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Thought Leaders in Cloud Computing: Chris Lauwers, CTO of Avistar (Part 4)

Posted on Thursday, Dec 22nd 2011

Sramana Mitra: I think the desktop experience, which should be getting significantly richer over the next couple of years, is going to put pressure on telepresence.

Chris Lauwers: Absolutely. I completely agree with that. If you don’t mind, I’d like to come back to your earlier question. You asked about phasing and evolution of communications, especially unified communications as it relates to cloud computing.

One of the things we started running into early on with Avistar is that if you scale to large numbers of users, especially at the desktop level – we have deployments now of customers who are going to 30,000 or 40,000 users with desktop video across their global enterprises. If that video experience needs to provide multi-party, meaning multiple people onscreen at the same time, that requires infrastructure that is still expensive if you base it on hardware. So, one of the things we’ve tried to do with the Avistar system is to make the infrastructure – in addition to the end points – a complete software-only capability so that you can provide multi-party capability as a software process running on off-the-shelf hardware from IntelAMD or what have you. This changes the cost profile of that infrastructure tremendously.

If you take that one step farther, if you position your video conferencing and your unified communications infrastructure as just another software application, then customers expect to deploy that software infrastructure the same way they deploy all their other software infrastructure, which is increasingly virtualized as opposed to being run on physical hardware. So, we’ve gone through an evolution where to meet the cost profile, you need to move to software infrastructure. If you move to software infrastructure, you’d like to deploy it virtualized. If you deploy it virtualized, then it’s only one step farther to think of cloud deployment where you can just distribute it over large sets of server infrastructure that runs out in the cloud.

We’re seeing the beginnings of that now. We’re seeing voice and video infrastructure increasingly being deployed as infrastructure that can run in the cloud, and users don’t need to know where it runs anymore.

SM: Interesting. What kind of OEMs do you work with?

CL: From a technology point of view, there are two areas we focus on a lot. One is on the endpoint technology, the technology that captures the video from the webcam, compresses it, sends it out on the network and then, vice versa, receives the video and voice and delivers these back to the end user. We have encapsulated that technology into a product we call a media engine, which does all that, but does not deliver a user interface. Instead, the user interface would be provided by an embedding application. So, we have OEM partners who take our media engine and use it as a mechanism to voice and video enable their technologies, their applications. Ultimately, we see a world where pretty much any software application you run on your desktop or on your devices will have the ability, through a single click, to initiate a voice and video session, video collaboration, all integrated within the user interfaces of that application.

You could envision a salesperson who lives in Salesforce.com all day. He’s going through his list of prospects he needs to follow up with, or she just has her customers on a single list. Through a single click, he could initiate a video call to a customer and have a session, rather than talking on the phone, have a video collaboration, have access to all his data in Salesforce.com. If she needs to share documents what have you, all of that would be possible in the context of the application. That person never has to leave Salesforce.com.

SM: You’re saying you could video-enable Salesforce.com, but the other side, the customer end, needs something also, right?

CL: Right. The situation I described assumes that the customer has the ability to receive a video call. Because of standardization, that doesn’t necessarily need to be the same Salesforce.com product, hypothetically speaking. That could be a customer’s video conferencing system she already has. It could be a desktop video system she’s purchased. We’re working on interoperability with Skype, so it could be a customer who just uses Skype for video.

This segment is part 4 in the series : Thought Leaders in Cloud Computing: Chris Lauwers, CTO of Avistar
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