Is it possible to run your own Video Conference Platform?
Despite the fact that online meetings are here to stay, the most straightforward answer isn't necessarily the greatest.
For most companies, the epidemic has been a severe disruption, but some have benefited. Delivery services, internet grocery stores, and video streaming sites have all grown rapidly. Zoom is one of them.
Zoom's growth isn't simply a function of providing the proper service at the appropriate moment. There were several online meeting platforms to select from, such as 8x8, Cisco Webex and Microsoft Teams, but Zoom was the one that broke out of the corporate world to allow remote pub quizzes, online fitness sessions, and virtual family gatherings.
Users find it simple to use, which is a benefit. Zoom made it very simple to invite non-subscribers and have them join your meetings. It became an obvious default alternative for businesses seeking a reliable, known mechanism for employees to communicate during lockdown in the first half of 2020, owing to its name becoming synonymous with video conferencing.
Now, although pandemic limitations are finally subsiding, many businesses want their employees to work from home at least part of the time. And for firms that decided on Zoom – or any other service – early in the pandemic, this raises a significant concern.
Is this application the best solution for an era when video calls are no longer a stopgap measure but rather a permanent, essential element of your working life?
The drawbacks of Zoom are becoming more apparent, according to Stefan Walther, CEO of communications solution provider 3CX. “Many customers just need the basic feature set,” he said in an interview with PC Pro. “It's a fantastic platform; it works effectively, but it has a hefty price tag, per-user licenses with lots of add-ons, and a pricey dial-in option".
It's time to think about your options—and one that you may not have considered is running your own video conferencing business.
Free and Simple to use
You don't need to pay for full-featured conferencing software. Jitsi is a fully functional free open-source alternative that integrates with Google, Microsoft products, and Slack and offers end-to-end encryption. Jitsi was originally known as an SIP communicator in the early 2000s, and it's now maintained by communications specialist 8x8.
If you just want to use Jitsi's back-end, you only need something to run it on. For free, you may download the server code for Debian/Ubuntu and Docker, as well as a variety of support packages on GitHub. Jitsi rooms can be embedded within your own website, and meet.jit.si offers a hosted web front-end for those who don't want to host it themselves.
Jitsi is an open-source software that allows users to communicate in a secure, encrypted video chat. Some large businesses utilize it, including Wikimedia, which has its own public portal. When it came to meetings of 10-15 people, the organization found that Jitsi's performance was "subjectively comparable" to Google Meet and Zoom.
In fact, the platform is capable of hosting unlimited free meetings with up to 100 simultaneous participants, according to the developer. However, if you need a bigger capacity or advanced features such as closed captioning, moderation, and analytics, it advises that you upgrade to the premium 8x8 Meet service.
While Jitsi may be useful in certain situations, it isn't your only free option. Google Hangouts, Cisco Webex, and other similar services allow for free meetings for a limited number of people or limited periods of time; after the first year, 3CX begins charging for its hosted conferencing solution.
Conferencing service as an educational tool
BigBlueButton is another free, open-source option. It's a popular choice in education settings: it was developed as part of Canada's Carleton University's Technology Innovation Management program and now enjoys widespread market adoption (LMSes).
BlueKai's BigBlueButton is simple to set up. The server runs smoothly in a Docker container on 64-bit Ubuntu 18.04, and it doesn't require any client software; instead, it makes use of native browser features.This makes it ideal for home-teaching settings, but it's also great for businesses looking to give their employees the ability to stay in touch no matter what device they're using or where they are.
BigBlueButton's features include a lot of educational content, as you would expect. It allows teachers to select a random student to answer questions and supports online whiteboards. The participants can raise a digital hand to ask a question or offer a response, and the host may click to lower all hands at once, just like other videoconferencing platforms.
BigBlueButton, on the other hand, has several enterprise features, such as document sharing and breakout rooms, as well as screen sharing and integration with CMS systems and LMS solutions.
Why should you run your own server?
Installing and maintaining your own videoconferencing solution is more difficult than choosing a ready-made option, but it has advantages. Businesses and educational institutions may better regulate their spending and add-on management as well as have greater control over data location.
This type of management differs widely depending on the third-party services used. Zoom account owners and administrators may choose which data center regions they use for real-time meetings and webinar data, although the default is restricted to the area in which your account was first provisioned.
More freedom is available with 3CX. According to CEO Stefan Walther, on his company's platform, "you're always 100% in control of your location, data, and the people you invite." There's no need to download a special app if you'd rather meetings take place in the browser, and British users' data will stay in the UK while European user data is kept within the EU.
Another service that supports a self-hosted back end is Skype for Business; however, Microsoft is now pushing clients to move away from Skype and use Teams instead, which resides entirely on Microsoft's servers.
Another aspect to consider is the breadth of services you require. You're getting more than just a video conferencing solution when you invest in 3CX's integrated communications service: it's a fully-featured PBX with a lot of extras, including VoIP for traditional phone calls, messaging, and presence tools as well as software clients and physical phones. Skype for Business offers a comparable feature set. All of this in one spot might aid productivity, as employees don't have to switch between multiple applications, but smaller firms may not need to use more than video, group chat, and messaging.
Even if you don't maintain your service on your own hardware, but rather in the cloud, managing it yourself gives you the freedom to change providers when you please, or even migrate to an alternative video conferencing platform. If you opt for a one-time payment that includes both hosting and app deployment, you won't have this flexibility: there may be a minimum commitment period, and if you migrate because your current supplier no longer meets your needs, there may still be residual expenses to consider.
Hosting and support services
Another key concern when selecting a conferencing platform is support. A communications server is a vital component of corporate infrastructure, so you'll need the skills to keep it up and running.In many situations – but not always – a paid-for service will almost always be easier to get up and running more quickly. Furthermore, if end users can work on the go using apps rather than a mobile browser, they may find it simpler to do so.
Some services have simple set-up tools for quick deployment, but others demand a significant amount of technical expertise on the part of administrators, making them an unlikely choice for smaller businesses. Even for the bigger company, a solution that requires constant monitoring might be justified by adding one to the staff. Over the course of a year, this may result in spending just as much as choosing a provider-hosted option.
Depending on which road you take, you may also be out of luck when it comes to outside assistance. Jitsi, for example, cautions that "neither the immediate Jitsi team nor 8x8 provides commercial help for Jitsi." Jitsi has a large developer community, with several development firms and individuals offering support and commercial development services.If you want assistance, we recommend searching the Community Forum or submitting a request. It's better than nothing, but convincing the board that this is a good idea may be difficult.
You'll need appropriate server hardware as well. Fortunately, this is not a major requirement: most services require minimal resources and execute inside a container or virtual machine. Alternatively, you may use a very lightweight dedicated system; Jitsi and 3CX can both be run on Raspberry Pi devices, providing a wonderfully low-cost one-box solution.
Another commercial service that supports the Raspberry Pi is TrueConf. It also allows you to download a pre-built Linux-based image with the conferencing software and all required documentation already installed.
Running an on-premises videoconferencing solution may save money in the long run, but it might create a single point of failure if your local infrastructure goes down. For this reason, even if you're happy to manage and maintain your own communications services, it may be practical to hire someone else to host the server: cloud-based services should include provisions for outages and automatic failover on multiple lines.
Many of the solutions described here may be implemented on the Azure, AWS, or Google Cloud platforms. Amazon's Chime communications service, which is powered by AWS, takes things a step further by providing an SDK that allows developers to connect its features into their own web or mobile applications, such as SIP trunking, chat, collaboration, and screen sharing.
What option do you choose?
If you've never considered videoconferencing as anything but a third-party service, the prospect of creating and running your own services may be exciting – and cost-effective. However, it does imply assuming obligations – such as installation, upkeep, and the risk of business failure if your system breaks down.
Taking a cloud-hosted approach eliminates the danger, but it also comes with ongoing connectivity and capacity expenses, even if the software you're using is free. Even if you pick a system without expert assistance, a misconfiguration or damaged upgrade might be pricey in terms of engineer hours and lost productivity.
We suggest that you don't switch to a different conference service right away. Today's commercial solutions are robust, well-supported, and user-friendly - often easier to deploy within an organization than a self-managed solution.
Rather, the issue is this: online video conferencing may have appeared to be a luxury or a gimmick in the past. That's no longer the case. Videoconferencing is firmly entrenched in business, and it will continue to be for quite some time. It's time to reconsider your requirements and evaluate whether now is the right moment to handle these critical services.
We can assist you if you decide to develop your own videoconferencing platform!