It’s just about 6 months since CafeX was awarded Best in Show at Enterprise Connect for their new product, Chime, so I thought I would check in to see how things are coming along. I recently caught up with Kevin Glass, the UK-based Chief Innovation Officer at CafeX to get the lowdown. Since WebRTC is what CafeX is known for, it was somewhat surprising that the shortcomings of WebRTC played a significant role in defining the opportunity around Chime. “We’ve been on the cutting edge of WebRTC work from the very beginning and due to a number of issues, the promise of pervasive, seamless browser-based communications for every meeting, especially when it comes to video collaboration, has never been fulfilled,” explained Glass. “By looking at that promise side-by-side with the challenges inherent in the visual collaboration space we realized there was a need for a solution that would build upon WebRTC but cut through all the technological and economic issues that businesses struggle with when it comes to making one-click meetings a reality.”
The Challenge: Make Meetings One Click for Every User Regardless of Platform
By this point we’ve all been invited to web and video meetings on all kinds of platforms, from Cisco to Skype for Business, GoToMeeting and dozens of others. We’ve all likely had good experiences and bad experiences, but the fact is that it is expensive and complex to enable pervasive visual collaboration for a business and all its stakeholders. Glass noted that, “CafeX’s mantra is ‘ bring people together’ and there are a number of issues to be overcome before that becomes simple enough that collaborating just takes a single click from anywhere on any device.” Some of these challenges include:
Existing Investments Aren’t Going Anywhere - Enterprises have invested millions in a Cisco or S4B or Avaya, etc. UC and video solution and they are not going to throw them away to go with an all WebRTC product. Any solution that appears in the market to deliver a universal browser-based solution will need to be designed to work with and enhance these existing platforms.
Interworking and media delivery - Users will be logging into meetings from different devices with different browsers and via varying UC or video platforms. This means there will be multiple codecs in use during each call, meaning that there is a need for sophisticated transcoding or interworking to make the experience seamless for every user. Where and how this takes place depends on a whole slew of variables like browser type, proximity, network structure, bandwidth utilization, and other factors and often leads to a poor experience for users.
Security and DMZ Transversal - According to Glass, “A lot of CIO’s look at WebRTC and wonder, how am I going to get that media through my firewall? Do I need to put something in the DMZ? If you use WebRTC, your media is going across SRTP-DTLS, something they don’t recognize, and that makes security guys nervous.” Looking for ways to deliver secure sessions while avoiding the complexity associated with the corporate firewall is the holy grail.
Pervasive Video is Expensive - Video communications is costly. For example, imagine five users within the same organization who wanted to collaborate over video. Traditional video conferencing methods would utilize five links and five individual ports on the MCU, so as video in the enterprise scales, so does the infrastructure required to support it. This is an expensive proposition.
How Chime is Looking to Deliver
There are a couple of additional benefits to this approach in addition to addressing the media / security issue. By recognizing each user’s specific, current setup, the responsibility for browser and plugin compatibility is no longer placed on the individual users, but rather is handled by Chime. Wouldn’t it be nice not to have to worry about that anymore (especially when you’re late to a meeting and you’re screaming at the plugin asking it why it’s not working this time!!! Not that that’s ever happened to me…).
Additionally, this approach allows Chime to intelligently cluster users into groups depending on their profile and where they’re connecting from. According to Glass, this allows Chime to cluster multiple users to take advantage of one MCU port, significantly cutting down on MCU utilization by as much as 80-percent and reducing bandwidth usage by up to 75-percent. This approach positions businesses to significantly scale their utilization rates with existing infrastructure and keep costs down.
Eating Their Own Dogfood
Chime is not in market yet, but according to Glass it has just moved to Beta with a program that includes CafeX channel partners, around 30 customers that have asked to participate in the Beta, as well as all CafeX employees. “We’re going all in on the ‘eat your own dogfood’ approach,” says Glass. “Every meeting we’re having, we’re running on Chime and encouraging and collecting plenty of feedback from all participants. We’re asking our channel partners and Beta customers to do the same and we believe this is the best possible way to produce a product that delivers.”
In addition to encouraging comments and direct feedback from all Beta participants, each meeting ends with the opportunity for users to fill out forms answering specific questions about the experience (like an extended version of the Skype feedback screen). Glass brought up one additional benefit of eating your own dogfood. “This approach is terrific from a sales perspective, because if the sales guys use it and are participating in making it better, they believe in it and are going to really sell it.” That alone sounds like a good enough reason to start tasting some Alpo.