An alternative to video

commentary Some people just don't need to see the guy's face in the home office to collaborate.Last month we looked at Video Conferencing, as you are no doubt aware, and while the products featured fit the boardroom scenario of large companies I have been made aware by some readers that live video feeds of the participants is not really necessary.



commentary Some people just don't need to see the guy's face in the home office to collaborate.

Last month we looked at Video Conferencing, as you are no doubt aware, and while the products featured fit the boardroom scenario of large companies I have been made aware by some readers that live video feeds of the participants is not really necessary. Quite a few asked if there was some way of retaining the "collaboration" features and audio while pruning off the live video feed. (And hopefully pruning the cost substantially in the process.)

Basically some readers don't care if they cannot see the other participants' smiles or frowns, it's the live data and the ability to explore and manipulate it during the course of the "meeting" that is of greatest concern.

As an example, take the design of a new "widget". An engineer at a remote site streams a pre-taped video over the Internet to demonstrate the functionality of the widget and then follows up with some "live" engineering drawings and productions schedules and costs in a spreadsheet. You can perform what-if scenarios like what will be the weight saving and impact on production costs and schedules if we substitute cast aluminium components for pressed steel, for example, live -- with the outcomes displayed for all participants.

Undeniably this can save a lot of time and speed up development costs thanks to the product arriving to market earlier -- costs down and profits up.

So is this service available and, more to the point, can you get away without the need to buy any specialised equipment? A quick search of the Web confirms these do indeed exist. I will take just one example: Webex, which you can explore further at www.webex.com. I chose this provider as it appears to currently have the largest chunk of the business.

All you need to participate is a PC that is connected to the Internet, a telephone for the audio conferencing side, and Webex software and an account. So the good news is that this technology can be used not only within your company but also with your clients around the world. Any meeting attendee can share presentations that can also include animations and transitions for that professional touch and the presenter can share applications or their desktop for simple collaboration. This way participants can annotate or edit documents or spreadsheets.

Another useful aspect of the technology is that you can conduct training over the Web quite simply and an instructor could remotely control the application on a student or staff member's computer to demonstrate aspects of an application, for example.

As the session is being routed over the Internet, security is obviously an issue. Webex encrypts the data, employs SSL, and once your conference is finished all your data is flushed from the system.

While we are on the topic of security, who did not get hit by Sasser? Now be honest, not a single infection in your whole organisation?

We certainly got bit, well just nibbled a little really. The relatively amusing side, if there can possible be one, is that we were actually testing antivirus applications for a government client. And compounding the problem is the unfortunate fact that the client's server and PC disk images were frozen prior to the Microsoft Security Patch that dealt with Sasser, and to top it all off the antivirus software images were also frozen pre-Sasser. We had to draw a line in the sand so that no vendor's AV product had a perceived advantage of being more recent than another's during testing and this occurred before the furore.

So what, you say, just isolate the test LAN from the outside world. Fine idea except we had to test remote installations and auto-updating functionality so they had to remain connected some of the time. After the first bout of infections we did apply the patch, sanctioned by the client.

Steve Turvey is Lab Manager of the RMIT IT Test Labs, and can be reached at stevet@rmit.edu.au.

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