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Building a Scalable Video Conferencing Infrastructure

Building a scalable video conferencing infrastructure with Pexip

This is part five of a podcast series with Futurum Research called Navigate. The six-part series aims to help IT leaders navigate the changing times with insightful conversations about remote work, video conferencing, digital workplace trends, and more. You can view the other episodes below:

On this episode of Navigate, host Daniel Newman talks with Christopher Smith about how to scale your video infrastructure quickly and cost-effectively.


Listen to the podcast here

 

Scalable Infrastructure Matters

Typically, when you’re setting up a video conferencing software system you figure out approximately how many calls and users will need to be on the platform. That gives some guidance on how to actually size the infrastructure. But now with a situation like we are seeing with COVID-19, those plans are going completely out the window.

Nobody anticipated having to send an entire workforce to work remotely. Most companies didn’t have a platform that would support that adjustment. This situation is a prime example why scalability matters. Companies had to scramble to add more capability to be able to keep people connected, but when you invest in scalability from the start, this isn’t an issue.  

Pexip Infinity can scale overnight all over the world. If customers need more capability, Pexip can add additional virtual machines to their deployments easily, avoiding potentially costly downtime. Pexip was built with scalability from the ground up.

Risks When You Don’t Invest in Scalability

The risks of not being able to scale are significant. When your entire workforce is at home, the last thing you’d want to have right now is terrible connectivity. Users want to be able to join a meeting seamlessly and easily. If they struggle with sound, video, and choppy connections they’ll likely turn to other resources which could lead to vulnerabilities in security.

Pexip uses conferencing nodes wherever there is a concentration of users to boost connectivity. Christopher shared the example of 5,000 people working in the London office might have a few different conferencing nodes in a data center or cloud that’s close to wherever the users are. The same thing can happen in the New York office and the Los Angeles office. Then those conferencing nodes are able to talk to each other in a way that’s efficient and easy to scale with a higher degree of redundancy, low latency and capacity.

Scaling Interoperability

Most organizations only use one video conferencing system, but when you add in connecting with partners and customers, you need to be able to ensure that everybody connecting, no matter what platform you’re on, has a quality conferencing experience.  

Pexip built interoperability into the core of the platform. People, regardless of system, like Microsoft Teams, Google Hangouts Meet, Cisco Webex etc., can join a meeting without thinking about it.  

Cisco and Microsoft traditionally don't talk to each other natively. So how am I able to join a conference, a Microsoft Team hosted meeting from a Cisco endpoint? Pexip is that bridge or in between that allows that interoperability — a critical need in today’s business world.

To learn more about how Pexip enables interoperability, please click here

 

Please see below for a full transcript of the interview:

Daniel Newman: Welcome to Navigate a six-part podcast series brought to you by Pexip. My name is Daniel Newman. I'm the Founding Partner and Principal Analyst of Futurum Research. In this discussion I'll be talking to Chris Smith on how to scale your video infrastructure quickly and cost-effectively. Chris, welcome to the show.

Christopher Smith: Thank you. Good to be here.

Daniel Newman: Yeah, I'm excited to have this discussion. Infrastructure matters a lot when it comes to doing good video. And I'm sure everyone out there that's checking this out is thinking the exact same thing. Before we jump into the show though, why don't you go ahead and just introduce yourself really quickly for everyone out there that hasn't been following your work or hasn't met you before, and tell them a little bit about what you do at Pexip.

Christopher Smith:  Yeah, so again, my name is Christopher Smith. I'm a Solution Architect at Pexip, based out of Southern California. Los Angeles, to be exact. For those that don't know me, I've been in the video industry for about 20-25 years now. So strong background in unified communications and all things video. So at Pexip I help our customers design and implement next generation video conferencing strategies. So from the ground up, migrations, augmenting some existing deployments, consulting and typically work with some of our sales folks on the West coast.

Daniel Newman: You bring together the tech and the sales. Help the customers understand and help the engineers understand the need for customers. And that's interesting, because you talk about helping customers scale, and scale we do. Right now video is exploding. If you listened to any of the other parts of this six part podcast, you probably captured that as a thematic discussion throughout. We're in the middle to late part of April now, the 17th of April, when we're recording this. I hope you're catching this within a week or two. It means you're following our work and keeping in touch. But if you happen to be listening to this in July or October, or in 2021 sometime, just to give you a little context in case anyone would actually need to be reminded, we are in the midst of this crazy pandemic, COVID-19, coronavirus. That has essentially brought many parts of the world to a standstill.

It has changed the way we work. It has caused an explosion of adoption of video collaboration, asynchronous communication tools, but video has probably been one of, if not the biggest winner in this whole transition. And while of course no company wants to win in the case of such a tragedy on a global scale, it has been a great tool for keeping kids in school, for keeping businesses functioning, getting healthcare and governments communicating in critical times, and being able to keep people face-to-face. So infrastructure matters. And what a lot of people don't realize, Chris, I'm going to kind of set the stage here to start kind of hammering you with some questions. Is people don't realize that, because we do a lot of FaceTime, or we do calls on old Skype, the consumer Skype.

It was easy. You don't think about it. You just hit the button and two people on an iPhone, for instance, talk to each other. In order for all of those people to be able to join a room together, see each other and talk. There's a lot that has to happen. So let's talk a little bit about just get your take on this with the infrastructure as a whole. Why do you think infrastructure and scalability matter so much? Especially now as companies are trying to quickly ramp up their abilities in video?

Christopher Smith: Yeah, I mean, you touched on a lot of points, good points. As a solution architect, first and foremost, if you take kind of what's happening today with COVID and the need for working from home and things like that. Typically, we like to plan out an infrastructure, a videoconferencing infrastructure. We like to kind of spec it out for how many calls we think are going to flow through the platform and how it's going to be used. And that'll give us some guidance on how we've size the actual infrastructure. And that's in a perfect world. And then that's still not an exact science. It's kind of some formulas that we've used over the time to kind of get to what that scale would be. But, you take a situation like what's happening with COVID-19, and throw that all out the window. Whatever you may have designed and specked for a customer three weeks ago, nobody would have anticipated sending the entire workforce to work remotely and having a conferencing platform that could support that.

So scalability matters in scenarios when all of a sudden you need to add five, six, 10, 20X onto that platform literally overnight. And that's literally what happened. Pexip, along with a lot of the other conferencing vendors had to overnight scale their platform to make room for and account for that capacity for all those new users that were hitting that platform. It's very important to be able to scale.

Daniel Newman: Yeah, I think you hit on some good data there too, which is usually my job as an industry analyst. But we saw two to six X, and as this a pandemic has kind of floated through society into hundreds of different countries and we're a very global economy now. Companies very rarely, your company is much based in the Nordics. But, there's also a contingent in England. There's obviously distribution around the world. And continuing the ability for you to talk to your coworkers and also to your customers around the world, that scale has caused a big ramp. And your company, which had that sort of inherent behavior. You guys were a company that used video. For a lot of companies that wasn't the traditional behavior. One of my big themes throughout this whole COVID-19 experience has been turn your camera on. Turn your camera on.

I'm working with people, like turn your camera on. This works with video, because a lot of people are like, "Eh." They jump on their bridges, whatever their bridge is, video or not. And they would just use audio. And when we used to see people face-to-face, Christopher, that was okay. Because it was like, okay, I can handle doing a call now because I'll see you in the office or I'll see you at this event. We don't know when we're going to see people again. And video is much more intensive from a standpoint of bandwidth, infrastructure, scale.

So, talk a little bit about that. You talked about kind of why scale matters, but a lot of solutions that we're invested in over time maybe lack that sort of scalability, or don't have that capacity, or they're not interoperable as required. Talk about some of the risks for companies and basically in any industry that don't make the investment in a scalable solution.

Christopher Smith:  Scalability matters in terms of, let's just say I'm working with company X and all of a sudden they're tasked with ramping up capacity by 50%. if you go back 10, 15 years ago, that would have entailed purchasing some new servers, some physical hardware, loading that hardware up with some software, potentially shipping those servers or bridges across the globe. And you're talking a huge expense. You're talking a lot of time to actually ramp that solution up. And you're not going to be able to get to that ramp overnight like we are now. So some of the innovations that we've seen over the years with some of the cloud technologies are allowing Pexip and companies like Pexip to be able to ramp up the capacity of that fast.

So, what we like to say is our software is named Pexip Infinity. It's infinity because we have infinite scale. You mentioned we have locations all over the world. We can deploy our infrastructure all over the world. So in a world of ... a customer that's maybe leveraging the Microsoft Cloud and has Pexip deployed in Microsoft Azure, that customer can call us and overnight we can add additional virtual machines to their deployment at scale, literally overnight. Pexip has an advantage that way, because our software was built and designed from the ground up to scale that way. A lot of other cloud vendors are going to struggle in that regard just because the infrastructure is not designed in the same way.

Daniel Newman: Yeah. And I think you pointed out a few things. I mean the risks of scale, everything from, I can't hear you, I can't see you, you're breaking up, you're choppy. And when you have these additional regulated degrees of separation that we have right now, the last thing you want to tolerate is bad connectivity, bad connection. It's so important right now that every meeting that the quality of the communication is better because this is all we're getting right now. So if you're a company and you're serving a customer, if you're doing a sales pitch, if you're a leader trying to motivate your team, if you're a teacher trying to inspire a classroom, having the audio breaking up every few seconds, it's that conference call in real life experience. Having people chiming in and chiming out because the connectivity doesn't work.

That really matters. So the risk of not having scale is significant. And when you're an enterprise, you aren't only thinking scale, because it can handle a maximum capacity. But you got to think about security. You have to think about the privacy of data. You have to think about user experience. Not only can it scale infinitely, but is it easy to use? Because you're an engineer type, you're an architect, you help people, Christopher, but most average people, it's like if they can't just click a link, join the room, and be part of the conversation. After a few tries, they're going to be like, this stinks. I don't want to use it.

Christopher Smith: Exactly. Exactly. It's almost like the analogy of when you're in the airport. You're in the airport trying to get on the WIFI, the free WIFI, and the person next to you is on. Has been on since you sat down. But you're sitting there, you're trying to get on, get on, denied, denied, denied. That's almost like a cloud hosted video provider. You're trying to connect to, you're trying to connect. Maybe they're out of actual capacity. You don't realize that. As an end user, you just know that I'm clicking on this meeting link and nothing's happened, or I'm getting dropped, or I'm getting kicked out of the meeting.

Those manifest themselves as scalability issues. You think maybe it's a bad product, or it's a bad video conferencing solution, but it's all relative to scalability. And issues like that show up in different ways. Maybe I'm trying to share a PowerPoint, maybe your audio starts clipping, maybe there's some pixilation in your video. All those are things that kind of show some issues with scale.

Daniel Newman: Yeah, absolutely. And nobody likes them. So we've all been through it. And it's also about that kind of interoperability when people are coming in from different systems, because from your own organization, it's super easy to just put everyone on one platform and it creates kind of this ubiquity. And it feels scalable, because, hey, we're all on X platform. We're all on Pexip, we're all on Zoom, we're all on WebEx. And what I'm saying is when everyone's using it, it usually works pretty good. Pretty well. No matter which platform you pick.

Christopher Smith: Yeah, pretty good.

Daniel Newman: The problem is though, is when all of a sudden you have your supply chain. And they're on one of those platforms, and you're on a different one, and they want to bring in a guest or a customer, and they're on a different platform. Now, you're really talking about where to scale. It's not just scaling up one platform, it's scaling up one platform to be interoperable with all the ways people communicate. And that can be anything from asynchronous chat, to voice, to video. So talk a little bit, you mentioned Infinity, and I'd like to sort of have you take me home here and talk a little bit about the architecture itself. How does Pexip, how does it kind of work that it creates this infinite scale? Because I know nobody's had an easy time during this rapid growth with handling such scale. So how is Pexip doing it?

Christopher Smith: Yeah. So I guess there's a couple of ways that we handle scale. One, is scale in terms of capacity. How do we ensure that everybody connecting in has a quality conferencing experience? And that's a testament to how our architecture is designed. We essentially create a ... if you think about our conferencing infrastructure, we have a conferencing node. And a conferencing node is where all of the magic happens, where all the meetings take place, where all the transcoding of media happens, content sharing. And we're able to place those conferencing nodes wherever you have a concentration of users. So think about maybe I'm in the London office and I have maybe 5,000 people working in this location. I'm able to put some conferencing infrastructure in a data center there or in a cloud that's close to where those users are.

I'm able to do the same thing, and the same concentration in New York or in California. And then all of those conferencing nodes are able to talk to each other in a way that's efficient and allows that platform to scale. And so we have deployments where we have hundreds of these nodes distributed throughout a deployment, which provides a higher degree of redundancy, and low latency and capacity. And then there's scenarios where you have, you don't know where the person on the other end is going to be joining a meeting from. So you have all these different meeting platforms. You have your Microsoft Teams, you have Google Hangouts Meet, you have Cisco endpoints, Polycom endpoints. Most customers just want to schedule a meeting, and join it, and have a meeting and joining a meeting.

They don't want to think about all of the different ways that other people are going to join their meeting. They just want to schedule that. So Pexip inherently, one of our core capabilities is interoperability. So we built in interoperability at our core. So when we talk about interoperability, it's how do I allow other people to join my meeting that aren't specifically on the system that I'm on? So for instance, if we talk about Microsoft Teams, Microsoft Teams is huge uptick right now with working from home and people right now. But if you think about three weeks ago there was the same uptick on Microsoft Teams, but we have customers that have hundreds of let's say Cisco endpoints in their environment.

Cisco and Microsoft traditionally don't talk to each other natively. So how am I able to join a conference, a Microsoft Teams-hosted meeting from a Cisco endpoint? Pexip is kind of that bridge or that Swiss army knife in between that allows that interoperability. So we're able to bring in standards based endpoints, Polycom, Cisco, you name it, into a Microsoft Teams meeting. We're able to do that into a Google Hangouts Meet meeting. So we're kind of, like I said, that Swiss army knife that allows a centralized meeting point for all of these different disparate meeting systems to happen at one time.

Daniel Newman: And that was sort of how the company was born, the original Pexip. And then of course the acquisition and partnership with Videxio sort of brought that front end, because a lot of your customers, because Pexip was inherently all about interoperability and scale from a very hardware centric. I think bringing it together though has been really a powerful tool, because now all of a sudden you have that click to join experience that was sort of maybe missing when someone said, "We want you to kind of help do the whole thing for us. At least for our organization." And now you really can do both working interoperably with all those companies you mentioned. And of course, offering a scalable solution within the walls of an individual organization. So Christopher, I want to just say thank you very much for spending some time with me here today and joining me for Navigate. This podcast has been super interesting.

Definitely for anyone that wants to learn more, check out Pexip.com. It's been really fun to have this conversation to learn about scalable infrastructure. To talk to you a little bit more about what's going on in the marketplace and how organizations are basically needing to look and think about their approach and their investments into video. But there's no question right now, Chris, in the wake of what's going on in the world, video, the demand is going to grow. Scalable infrastructure, interoperability, these are core tenants. I hope everybody listened to what Christopher said and checked it out. For now, for this particular series, I have to head out and say goodbye. But thanks everyone for tuning in. And we'll see you very soon.

 

Disclaimer: The Futurum Tech Podcast is for information and entertainment purposes only. Over the course of this podcast, we may talk about companies that are publicly traded and we may even reference that fact and their equity share price, but please do not take anything that we say as a recommendation about what you should do with your investment dollars. We are not investment advisors and we do not ask that you treat us as such.