Esterline finds videoconferencing doesn't have to bust budget

Aerospace manufacturer turns to LifeSize tools to bring technology to 28 sites around the world

As videoconferencing technology matures, the most important question for many IT managers has become how to pay for the often very expensive systems.

For instance, a single room-sized telepresence system with three high definition monitors and related gear from Cisco or Polycom can run $250,000 or more.

Aerospace manufacturer Esterline Technologies, looking to link 28 locations around the globe via telepresence, quickly found the approaches offered by those vendors to be too expensive. "Polycom and Tandberg/Cisco want you to sell your aunt and family to get their solution," said Mitch Irvine, corporate director of IT at Bellevue, Wash.-based Esterline.

Instead, Esterline is in the early stages of rolling out a videoconferencing system that will serve all 28 locations for about $500,000, including about $250,000 worth of equipment from the LifesSize division of Logitech, and the rest for standard high definition monitors and other equipment that LifeSize does not sell, said irvine

"LifeSize gets it," he said. "I don't need a Ph.D. in purchasing to do it. It's not brain surgery."

LifeSize targets a slightly different market than Cisco/Tandberg and Polycom, said Ira Weinstein, an analyst at Wainhouse Research. "While Polycom and Cisco/Tandberg have the large enterprise market locked up because they've been at it so long, LifeSize's sweet spot is a low price product with lots of functionality. That makes it ideal for budget-sensitive environments."

Irvine said Esterline plans to install a new $64,000 LifeSize Bridge 2200 system at the Bellevue headquaters early next year that will connect to LifeSize videoconferencing endpoints installed in the worldwide offices. The 16-port LifeSize Bridge will allow Esterline to deploy a hub and spoke network topology for videoconferencing sessions, which will reduce latency on some network links that now operate in a peer-to-peer topology, he added.

One LifeSize Bridge supports up to 16 concurrent videoconferencing sessions, he said. Thus, cameras and monitors used in one city can be connected to 15 rooms in other cities, or up to eight pairs of cities could connect for individual office-to-office meetings.

Finding a financially viable videoconferencing solution that supports high definition (1080p) video resolution at 60 frames per second will allow Esterline cut travel costs and improve communications and productivity, said Irvine.

"I a big fan of videoconferencing going way back, but it was a matter of waiting for the maturing of the codec [software] and the power of he chip design," Irvine said adding that cost was probably more important to Esterline than some bigger companies.

Irvine said he asks vendors planning to work with his company whether they can conduct meetings in IP-based videoconferencing. "Most say no, but it has a huge value for me," he said.

"Ninety percent of communication is body language and having a video call means you actually get what somebody means," Irvine said. This is especially true when talking to a person from France or Germany who is speaking in English or through a translator, he added.

"Videoconferencing helps to conduct meetings more effectively," he said. "The meetings end up lasting longer than otherwise, but you accomplish more with a higher retention factor."

Irvine said he is eagerly anticipating the arrival of 3D videoconferencing using evolving technology that doesn't require users to wear special glasses. "I want to go 3D and I want it now," he said.

"I even want videconferencing in the home, and everywhere. It's the next big thing," he said.

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen, or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed . His e-mail address is mhamblen@computerworld.com.

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