When video collaboration makes sense in the cloud

It doesn't work for everything, though, and smart IT managers are lining up different classes of videoconferencing tools for different use cases

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The T.H. Chan Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) educates and trains physicians all over the world. Consequently, the school is set up for distance learning. It has conference rooms, classrooms and even a dedicated teaching studio decked out with high-end Cisco telepresence gear.

But when Winter Storm Juno hit Boston in January, HSPH's faculty and staff were snowed in along with the rest of the city's residents, and all of that videoconferencing technology was out of reach. Rather than cancel their virtual classes, some of HSPH's professors conducted them from their homes. Using a cloud-based videoconferencing service from Blue Jeans and their laptops or PCs, they were able to teach their classes despite the weather.

"We're moving away from high-end room systems to the desktop," says Deane Eastwood, the deputy chief information officer at HSPH. The school is by no means junking all its Cisco gear, but that dedicated videoconferencing equipment is becoming just another option. There's a growing menu of browser plug-ins and mobile apps that HSPH faculty, students and staff can use to connect to Blue Jeans' cloud conferencing network, Eastwood says. "We're hoping that over time, [videoconferencing] will become much easier to use."

Why video services are catching on

HSPH is part of a bigger overall trend in videoconferencing, in which companies trade expensive on-premises collaboration systems for virtualized platforms like Fuze, Zoom, StarLeaf and Blue Jeans that run in the cloud.

There is certainly flexibility and potential cost savings to such an approach. A company can buy off-the-shelf cameras, monitors and speakerphones. It can run its video network off of its employees' PCs and mobile devices instead of buying one dedicated to videoconferencing. Or it can continue using dedicated videoconferencing gear if it's already made that investment.

Instead of investing in multipoint control units (MCUs) to bridge those endpoints, companies buy access to a cloud-based bridge. As their conferencing needs grow, they can then buy more capacity from their cloud provider, sometimes on a meeting-by-meeting basis.

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