconferencing strategy, virtualization is something they express interest in and would consider the next time they refresh their technology. Here's what vendors in the upcoming Forrester Wave on desktop videoconferencing are doing with virtualization today:
 
  • Avaya/RADVISION. Some components like the management suite and firewall traversal solution support VMWare. Multipoint control units (MCUs) are not available virtualized. Scopia Desktop Server cannot be virtualized.
  • BlueJeans. Blue Jeans runs on both virtual and standards-based servers in its Tier 1 data centers.
  • Cisco. Jabber can be deployed in virtual environments using Citrix XenDesktop and Citrix XenApp. Cisco's MCUs are not available in a virtualized model. TelePresence Conductor is a solution that sits on top of a pool of MCUs to load balance and manage resources across them.  
  • IBM. IBM Sametime supports VMware ESX Server as well as Microsoft Hyper-V. Individual server components can be deployed on virtual machines as individual images or as nodes within a cluster.
  • IOCOM. The Visimeet Unified Collaboration Server (UCS) can be deployed on any virtualized system that supports Linux.
  • LifeSize. LifeSize UVC ClearSea can be purchased in both physical appliance and VMware and Hyper-V versions (I have a webinar with LifeSize on the benefits of virtualized videoconferencing this Wednesday that you can register for here).
  • Microsoft. Lync Server 2013 virtualization is fully supported on Hyper-V, VMWare, Citrix, and other SVVP certified hypervisors. Running on virtualized servers requires Windows Server 2012 or Windows Server 2008 R2.
  • Polycom. RealPresence CloudAXIS, a desktop videoconferencing product, runs in a VMware environment. Other aspects of the RealPresence platform (MCUs, management suite, firewall traversal solution) are not available in a virtualized model.
  • Vidyo. The core components of the Vidyo infrastructure -- VidyoRouter, VidyoPortal, and VidyoGateway -- are available as both physical and virtual appliances (Virtual Edition).