Is Videoconferencing the Next Big Threat to Your Job?

Users want what they want; sometimes they should get it.

Thousands of corporate end users and telecom staffers may celebrate Citrix Systems' promise to add cheap, simple videoconferencing into its GoToMeeting products by early 2011. The people responsible for keeping networks up and running may not be cheering as loudly.

Video, especially HD video, eats up a lot of space on the network and demands very high-quality of service. Especially in HD, any little glitch means jitter, lag and unhappy users calling the help desk asking why the cool videocon service their department head bought for less than $100 a head and videocams from the office-equipment budget aren't working right. "You didn't tell us you were going to do that; we didn't test it; cut it out right now," isn't an acceptable answer anymore.

And it's not just video. VoIP systems grow like weeds, Unified Communications systems combine everything from email to chat to voice to low-def video; end-users run Skype and ESPN.com clips all day long, and the increasing growth in server and desktop virtualization are starting to put more demands on the network (Warning: Links to a PDF) by running all that virtual traffic through real network cables. Individually all those new technologies pay for themselves and, in general, improve worker productivity. (Which squeezes more work out of each of us, lets the company hold off on any new hires and slows down any economic recovery, but never mind that right

now.)

But they all put pressure on networks that IT is already expanding wireless, SAN, LAN, backbone, fabric and every other kind of network, to the absolute limit of its own budget.

You can limit the bottlenecks by banning video and audio traffic , or by squishing , shaping, or throttling it, . If you have the time, expertise and money, you could also just design your network to minimize the problem.

Either way you go with HD videoconferencing -- which Citrix, Cisco and a host of others are offering at all-time-low prices -- you're going to have to deal with end users wanting more than just fuzzy, jerky Skype video to talk to colleagues.

They won't be reasonable about it, so your ability to say no will be limited; consumer tech is driving corporate IT to all kinds of things it never would have approved in the past, mostly to good effect. End users who can watch TV on their iPhones don't understand why they can't talk to Topeka from their desks. Often (IT heresy warning:) they're right.

Yes, often they're just wasting time online. Which IT never does. Yes, it costs billions. It also increases, productivity, evenunintentionally.

That doesn't mean you must run out and buy HD for everyone who asks for a camera. (Or hand out the ones you already own for "testing.")

But even if you don't have the budget, don't fight HD or Skype or IM too hard; you won't win. No matter what the impact on your network, increased security risk or chance users will screw up their PCs with bad drivers, you still have to suck it up and deal with it. Use it to ask for more budget; maybe ask department heads to pay for it and let you build it right so they're not just hanging webcams all over the place and plugging them into open sockets.

Most of the people who want to be in HD videocons probably shouldn't be on camera of any kind, but no one can resist seeing themselves on TV once in a while. More important, they can't resist seeing other people. If you say no too loudly, odds are they won't be seeing you at all for much longer, either.

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