A Journey to the Cloud for Video Conferencing – Part III

This is the third part in this series. You can find Part I and Part II here.

Just as I was preparing to send out an RFP for a cloud-based video conference service, expecting to get responses from both Blue Jeans and Fuze, I was informed that the Knoxville campus had purchased a site license for a competing service, and was willing to provision accounts for us for a minimal chargeback fee. The company providing the service was Zoom. I was surprised, as I had taken a quick look at Zoom earlier, and frankly written it off as being too good to be true, or in this case, too inexpensive to be for real.

Zoom: The Kia Option

ZOOM VIDEO COMMUNICATIONS LOGO

Zoom is another startup company like Blue Jeans and Fuze. Like Fuze, they make it nice and easy to find out what their service costs. Zoom offers a Free account level with a pretty severe limitation – meetings can last only 40 minutes, but that would probably be fine for a lot of people. Zoom offers Pro accounts for $9.99 per month and Business accounts in minimum quantities of 10 for $9.99 per month each. Each of these accounts can host meetings with up to 25 participants. Zoom is unique in offering published academic pricing that is so affordable compared to its commercial pricing that I thought it was a mistake when I previously investigated it. I won’t break down all the options here, but I will link to their education pricing and note that it is very much for real.

My evaluation of the Zoom service began not as a limited trial or a series of demos brokered by an account rep, but as a user with a fully functional Pro account. I found the service to be as functional and easy to use as Fuze, and because the UTK site license included a number of H.323 “room connector” ports, I was able to verify its suitability as a replacement for our on-premises Polycom bridge, even to the point of hosting conferences that included more Polycom endpoints than we could support on our existing bridge, as well as additional participants on desktops, laptops, and mobile devices. It was pretty clear that Zoom, while inexpensive, could meet our needs from a technical perspective.

There’s Something to be Said for Affordable

Once we knew Zoom could meet our needs, we considered simply purchasing accounts as needed from the Knoxville campus, but decided that, given the pricing we knew they’d received for their site license, it would be better for everyone if we purchased our own site license if possible. So we conducted a quick bid of our own, soliciting responses from Blue Jeans, Fuze, and Zoom for a large number of named user host accounts, H.323 connections, as well as a number of add-ons that would allow some accounts to host meetings with up to 100 participants per meeting, or webinars with up to 500 viewers. Zoom won that bid and we purchased our own site license for its service. We now have enough accounts to allow every employee of the Institute of Agriculture to host their own video conferences anytime they want, from virtually any device.

I’ve had a group of beta testers and early adopters using Zoom for the last month and the response has been overwhelmingly positive. We’ve already seen classes held involving students in Knoxville, Nashville, and Jackson be held that could not have been connected, at least not this easily, before. A department head was able to host a meeting for a Masters thesis defense with no training and no help from IT. With some help from the Knoxville campus folks, last week I connected our Zoom tenant to our university’s Single Sign-On service and am now ready to deploy it to all of our users.

Our move away from our legacy on-premises H.323 bridge has already saved us a ton of money and will save us even more over time. We saved over $20,000 in hardware maintenance this year alone. Over five years, we will save anywhere from $100,000 to $250,000+ if you factor in the hardware we would have had to upgrade to keep running our own service. In addition to the cost savings, we’ve gone from being able to host a maximum of 6 concurrent endpoints across 1–3 meetings, all tied to either a conference room or a terrible buggy software client, to enabling our users to host their own meetings anytime, anywhere, using anything from an iPhone to a Polycom room unit.

Now it’s time for me to make something else better.

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