Break a leg!

Amongst other things, on weekends I ride dirt bikes. It gets me outdoors, with mates, doing something challenging that keeps me fit and also keeps my mind off work for a day.

Whilst the type of riding I do is not overly dangerous, there is definitely the chance to injure yourself, and sometimes the worst injuries can happen at the most innocuous of times, when you are barely doing 5km/h.

Luckily, there is a good choice of safety gear out there, from a number of brands, in various fitments to suit various applications and of course, with varying price tags associated with them. Like most things, you can get cheap safety gear that is generally of low quality, some medium priced gear that can either be good or bad and some high priced gear that in most cases is going to be very well engineered and tested to ensure it provides the safety that it is meant to do – as well as wear better and last longer.

Dirt bike riding boots are a good example of the breadth of price and capabilities out there – you can get some very cheap boots that may be extremely comfortable when you put them on, you can walk around in them like a pair of sneakers, but the reason they are so soft and comfortable is because they lack the support and reinforcement to properly protect you in the majority of situations when you are actually riding the bike – they are simply not engineered for safety, they are engineered for a price.

Like a lot of things, when someone is first starting out with a new activity – be it a hobby, a new business or a new project and you are not really sure if you are really committed to what you are doing, it can be tempting to go with the cheaper option to start with – you can always upgrade to the better gear at a later date right?

A recent case comes to mind where someone I knew was getting into dirt bike riding and they decided that they didn’t want to spend too much money initially on safety gear, so they opted for a cheaper pair of boots thinking they could always upgrade later. On their second ride out, they had a very low speed accident and landed in a bit of an awkward way with the end result being they snapped thier leg just near the ankle. Had they been riding in a decent pair of riding boots which have specific engineering to mitigate this very type of injury, I am almost 100% certain they would not have broken anything in this accident.

Codec vs PC/USB

I see a similar scenario happening with video conferencing at the moment. There are a number of mainstay players in the game – Cisco, Polycom, Lifesize and StarLeaf amongst others who have been producing high quality, engineered for purpose , dedicated codec based video conferencing systems for a number of years now. Then there are the new players who have entered the market producing mainly PC / USB based solutions, generally engineered to a price.

Companies who are new to video conferencing may look at a hardware based solution and think the price is too high, then look at the PC / USB based solution and see a “cheap” solution and say “lets give it a go, we can always upgrade at a later date. . .”

With the dedicated systems from the likes of Lifesize, StarLeaf and others, there is often a slightly higher price of entry compared to the PC/USB solutions being touted by the likes of Zoom, Microsoft, Logitech, more and more with Polycom and others but this can often be a perception thing – there is a perception that PC’s and the associated USB peripherals required to deploy a video solution are cheap, but this is often not the case.

Then we look at service life – we have customers who have been running their dedicated codec based solutions for over 8 years now – 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, never turned off. The average life expectancy for a PC in most business scenarios is 3 years – when deployed into a meeting room situation we are often seeing life expectancies of 2 years or less with the last iteration of the Skype Room System (SRS) being a great example. The Surface Pro that was the core of the system was simply not engineered to be placed in a case (that decreased air flow and increased temperates) and left to run 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for any period of time – how long do you think the Surface Pro is going to last in that environment?

When you start scratching the surface, you find more and more glaring pros and cons with the competing solutions – dedicated solutions are engineered to be used in meeting spaces – small and large – from the outset. The engineers consider how you are going to connect devices, where devices are going to be located, how long they are going to be in use and more. They use cabling solutions that can easily be routed over distances greater than 3 metres, cabling solutions that do not fail when they are plugged / unplugged more than a few times, cooling strategies the cater for the fact the device is going to be stuck in a cupboard with limited air flow and more.

With a PC / USB solution, you are relying on a technology that was never designed for the meeting room. USB was designed to allow you to connect peripherals such as mice, keyboards, web-cams and more to a PC that was sitting no more than 2m away, with a pretty hard limit on cabling of 5m before you need to start getting creative. And the fact that a PC relies on a keyboard an mouse as its input makes things even worse – how often have you been in a meeting room with a dedicated presentation PC only to find the keyboard or mouse has gone walk about because someone needed it for their desktop (which coincidentally failed so they borrowed the one in the meeting room). The tablet / laptop / Nuc type PC devices that often form the core of these solutions are simply not designed to be on for long periods of time, let alone in calls spanning many hours where the CPU and other components are highly stressed and heating up.

Total cost of ownership

When comparing codec based video conferencing with PC/USB, the cost issue always comes up as a main point. I agree that in some scenarios (mainly small room / huddle scenarios), the PC/USB solution can be cheaper up front however this price advantage disappears the larger the room gets, as the cost of peripherals contributes a larger proportion to the overall price.

What you really need to be looking at though is the total cost of ownership. A customer we spoke with not too long ago had recently purchased a PC/USB solution from one of the large peripheral brands out there for a price of circa AUD$4500 (doesn’t really sound like a cheap PC/USB solution anymore). Based on the expected lifespan of such devices, they can be expecting to replace that device in the next 24-36 months. The device has a basic back to manufacturer warranty however there are multiple manufacturers involved int he solution so there is no single point of contact. Couple that with the expectation that at some point more often than not, there will be a update that has failed, a blue screen or some other software or hardware issue that will mean the next meeting you go into could be the one where you break a leg (or cannot use the system for your video meeting).

The basic cost of ownership over 6 years is between $9000 and $13500 – not including the video conferencing service that sits behind it and not factoring in downtime for when you are swapping out devices, software issues etc.

Looking at a similar codec based solution from either Lifesize or StarLeaf for the same sized room, we would be looking at an initial cost of somewhere around $6300 with an annual hardware maintenance and service subscription of around $1200 which in this case does also include the video conferencing service, advanced replacement onsite and one single vendor to contact for any support queries. Total cost of ownership over 6 years – $13500 – for a solution that our customers have proven can last beyond another 2 years.

Get it right from the outset

Just like with the dirt bike riding, you can either go out and buy some cheap safety gear, not really engineered for purpose and hope you don’t break a leg or you can pay a little more up front, not break a leg and have gear that last 2-3 times longer – with video conferencing you can try and save some money up front by buying a PC/USB based solution or spend a little more upfront (I say this, but in a lot of cases of late we can match or beat the PC/USB upfront price) and get a solution that is engineered for the purpose you will be using it for from the ground up – one that will be easy to install, easy to use and continue working for many years to come, which in the long run will save you both money and time. Don’t leave your choice up to hope, get it right from the outset and concentrate on other areas of your business.