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UCC Solution Review: Pexip Infinity Video Conferencing

28 Oct 2013 | by Rob Arnold
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In the months since InfoComm this past May, startup cloud video conferencing infrastructure provider Pexip has quickly established a market presence. The privately funded company was founded in 2012 by ex-Tandberg staff, including execs, programmers, sales, marketing and other personnel. It was at InfoComm that Pexip had its coming out party.

The company’s Infinity video conferencing solution is anchored by a virtualized (utilizing VMware) transcoding MCU that can be deployed as a customer premises, hosted or cloud solution using partner or customer sourced VMware qualified commercial servers. Infinity features an intelligent distributed architecture designed to maximize scalability and performance while optimizing bandwidth. The core Infinity user application is the virtual meeting room, or VMR. Users access their VMRs via the Pexip WebRTC client, as well as standards-based H.264 and H.263 hardware and software endpoints. A Pexip VMR supports an unlimited number of participants, with the meeting host and the six most recent participant speakers displayed in continuous presence thumbnails, and the active speaker promoted to the largest cube in the layout.

***This review is not intended to be a comprehensive analysis of the company and/or its entire portfolio. Rather, it is intended to provide a fast and light recap of my personal experiences and opinion of a specific application, product or service.***

Pexip's true value is in the core infrastructure delivery, the ability to scale due to virtualized software (especially important with BYOD), and the distributed architecture. The existing infrastructure solutions in the market are primarily built on dedicated chassis and fixed capacity hardware; the associated high costs, do not fit the evolution of user needs for pervasive video. Therefore, Pexip to a certain extent changes that equation and could help lead to a spurt in innovation in the video conferencing industry. We are already beginning to see more virtualized videoconferencing infrastructure options on the market, however few appear to be as “software to the core”, and therefore as flexible as Pexip’s.

From a user perspective one of the things I like most about the Pexip solution is the clean WebRTC client interface, which I accessed via Google Chrome. The client lives up to WebRTC’s promises of accessibility. Users can simply paste a VMR link into their address bar or click on a VMR link in their calendar invite, enter their name (as well as optional meeting ID and PIN, if necessary), permit the WebRTC client service to access their audio/video peripherals, and directly enter the meeting. The HD video resolution and audio quality are both crisp, and I experienced little to no video freeze-framing or tiling. Furthermore, peripheral settings can be adjusted on the fly and activated with a quick browser refresh.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pexip client. Snapshot courstesy of Pexip.

I also joined a Pexip VMR using my standards-based H.323 hardware endpoint. While I am a big proponent of soft clients, I find myself routinely relying on the dedicated hardware endpoint due to PC or peripheral performance issues. I was able to adjust my bandwidth settings mid-session when dialing in from my hardware-based client. In contrast bandwidth adjustments need to be performed prior to joining a session via the WebRTC client however the low, medium, and high bandwidth menu options are very intuitive. In one particular call I was even able to join from both my hardware endpoint and the WebRTC client at the same time – an impressive feat given the sometimes challenging bandwidth limitations at my home office.  

The Pexip solution supports presentation/content sharing in full HD with some nice feature flexibility. All users can individually adjust their content and video display priority. Any host or guest can share content, and participants can split the video and content to separate monitors and even to separate devices, such as an iOS device from which hosts can control the presentation. Furthermore, iOS devices used in this way are not counted as full users or clients from a port capacity perspective.

Every user gets a VMR with a static address, making it easy to remember, bookmark, or routinely populate to calendar invitations. The solution is licensed under a couple of different models, per user per month or per port per month, to give customers flexibility.

There are, however, certain things about the Pexip solution that I’m not so fond of. For example, there is no IM/chat or recording functionality, and there is currently only a single fixed layout (users cannot individually adjust their layouts). Pexip executives state that Infinity is designed for high quality, reliability, easy to use, scalable video conferencing; therefore other capabilities are deemphasized. The broader Pexip approach is to fit into what customers or partners already have. One could argue, however, that this position is a mandatory stance until the solution matures and additional functionality is added over time. The Pexip executives do have some proof points of their position however, as a number of provider partners and customers are already leveraging Infinity video conferencing infrastructure as part of their collaboration solutions and have integrated third-party components to enable additional desired functionality.

Other shortcomings compared to competing solutions include a present lack of native calendar integration, an inability to adjust bandwidth settings mid-session, and the inability to lock or pin selected speakers into continuous presence view when calls have more than 7 participants. All of these things can, in fact, impact usability and the user experience. And while users of third-party clients (e.g., Lync) can join Pexip VMRs via a variety of mobile devices, the Pexip App itself currently has its mobile device support limited to iOS devices.

In summary, the Pexip solution is founded upon a fully virtualized, and therefore highly flexible and differentiated infrastructure. It is the type of software-centric design that many end user organizations and partners will prefer going forward. Although capable of standing on its own, it is positioned as a video-first solution in environments where customers and partners have existing assets they wish to leverage. For this position it is very well suited. In the near-term those seeking a more rounded collaboration feature set from a single source provider may want to look at alternatives or to a Pexip partner that can act as a single throat to choke for multi-vendor solutions. My guess is that Pexip will find success with its current offer, but will continue to build out its feature functionality to capture greater opportunities in the future.

 

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