Lync 2013 or Adobe Connect

At our shop, many of our working group meetings routinely (over 70%) have remote participants that attend for all or part of their meeting. Unfortunately the platforms and connections these remote participants have access to varies widely. We’ve had participants from every continent except Antarctica, with access to any number of 3g/4g, high speed research network, DSL and other home access using all i* and win* devices available. Due to the ever changing remote endpoints this has ruled out your more traditional high end room system environments.

Our first generation room setup was based on a cloud-managed Adobe Connect reseller or Skype depending on how the meeting would be run. Skype for point to point/managed meetings and Adobe Connect for multi-person or if flexibility for leave/join of remote participants was required.

A few things that worked surprisingly well in this setup:

  • Clients everywhere. The native Adobe Connect and Skype clients provided connectivity for almost every (not linux) platform under the sun. With native ios and Android clients we’ve seen an increase in tablet guests.
  • All conferences are backed by an 8xx dial-number in case of audio or phone-only connections. For an 8 hour meeting, total cost was only ~$10 to keep a line open.
  • Little to no low level driver/OS troubleshooting required. Devices either worked or they didn’t and the client performed the same regardless of what was attached.
  • Ease of use. Remote guests require around 2-5m of brief hand-holding to become familiar with the client, and connection steps are straight forward.
  • Flash echo-cancellation works pretty well.

A few things that we found that would have been nicer to have:

  • No higher quality video, or customizable video layouts. Brady-bunch square or nothing.
  • No room-system integration. We’ve had to use the same commodity hardware in our rooms that end users did. Single camera, etc.
  • Large latency impacts. Attempts to do video across large distances introduced noticeable lag on the part of the remote participants.
  • Flash echo cancellation is not enabled by default.

Conferencing Rev 2

We’ve recently upgraded our on-site Lync installation to 2013 in hopes that it will offer a viable alternative to Adobe Connect for remote meetings. The ability of Lync 2010 to support multi-party meetings with external parties was unworkable almost to the point of being a liability. (Windows-only meeting clients, half working OS-X, silverlight…). Even assuming all that worked, the lack of a true meeting screen limited communications. (no multi-camera, etc)

Now 2013 appears to be very promising  and looks like it may correct many of the shortcomings of its previous version.

We’ve started preliminary testing and deployment and have found a few nice additions.

  • Integration with real room systems. Purchasing an out of the box conference room is now an option whereas in the past it was not.
  • HD video.
  • Superior echo cancellation. Even in 2010, the built-in aec appeared to be superior to the native flash client.
  • Web client appears to work all major Win and OS-X platforms and browsers.
  • Multi-monitor native clients when you separate the video window.
  • Direct Power Point connection for Office 2013.

Now a few drawbacks:

  • Client unpredictability (both native and web). We’ve seen instances where the client will freeze for periods of time, peg the CPU and behave differently based on attached hardware. Running through this matrix with remote participants promises to be a nightmare.
  • Tablets. The tablet client isn’t a meeting-only client, but rather designed to be hooked up to an existing Lync account.
  • Skype Integration. Audio only (I know video is forthcoming) and the requirement that remote parties link their Skype account to an or other MS makes this unworkable. You try explaining the subtle sign-in difference to a senior scientist who can’t talk to their non-MS-enabled colleague.

So Lync or Adobe Connect?

Will we use it in the long run? I hope so. In the meantime, a few areas of testing remain including finding and testing on low-resource clients and quantifying high latency behaviour. Our biggest area of concern is the observed unpredictability of the client. Given the wide variety of hardware and OS’s we encounter if the clients continue to behave unpredictably, the maintenance and troubleshooting overhead will make Lync not worth the effort. With Adobe Connect as long as flash was updated unpredictability generally was not a problem and the client behaved quite reasonably.