After a lot of reasearch this week, i’m under no doubt that Video Conference systems which you host yourself, arre no cheap. There are many systems out there GoToMeeting and Webex are the big boys however when security is one of your requirements, and the need to host the system yourself is another, they are out of the window.
While there are systems out there, they are starting at about £20k for just the software, not cheap in these financial times. Which is a shame because its blatantly obvious that the use of video conferencing really does improve meetings.
Having spent time on this i finally founda really interesting Open Source project called BigBlueButton and have started implementing this. However there is more to this than just an Opensource Video conferencing system.
BigBlueButton isn’t an app you can install and run as such, despite some really good instructions on how to get it setup and linked into Freeswitch or Asterisk during install from scratch on either Ubuntu, Debian or FreeBSD systems the Ubuntu install is easiest and can be done on a decent network in about 15 minutes.
Installing it is only half the fun/battle as i said, this isn’t an app as such, its an back end system and API ment for linking in to other systems, and there are plugins available for Drupal, Moodle and several other systems.
The idea is, you should use the LMS or CMS to create the appointments and meetings, and then launch them via the BigBluebutton back end.
the Back end supplied is Flash based meaning that attendees don’t need to install anything just use thier browser, from my tests it works well on IE8,9 Firefox and Chrome on Windows, Linux or Mac.
The interface is well laid out, and allows the usual suite of services found in Goto Meeting and Webex, with Presentation sharing of Office or PDF documents, screen sharing should it be needed using a java interface. which are scalable on the browser.
However its the Audio and Video conferencing which set this aside from many Open source systems of the same design. Because if you followed the instructions for installing this on an Ubuntu system, not only are you installing a conferencing system you are also installing a very powerful VoIP System. Which has the user able to click on the audio button and link over a Lan without the need for a phone system.
The Video conferencing is very slick as well, and there appear to be stress tests for up to 25 users on the same conference using video. this depends on your servers processer and ram available. Having 5 users it was find on our LAN with 512Mb ram on a Virtualbox run Ubuntu 10.04 system.
The requirement for video camera is that it works in flash, which are most of them. and the video windows are fully resizable on the fly.
As i mentioned, the idea i to build this into an existing LMS and CMS however there is also a demo infrastructure using JSP pages which can be modified if you are up to the tesk of building your own entry system as we have done. Allowing both access to predefined conference rooms and creating rooms on the fly.
In conclusion, the fact that a group of coders have put this together, is amazing, its a nice system, and works well, and for SMB’s is part of a larger communications solution, as the PBX could also be used as a general VoIP phone system.