Hardware for multipoint conferencing keeps getting better

By Christine Perey, ITworld.com |  Networking

In a previous
column
I predicted that Microsoft's Exchange 2000 Conferencing Server software for
mixing data, audio and video would meet the needs of occasional users, but would also
fall short of expectations for those with large collaborative meetings or projects
involving users outside the enterprise LAN. I suggested that to offer a full featured
platform that interoperates with end points from other vendors (other than Microsoft's
NetMeeting or those running Microsoft Windows2000), the IT manager would need to
introduce one or more third party software extensions.

Another way to expand the multipoint conferencing services your enterprise or
commercial network offers voice and video over IP application users is to introduce new
hardware. In general, multipoint conference signaling and media management (mixing,
switching and control of the virtual stage in real time) are computationally demanding
processes. Hardware acceleration produces much sharper video, clearer audio and lowers
the latency users experience. And, prior to conferencing over IP, hardware interfaces
(T1/E1 or ISDN cards) were necessary for connection-oriented network terminations
between the end points and the bridge.

In this earlier era (1994-1998) a few companies dominated the multipoint
videoconferencing infrastructure market segment. VideoServer, now known as href=http://www.ezenia.com target=new>ezenia!, invented the category and introduced
the first generation of MCUs (multipoint conferencing units). The company held its
leadership position through another generation of functionality until, in 1997, others
saw an opportunity. Lucent Technologies, for example, productized core video
technologies from Bell Labs and began marketing them aggressively as the Lucent MCU.
Compunetix is another player in this segment. Lucent gained market share (the product
is now in the Avaya
portfolio
) but has since ceded competitive advantages to newcomers, such as href=http://www.accordnetworks.com target=new>Accord Networks which has
aggressively targeted the service provider segment, and href=http://www.radvision.com target=new>RADVision which has gone after the work
group video meeting user base with its H.323 enterprise MCU.

Over the same period, CUseeMe's MCU,
MeetingPoint, grew in acceptance in both service provider and enterprise networks.
Although these products are more stable and easier to use than any of their
predecessors, a graph on page 4 of an industry newsletter published by href=http://www.wainhouse.com/bulletin/archives.html target=new>Wainhouse Research
shows that the segment revenues have not significantly grown since second quarter 1999
(and maybe earlier).

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