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Videoconferencing Guide

Use these tips to develop a successful program.

With the growing accessibility of affordable solutions, videoconferences are quickly becoming the medium of choice that organizations look to when connecting people on the go. Videoconferencing saves time and travel costs, and its inherent convenience makes it exponentially easier for workers to collaborate on demand. If you’re considering videoconferencing, follow these steps to get the most out of this technology:

Step 1: Do Your Homework

Shop around to find a package that is right for your agency’s needs. First, determine the level of functionality required and how much you can spend. Once you have a general idea in mind, start looking. Solutions come in all shapes and sizes, from more comprehensive, outsourced packages to less expensive do-it-yourself offerings.

Turnkey solutions come at a premium, but for organizations that rely heavily on videoconferencing, they may prove well worth the cost. On the other hand, agencies seeking a cost-effective system might want to consider a more hands-on approach by providing their own webcams and microphones. Do your homework to choose with confidence.

Step 2: Standardize Equipment

To simplify support, try to stick with standard tools as much as possible. For basic systems, focus primarily on standardizing equipment for end users. User webcams range in price from about $30 for basic models, such as the Logitech QuickCam, to about $300 for feature-rich models, such as the Ken-A-Vision 7890U. Also, many notebook manufacturers, such as Acer and Sony, make units with built-in webcams.

Step 3: Research Bandwidth Requirements

Ensure that your entire infrastructure meets the prerequisites of the new equipment. If your agency is hosting a videoconference on a 1.5 megabits-per-second T1 line and the connecting clients are coming in on a 256Mbps fractional T1, you might run into problems. Apply the “weakest link” standard when choosing a solution by researching its bandwidth requirements. Take corrective action, if necessary, by either upgrading communications on your slowest clients or purchasing a videoconferencing package compatible with your current infrastructure.

Step 4: Focus on Software Requirements

Most videoconferencing systems require either an Internet browser plug-in or a software installation on desktops. Inventory and prepare your clients before the first meeting. Many software packages that normally would be downloaded by the user and installed from a website can also be downloaded as standalone packages, called “redistributables,” that can be placed on a network share. Find out if this can be done for the software you need; it will be faster for users and will save bandwidth.

Also, if your IT department normally uses imaging software to prepare and deploy client machines, coordinate with them so that in the future new-user machines will automatically come with client software or browser plug-ins preinstalled.

Step 5: Address Security

Today, every machine should run client security software. This protection can be a double-edged sword when it comes to third-party communications software. Be sure your software isn’t introducing any problems when your clients try to send or receive data over a custom port. Potential pop-up blocking issues also must be addressed.

Step 6: Do a Test Run

Try connecting to a test meeting with as many different client configurations as you can think up: notebooks, desktops, LANs, WANs, VPNs, and especially machines running different browsers and operating systems. Because every different configuration introduces variables, you should test as thoroughly as possible.

Jason Holbert is a Tier II desktop support technician at Harcros Chemicals, a chemical manufacturer and distributor in Kansas City, Kan. He has worked in IT for more than 10 years.

Sep 30 2008

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