The (R)evolution of Interop Cloud Video: Phase Three


The visual collaboration community has shifted over the last decade from an evolutionary industry to a revolutionary one. A recent announcement from Blue Jeans may signal a new phase in this revolution. Why do I think the release of IT tools for a cloud service is such a big deal? It’s all about context, so please keep reading for the full story, as well as the details of this particular announcement that Stu Aaron (CCO of Blue Jeans) shared with me in a recent interview.

If you look back at coverage of VC technology a decade ago, the focus was on slow, evolutionary, shifts.  The resolution slowly increased from CIF to 480p to 720p to 1080p. The network of choice took many years to shift from ISDN to IP. The infrastructure (bridges, gateways, etc), supporting the calls slowly added features with every release. It was pretty easy for an analyst in the space to predict what the next year would bring, as it was almost always a logical step following the advances of previous years.

This is no longer the case. We are seeing major tidal shifts, forcing vendors in the space to adjust by completely overhauling their entire approach to video. Some may argue the first real revolution should be credited to Vidyo, who proved that business class videoconferencing is possible over the public internet with benefit of their SVC technology. This was arguably the spark that set off the massive software v hardware wars which ripped through the industry after their arrival. The acceptance of software based video coincided with, and helped to facilitate, another big change; which was the emergence of cloud video. Software solutions made it easier for service providers to host the infrastructure “in the cloud” allowing for customers to enjoy VC without any big hardware on prem.

All of this set the stage for the topic of this article, the most recent revolutionary force in videoconferencing today, the cloud interop service. Cloud interop takes it to the next level, not only allowing users to enjoy VC without hardware on prem, but allowing them to connect calls using a variety of devices and services all in the same meeting.

Interop Cloud Video Phase 1: The Beginning

The pioneer of the interop cloud is Blue Jeans. Three years ago they hit the scene and turned a lot of heads with a cloud allowing for connections between Skype and H.323 endpoints (typical business class meeting room devices). It was such a tangent from the expected path of VC development that the analyst community was split on whether there was even a market for such a service. Skype was for consumer video, H.323 was for business, and never the twain shall meet. The quick uptake of Blue Jeans answered that question. Perhaps even more interestingly, by providing a neutral meeting space in the cloud, the Blue Jeans solution also did a great job of addressing the B2B problem (I won’t let your video through my firewall, you won’t let my video through your firewall, but we can meet in the middle in a Blue Jeans room). It also turned out out to be a great booster for the adoption of videoconferencing, as users are very familiar and comfortable with the “meet me room” model of conferencing from years and years of using audio bridges for multiparty phone meetings.

As users and organizations voiced their approval of this model, it wasn’t long before the existing players in the VC market (as well as a slew of new upstarts) came out with their own interop cloud services. Each with its own specific differentiators and feature sets. The growing VC market has (thus far) supplied enough eager customers to support an every growing list of interop cloud providers, many of which boast massive increase in users and usage. According to Blue Jeans, when they entered the market the worldwide total VC usage (all vendors combined) was 200 million minutes a year, and today they alone support over 400 million minutes. When you consider how many other providers are now in the same space, and the fact that many of them are touting impressive growth as well, it becomes clear why I term this a revolution.

Interop Cloud Video Phase 2: WebRTC(ish)

The next phase of the revolution was the introduction of browser based videoconferencing. While a full discussion of WebRTC is beyond the scope of this article, I can give a very abbreviated version of the story. WebRTC is the technology with the potential to allow us to join a video meeting as easily as we go to a website, simply by clicking a link or entering a URL in our browser of choice. Many analysts in the community believe that “true WebRTC” is a failure. It isn’t supported at all in Internet Explorer, and it still has a very beta feel in Chrome and Firefox. As a result, in order to create a really strong browser based videoconferencing experience, many vendors (including Blue Jeans) have offered a plugin based version of WebRTC. Since the entire point of WebRTC is to avoid downloads and plugins, this may seem like a failure.

However, it turns out these plugin options are extremely popular. Users just aren’t as resistant to downloading a browser plugin as they are to downloading a full, stand-alone client. Blue Jeans was one of the first to offer plugin based WebRTC, and it was another hit with their users, who very quickly adopted it and began using it in lieu of Skype to connect to their Blue Jeans meetings. The real key to this phase is that it removed a lot of barriers from desktop videoconferencing. Since we do a majority of our business communications from our desktop, it isn’t hard to understand why I believe these WebRTC plugin solutions should get a lot of credit for the recent growth in VC usage.

Interop Cloud Video Phase 3: The Cloud as the Core

Despite the rapid growth and success of video interop cloud solutions, they have been generally treated as add-ons or extensions to existing videoconferencing environments. They are seen as a great way to deal with the B2B problem, or to bring your road warriors into the meeting room from their laptops. Part of this was by design. Videoconferencing users had been through too many refreshes, and spent too much money on their current systems, to accept a new paradigm. They weren’t looking for better videoconferencing, they were looking for ways to empower and expand their existing VC environments. The new wave of cloud interop services (including Blue Jeans) didn’t want to scare off these customers by presenting themselves as a way to start all over again, so they were careful to position themselves accordingly. The existing meeting room infrastructure was still the main event, and cloud services were the side-shows helping to pack the stands

While the physical meeting room solutions will continue to be a key element of videoconferencing for years to come, cloud services are quickly moving towards the center stage. To put it quite simply, if people are clicking on Blue Jeans links to join Blue Jeans rooms for the Blue Jeans meetings, they are going to start thinking of Blue Jeans as the core of their videoconferencing environment. As a result, the IT teams of these organizations will be looking to Blue Jeans (or whichever cloud service they use) for the tools they need to manage their (now cloud centric) environments.


As far as the details of the new Blue Jeans Command Center, the most exiting thing about it in my mind is that it is coming from Blue Jeans. Command center type tools (monitoring, management, reporting, analytics, etc) have always been essential for a successful videoconferencing deployment. These tools allow IT teams to support the users by ensuring the calls are successful, by monitoring calls in real time, as well as making sure that they aren’t overloading the network, by tracking historical use patterns. They also enable the IT teams to help adoption of video technology by quantifying usage and determining what is and isn’t being accepted and leveraged by the user base. Finally, they can help provide proof of ROI so that the IT team can justify their VC environments to the higher ups. As Stu explained, Blue Jeans has really always had two customers at every company they work with; the users, and the IT staff. This release recognizes the importance of the IT staff, by giving them the tools they need to manage their VC systems.

The command center started as an internal Blue Jeans tool. After all, if they were going to offer business class videoconferencing to their customers they needed a way to manage the calls from their end. They wisely realized that re-developing this as a customer facing tool would offer a lot of value to the IT teams they are trying to serve. Why did they take this risk? Why should they spend the development money to create this new Command Center, when they could simply continue to sell existing tools and services with an established market? Why not let one of their competitors take this risk and then act based on their results? As Stu explained, Blue Jeans wants to lead. They see their competitors as “shooting behind the duck” which is a guaranteed way to miss your target. Sure, they could sit back and see which way the wind is blowing before hoisting their sails, but they have experienced first hand how leadership ties to success. After all, despite the growing number of cloud interop services, Blue Jeans has maintained a lead in brand recognition and product identity due to their early arrival on the interop scene.

It is always dangerous to make predictions in this industry, but I think there is a good chance that Blue Jeans is starting another trend here. If I am right, we can expect other cloud services in the space to start adding Command Center type tools to their offerings as well (and if they do have existing tools of this nature, we can expect them to be more heavily promoted). The end result is a win for customers, who can now get their necessary IT tools from the same provider of their cloud video solutions.



About Author

David Maldow is the Founder & CEO of Let's Do Video and has been covering the visual collaboration industry, and related technologies, for over a decade. His background includes 5 years at Wainhouse Research, where he managed the Video Test Lab and evaluated many of the leading solutions at the time. David has authored hundreds of articles and thought pieces both at Telepresence Options, where he was managing partner for several years, as well as here at Let's Do Video. David often speaks at industry events and webinars as well as hosting the LDV Video Podcast.

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