This is the final installment in our 3-part series reviewing InfoComm 2015. Please check out our earlier installments, Recapping the Trends and Keynote at InfoComm 2015 and UCC Solutions Summit: What We Learned At InfoComm 2015.
At every InfoComm, the big trends are obviously important and the learning opportunities in the sessions are invaluable, but the fun part is the exhibit hall. This is where I get to see all of the hottest vendors, play with the toys, and hear about their development plans for the rest of the year.
There are hundreds of interesting vendors at InfoComm, and unfortunately I didn’t have a chance to visit them all. However, I did manage to see quite a few vendors that are coming out with exciting new products or updating their current technology. Included below is a small selection of what I saw at this year’s show that caught my eye.
It was great to see Daryl Hutchins, CEO of Collaboration Squared, demoing Ubiety’s new “Ubiety Room” offering at the Innovation Showcase area of the exhibit hall. Software room systems are hot right now for a number of reasons (huddle room enablement, affordability, flexibility, etc.) and Acano based services are extremely popular with users. With that in mind, an Acano based, software room system is a pretty obvious winner. Kudos to Daryl, and shame on the bigger Acano service providers for letting this smaller startup beat them to the punch. In fact, Ubiety Room is just one of the innovative additions that Collaboration Squared has created for its service offering. I will be chatting with Daryl in an upcoming podcast to learn more about how his agile startup is keeping ahead of the curve.
If you have been following Videxio, you should be well aware of their fantastic growth and success. The company itself is relatively new, but the talent is infused with Tandberg DNA. In other words, these guys know video and have been able to leverage this knowledge to build a cutting edge platform. Users may not even realize they are using Videxio, as their go-to-market is completely through partners, with strong support for white labeling. This partnership model is clearly working for them, with more big partnerships soon to be announced.
I have been very pleased with the recent release of their desktop app, as it closed what I felt was the biggest gap in their platform. Previously, desktop callers had a choice of connecting through Videxio using a 3rd party app (Jabber, RealPresence, etc.) or Videxio’s browser based WebRTC option. Unfortunately, screen-share via WebRTC is still a headache, so desktop callers without access to a 3rd party app simply couldn’t share screen. The Videxio desktop app solves this problem as simply and easily as possible. It is a very clean, almost bare bones, endpoint. Not a lot of bells and whistles, but a light install that is very easy to use and solves the basic problem of allowing me to make desktop Videxio calls with the ability to share screen. I am sure I am not the only one who was waiting for this and happy to see it in place.
The big news at the Videxio booth was their recent announcement of full interop with Skype and Skype4B. With Skype connections now accounting for 27% of Videxio traffic, CEO Tom-Erik Lia realized it was time to beef up the support. Improved content sharing and the ability to directly call to Skype from traditional (i.e. Cisco and Polycom) endpoints, are examples of this expanded functionality.
Of course, it was a treat to share drinks with the entire Videxio team at their booth party. I also appreciated the opportunity to catch up with good friend, and leader of Videxio in the Americas, Karl Hantho.
In our last piece, I described how impressed I was by James Koniecki’s explanation of Dimension Data’s deep and wide adoption program. I was fortunate enough to learn even more about this massive (yet somehow quick moving) managed service provider at a very special dinner event. InfoComm dinners generally fall into two categories. There is the “thank you” dinner, where supporting analysts and customers are treated to a good time, and a heartfelt speech from the CEO. There is also the sales dinner, where analysts and prospective customers get a thinly veiled pitch as part of a friendly dinner. This was something completely different and perhaps the highlight of my InfoComm week.
The dinner was essentially a panel discussion, moderated by Dimension Data’s David Danto. The first unusual thing I noticed about this event was the guest list. Along with a number of Dimension Data execs and experts were actual users from the field. The interesting part was that these users were not limited to Dimension Data’s customers and prospects. The invitees were chosen based on their impressive credentials for leading massive communication deployments for very large organizations. These were rock star users. I am not at liberty to share the identities of the companies represented, but they were all household names. The discussion itself was deep, informative and incredibly valuable. It was great to see the looks on the users’ faces, when they heard stories from other users who share their pain, or even better, who found solutions to their problems.
The food was amazing, but I was eating up the discussion. Danto shared with me that he hosts similar events for users at least once a quarter (usually in the NY area). Ever wonder why his articles are so in tune with user needs, and why he has so little patience for vendors who ignore user needs? I think these events are a big part of it. And all of this gathered knowledge, directly from the users’ mouths, is shared with the service developers at DiData so that they can adjust their services and programs to best address today’s pain points.
Blue Jeans Network
The term “disruptor” has been a bit overused in our industry and may be losing some of its meaning. I am only using it once in this article and it is referring to Blue Jeans. Can anyone deny how hard they have rocked and redefined this industry? They have ruffled some feathers on the way up, but their success speaks for itself.
Jeff Beckham (Product Marketing Manager) shared several cool things on display at the booth, including their new Blue Jeans Relay offering. Using the Blue Jeans service, in general, is very easy. However, dialing out from traditional endpoints, even to the Blue Jeans service, can be tricky. The long dial codes and complicated remote controls can be a turn off for users. Blue Jeans Relay brings ease of use to the traditional endpoints. It is basically a tablet app (no need for a high end device, a $50 tablet, or your hand me down from last year, will do the trick). You install the app, and it integrates with your calendar, the endpoint, and the Blue Jeans service. The result is that when it’s time to make a call from your meeting room, it will show up on the app and you simply click to join. The Relay app and service are free. This isn’t a way for Blue Jeans to make a few extra bucks, this a way for them to eliminate one of the few remaining adoption barriers to using Blue Jeans video.
I also appreciated the opportunity to get some hands on time with Blue Jeans Command Center. Analytics is a pretty hot trend right now for video platforms. Although it wasn’t a big topic at the panels and sessions, many vendors are prioritizing the development of these platforms and Blue Jeans intends to lead in this area as well. The Blue Jeans Command Center was one of the first of its kind in the space. When it was announced last September I covered it in depth, and predicted (correctly) that competitors would soon follow. I was pleased to see that the Command Center has continued to improve and add functionality since its release.
Blue Jeans also provided me with the biggest laugh of the show. On one of the monitors at the booth they were displaying a live meeting, with people called in from various locations and devices to show the power of their interop cloud. One guest caller was calling in live from an airplane and to prove it was a real flight, turned his camera phone at the guy sleeping in the seat next to him. I don’t know who you are, sleepy airplane guy, but you were InfoComm famous.
Finally, I am particularly excited about Blue Jeans Primetime. A very different twist on the traditional webcast. To learn more, please check out my recent white paper on the subject, and be sure to register to see me in an upcoming videocast.
I recently covered the very unique and clever Clearwater offering from VDO360. Please read my previous article for the full scoop, but it was very impressive to see it in action. The camera/PC combo was up and running, and hosting calls at the booth. There was a lot of buzz around this product for its originality, affordability, and obvious usefulness. Dan Freeman, CEO of VDO360, shared with me how the development of this product was a lot more involved than simply duct taping their popular Compass camera to an Intel Nuk. The integration is deep and impressive. In fact, he actually hacked into the Nuk to improve (among other things) its wireless capabilities in order to make it ideal for this application. Along with the VDO360 Flare Button (making PTZ drop dead easy) and Springline USB extender, this product needs to be on your short list for huddle room enablement.
I was really impressed by Starleaf’s GTm 5520 offering when I first saw it at Enterprise Connect a few months ago (please see my previous coverage for the details on the GTm 5520). A videoconferencing endpoint that looks and feels like a premium StarLeaf system, while running native Skype4B in the background, has obvious appeal. During my booth visit, CTO William MacDonald (check out Will in LDV Podcast #7) showed me one of the immediate benefits of taking the next step and using the StarLeaf cloud in place of Skype4B’s video bridge. We connected a call using the GTm 5520 through Skype4B and counted the seconds until it connected. It was about 15 seconds. If things take that long to connect, users may get impatient and wonder if the service is down. We then made the same call through the StarLeaf cloud and it connected immediately. We did the same experiment with screenshare and got similar results. 15ish seconds to bring up screenshare though Microsoft’s bridge, compared to nearly instant screenshare through StarLeaf. Users looking to stick with Skype4B, but upgrade both the experience, and the connectivity, should take a closer look at StarLeaf’s GTm 5520 and the StarLeaf Cloud.
I also attended a StarLeaf event at Downtown Disney where I had a great opportunity to speak with StarLeaf execs, partners, and customers (thank you Hellene Garcia and Michele Durban for being such great hosts). I had a cocktail in my hand, rather than my notebook, and the NDA discussions were plentiful, so you will have to excuse me for only sharing one detail. I was absolutely amazed by something CEO Mark Loney shared with me. StarLeaf developed an impressive, and extremely clever, strategy to deal with the common problem of new software versions introducing bugs (please see part 2 of this series for more discussion on this problem). Their cloud is actually running multiple versions at the same time, and they have the ability to easily and seamlessly shift customers between versions without any service disruption. The newest version is pushed to their testing community, or customers who are specifically asking for the newest features. Large enterprises that demand bug free performance and reliability get a version three or four revs down the line, which has been through months of field testing. Customers and users that are somewhere in between, get a version that is somewhere in between. If a bug is found in a newer version, it is a simple matter of shifting users on that version back a rev till the bug is fixed. The result is a no-compromise means of getting out the latest features quickly, while ensuring maximum reliability for the customers who need it, all while maintaining a “no downtime” service for all their customers. As far as I am aware, no other vendor in the space has anything like it. Don’t be surprised at how smart this team is, after all they did invent the Codian.
The pioneer of scalable video has redefined itself over the last year. They are now a pure technology company, focusing on providing the video power for partner applications. They want to be the “intel inside” for the anticipated massive demand for internet video which will accompany the emerging Internet of Things. While they will still continue to develop, sell, and support their popular enterprise videoconferencing offerings, I don’t believe they represent the future of the company. With this in mind, it makes sense that they had a different presence at InfoComm this year. Rather than hosting a booth to demo their products, they were there to support partner demos and booths.
I had a great chat with Ben Pinkerton and Robb Cason from Vidyo at the Stampede booth about Vidyo empowered drones. The days of standing on the ground and watching your drone fly around are over, we fly our drones using a first person view from the drone’s camera (check out this insane video of first person view drone racing to see what I mean). Considering the remote locations and questionable bandwidth for many drone applications, it makes sense to partner with the leader in error-resilient video.
We are just beginning to discover the applications for this kind of technology, with emergency services being an extremely compelling example. The big point here is that if Vidyo can support high quality video from a Drone, they can support it anywhere. Bring on the IoT!
The new Phoenix Condor was a big hit at the show. The booth was crowded, and the analysts were buzzing. Getting your speakerphone wires off the conference table would be great, but how about just getting the entire speakerphone off the table? Meeting rooms are often used to host clients “in person” and can be the first impression for your business. The cleaner and more professional, the better. The Condor is mounted on the wall, out of the way, but can pick up every speaker up to 30 feet away with its beam forming technology. It has a built-in SIP phone, which can be dialed from an app on your personal mobile device. The result is that your meeting room now has, in effect, a magic invisible speakerphone that picks up every voice without anyone having to be told to “move closer to the microphone”. Although the noise on the InfoComm floor makes it virtually impossible to test any audio device, CEO Joseph Marash and VP Sales and Marketing Jonathan Boaz were there to show off the device and explain its full range of capabilities. That is, if you could work your way through the crowd to talk to them. Predictions are always risky, but I don’t think I am going out on a limb when I say the Condor is going to be a hit for the Phoenix team.
Every good CEO plays the role of proud papa when it comes to their latest offering. But SMART CEO Neil Gaydon’s excitement about the new SMART kapp line of products is on another level. When you think about it though, it makes a lot of sense. Neil came into this company with a new vision and this line of products perfectly embodies that vision. There is plenty of information on the SMART kapp and SMART kapp iQ, on the web, so no need for a product description here. I will note one feature of the iQ that really exemplifies their new vision of simplicity and ease of use. The board doesn’t have a power button. Why is that a big deal to me? Because it shows the lengths SMART is going to in order to make this product adoptable. Users are so scared of new technology, so afraid of “breaking something”, that they will hesitate to even press a power button on a new device. If it isn’t on when they enter the room, then they assume it isn’t meant for them. They believe it is someone else’s tool and they don’t want to upset that person. Of course, you don’t want to have a device that is always on. That just isn’t efficient. SMART figured out a win/win by giving the board a proximity detector and having it turn itself on when someone approaches. Now it is an invitation for use. If something lights up when I walk over it, I feel like it is asking me to try it out. A minor detail, but one of many minor details that have made the iQ an analyst favorite.
Always great to catch up with Andy Cueno and Laura Shay at team Polycom. With three new additions to the RealPresence Platform there was a lot to see. The first is the RealPresence Web Suite. Unless you have been in a cave for the last 5 years, you know that virtual meeting rooms (VMRs) are a big part of today’s collaboration story. Polycom’s previous Axis solution was well liked by users, but tended to get lost in the big VMR discussion (and to be honest, I never liked the name). The new Web Suite replaces Axis, and there is a lot to like about it. First of all, its WebRTC implementation is very impressive. Many WebRTC offerings are somewhat bare-bones, as supporting advanced features without plugins is extremely tricky. But the RealPresence Web Suite is a full featured offering with content share, whiteboarding and much more. Also, from a workflow and look and feel perspective, this is clearly a collaboration tool, not a mere meeting tool. Some VMRs really just focus on communications, with collab features being mere afterthoughts, if available at all. Polycom is designing this as a real workspace (not meeting space) from the get go. The second solution is the RealPresence Media Suite. Polycom has supported video recording, storage, and management for quite a long time, but this offering brings the usability to a new level. No IT guy required to upload or access videos. If you can use YouTube, you can use this offering. But this is a lot more than YouTube as it is a secure solution designed for business users. The final offering is Polycom RealPresence Cloud. This global platform provides the connectivity and interoperability required for their partners to roll out a Polycom powered cloud video service.
While these three new offerings were the big story, Laura shared something with me that I thought was particularly cool. By now it should be clear that I am very hot on analytics, and Polycom has a strong reporting offering. The unique (and really cool) aspect of this was how it leverages their “Eagle Eye” offering. The Eagle Eye uses multiple cameras to locate and pan/zoom to the active speaker in the room (eliminating the need to adjust the view via remote control). The devs at Polycom realized that through the Eagle Eye technology, they know exactly how many people are in the room during Eagle Eye meetings. They were then able to tie this into their analytics package. So whereas the typical offering can report on the number of meetings held, the rooms used, etc., Polycom can also report on how many people are actually in these meetings, giving organizations much more insight into resource usage. Very innovative, and very powerful.
Pexip is developing its platform so quickly that CEO Simen Teigre confided in me that sometimes he has trouble keeping track of their new features and capabilities. Considering the fact that he is a notoriously hands-on, and tech savvy CEO, this is saying a lot. There was plenty of excitement at the booth around their new mobile client. I think it is a wise move for cloud video providers to go beyond creating a virtual meeting room for other vendor endpoints, and to create their own experience. Pexip has been doing a great job of that with their browser based endpoint (one of the more developed and feature rich WebRTC offerings at InfoComm) and I am glad to see them taking this philosophy to the mobile device. I was even more impressed by their recent integration with policy servers. A full explanation of what this means is beyond the scope of this article. If you understand policy servers, you already know how powerful this is. If you don’t get it, ask your IT geek!
One of the newer players in the space, Altia Systems didn’t have a booth this year, but I was pleased to get a private demo from Mike McLaughlin, Director of Sales (above, demonstrating the sub $1k PanaCast2 camera’s portability).
I have appreciated the basic concept of PanaCast since I first heard about it. Please see my recent coverage for more insight. Short version, webcams do not work well for huddle rooms. I want to capture the entire room, and I want remote viewers to be able to focus in on whatever they want, with the distraction of a camera physically panning around. PanaCast meets these criteria via full room capture and allowing remote viewers to digitally zoom and pan.
The newest version of the PanaCast is 4k (so even when you zoom in to read the whiteboard at the back of the room you will still be getting a high definition image). They have improved the stitching between the cameras so it dynamically moves the “stitch” off of people’s faces where it would be most noticeable. I also appreciate that they changed the aspect ratio of their panoramic capture to be exactly 32×9. This means it will perfectly fit on a common two display meeting room setup (today’s displays are 16×9, so two side by side provide a 32×9 view).
Always great to see Tolga Sakman and the Synergy Sky team. Another group of former Tandberg talent, Synergy Sky is focused on providing the tools needed to turn today’s best video platforms, into full featured, turnkey, video services. Please check out my recent article for a deep dive into Synergy Sky’s capabilities. The big story at InfoComm was their new support for real-time analytics. Video support teams can certainly use “after the fact” meeting statistics to vastly improve VC environments and user experience. But the addition of real-time analytics takes this to another level.
As I said in my coverage of Enterprise Connect, AGT CEO Mark Cray and PR/Marketing Director Melissa Hudson, are all smiles. AGT was one of the first managed service providers to really figure out where the market was heading. Even last year at InfoComm, while others were still wondering where the market would turn and how they would adjust, AGT had all their chips on the table. Their long term plan was in place (after a lot of work and development) and they were already reaping the rewards with some high profile new clients. This year I tried to dig in a little deeper and was surprised by what I learned. One big part of how AGT has managed to stay a step ahead is by leveraging their internal development team. While other service providers basically wait for vendors to create new offerings for them to sell and manage, AGT simply can’t wait and will create it on their own. As a result, many of their offerings and underlying technologies are internally developed. In fact, some of their technology has been shared with their vendor partners and became the basis of some very familiar vendor offerings. This is completely backwards from the way the rest of the industry works, but it is a great way for AGT to stay ahead of their competition.
Vytru is another company that was a bit too new for the big show floor, but I was pleased to have a private briefing with Product Marketing Lead, Abdallah Ahmed. Vytru is offering a Skype4B room system using a small Nuk-sized codec and supporting a number of advanced features such as wireless content sharing. There is a lot to like about this solution as it provides an affordable way to have the familiar Skype4B experience in a professional full featured room system. I hope to take a closer look and provide a deeper dive, into this solution in the near future.
I spoke with Global VP of Sales Larry Satterfield, and while the details are NDA, I can tell you that Acano is killing it. The company is growing incredibly quickly (lots of new faces at the booth) and racking up successful partnerships. Despite all this, I think they are just getting started. One of Acano’s coolest differentiators is their persistent chat groups, or Co-Spaces. My readers should know that I am a huge fan of the PCG dynamic, whether it be Acano, Slack, Spark or whatever. The thing is, Acano is selling almost purely on the strength of its powerful interop VMR bridging. The PCG is (at this time) practically a nice afterthought. As any industry analyst will tell you, Acano is a leading interop platform. It really connects well, and easily, to its list of supported endpoints and protocols. I think their customers (technically, their service provider partner’s customers) will buy it for the interop and fall in love with the PCG once they start using it. As PCG gets hotter and hotter (what is Slack currently valued at?) Acano can expect to do better and better.
The big news at the booth was their new “Dual Home” and firewall traversal capabilities. By improving their users connection options, and the Skype4B experience, they are simply building on their success. Acano is yet another group of former Tandberg talent which will continue to impress (can you believe all this former Tandberg talent used to all work in the same building?)
One of the big names in streaming and recording, Haivision has a powerful platform to enable business video. I hesitate to even call it a “YouTube for Business” because despite its ease of use, it has so many professional features and security capabilities. One particular thing that impressed me was there use of local, on premise “nodes” as part of a larger video environment. This allows them to push video to disparate locations within an organization for quick viewing with long downloads or excessive buffering. However, since it is all on prem, rather than in the cloud, it vastly reduces any security concerns. It’s a bit of a “best of both worlds” situation, combining the convenience of cloud, with the security of on-prem. As people get more and more comfortable using (and appearing on) video, we can expect more and more business uses, far beyond the typical training scenario. Haivision is an established, reputable player in the space for organizations looking to jump in to video, and not wanting to mess around.
Wireless screen share is one of the more exciting, relatively new, technologies in the AV space. Kramer’s VIA solution is an analyst favorite for its powerful feature set. Check out this quick video for an overview. Mike Dibella, Director of Collaborative Solutions, gave me an impressive first hand demo. I look forward to diving deeper into this product, and this space, in the upcoming months.
The big news from this industry giant is their preferred status with Microsoft as a partner on the new Surface Hub product. Please see part 2 of this series for more info on the most controversial product of InfoComm 2015. Bottom line, in my opinion, the success of this product is completely dependent on its proper integration, support and training. In other words, it is up to partners like AVI-SPL to make this work for Microsoft. Fortunately, AVI-SPL has the resources and experience to do it right. I will be sure to follow up and hear (hopefully) a bunch of Surface Hub success stories from the AVI-SPL crew.
This new entry into our space had a lot of buzz and traffic for two big reasons. One is the pedigree of their founders (the founders of SMART Tech), and the other was the Nureva Span product itself. The projector based offering displays massive “Canvases” along a wall. Canvas is the right term, as the platform supports and encourages creativity. Each canvas is a persistent workspace (and we all know how much I love that workflow), allowing multiple users to share and work with various assets (video, files, etc.). The canvases can also be accessed on desktop and mobile devices. What I really like about this solution is that the technology (projectors, touch control, cloud sharing) is all secondary to the workflow. In other words, the demo wasn’t about what the product can do, it was about how they expect customers to use it. Expect to hear more about Nureva, and not just from me as my fellow analysts were climbing over each other to get a good look.