You are probably thinking that the title of this blog seems a little bizarre given that I work at one of the largest networking companies in the world. The truth is I felt compelled to write about the role of the network in today’s collaboration solutions because the importance of the network is not always apparent and well understood.
A good example of how network-enabled collaboration solutions can be used is that of a hospital or healthcare organization. The hospital is only as good as its network of services, providers and the accompanying medical infrastructure that support the organization — they all leverage each other in various different ways. Physicians can take advantage of mind share and resources and have information at hand from different sources to make the right decisions. This is what enables doctors and nurses to perform their best work and provide top quality care to the people they serve.
Collaboration technologies and solutions make that collaborative work environment a reality and aid in the diagnosis and care of patients — in some cases even being able to remotely provide medical care by a specialist that may be located half way around the world. The importance of the underlying network in this instance is critical to both physicians and patients alike. How would the network have any effect on the use of interactive video in telemedicine? Well, let’s think of it from the experience point of view. What would the consequences be for a patient if the video stream they were using in a telemedicine consult was choppy or grainy and the doctor couldn’t get just the right view of the patient to make the right diagnosis? Let’s just say I would not want to be the patient in this scenario. A sub-par experience would be unacceptable because even minor details can have an enormous impact on a diagnosis or treatment plan. These collaborative exchanges are what ultimately give the patient the best experience and outcome possible for their individual treatment. A strong network foundation is critical to the delivery of the service and experience in this instance.
Collaboration technologies gaining significant traction in the enterprise today include streaming video, web conferencing and other forms of interactive and dynamic communications — known as rich media. The reason for the uptick in their use is that they offer the most life like, “in-person” collaboration experiences possible today. That is what people want and what ultimately drives them to be more engaged with one another. As described above, the network is critical to the delivery of these types of media. Not just any network architecture will suffice. A network-based architecture optimized for rich media such as Cisco (medianet) provides the intelligent services needed in order to scale, optimize and enhance the performance of voice, video and data – all critical to the delivery of the collaboration experience.
What does this mean? In a medianet-enabled network, different media and application types can be detected and optimized (ex. telepresence, video surveillance, desktop collaboration, and streaming media) to deliver the best experience possible. It means mission critical applications can be prioritized so that the user experience of that application does not suffer at the expense of a secondary application. It means endpoints can be automatically detected and configured and lastly it means we can detect and respond to changes in device, connection, and service availability. All of these factors can have a substantial impact on the user experience.
In addition, building collaboration solutions on top of an architecture that considers the value of the network enables network-based services such as:
- Session control – enabling a user to maintain a call, transfer between devices, and redial if a call drops
- Presence – providing presence information over multiple platforms and devices
- Security – enabling Virtual Private Networks (VPN) and policy managementto be shared across multiple end-user applications and not tied to any one silo
Such network-based services are important because services and applications can be turned up and replicated across many platforms and devices quickly, ensuring the greatest scalability, predictability, performance and the best possible user experience while maintaining security policy.
By leveraging an architecture that is standards-based and interoperable, services can be easily integrated into third party applications to light up presence information and enable click-to-x capabilities such as call, instant message, and application sharing. It doesn’t matter whether it is a Microsoft Windows, iPhone, BlackBerry or Android device. Any standards-based device can be supported which is extremely important today in a world where bring your own device (BYOD) has emerged as a top priority for most IT departments.
Medianet and network enabled services are key to accelerating deployment of collaboration applications and solutions, minimizing complexity and ongoing operational costs, increasing visibility into the network, and helping to scale the infrastructure for the best quality of experience (QoE) possible.
Most importantly, these capabilities enable customers to have a choice in deployment models. They support cloud-based delivery models as well as on premise and hybrid models.
Many underestimate the importance of the network. Rather than thinking of it as a utility where everything is deployed “over the top”, I think IT professionals need to exploit the network for all that it provides. The key lies in using its vast capabilities beyond connectivity. This way, the network will not only help bring people together, but will improve the quality of their collaboration experience, and ultimately increase user adoption of collaboration solutions across the organization.