Toolkits

Desktop Video Applications - Deployment and Support

The deployment and support of desktop videoconferencing applications varies by manufacturer, as each product requires its own infrastructure, client software, and licensing agreement.  There are, however, a series of steps that can be taken to better ensure that the deployment and support of these systems is done in a consistent, effective manner.

Note that many of the manufacturers provide an administrator’s guide that walks through the planning, setup, and deployment process.  They also will often recommend working with a sales representative to talk through your organization’s needs, including a look at their most current minimum product requirements and recommended network design.

Planning

Assuming that your organization has taken steps to choose the appropriate product(s) that meet your needs, the next step is to look into planning how you will move forward with implementing your selection.  You will need to think through how many users will be accessing the system, where they will be accessing the system from, and how you will work with any external partners or patients that will be using your implemented system.

User Population

  • How many will users need to install the software?
    • Your organization may decide to allow only select departments to access this software, or may choose to open it up to any interested participants.
    • This will impact how many licenses are required for your organization.

On-Campus

  • Begin with a limited few or select departments?
    • Staging the deployment with smaller groups can help work out any problems before impacting a broader user base.
  • Are there champions willing to beta test?
    • Dedicated groups that understand the nature or a test deployment can help provide feedback about the experience.
    • Champions can encourage the use of the software within their department.
  • Intra-campus use only?
    • Limiting access to the software to your network may reduce some of the cost and complexity.
    • Users may eventually request access to the software from home or remote offices.

From Satellite Office

  • Will they have direct access to your network?
    • Standards-based systems may require you to plan for supporting either a Virtual Private Network (VPN) or a proxy device to allow for external users to access resources that are internal to your network.
       

From Home

  • Are there justifications for telecommuting?  Is this fulfilling a need?
    • Standards-based systems will require you to plan for implementing either a VPN or proxy device.
    • You will need to decide if you will be providing hardware for them to use, or if they be using personal computing and video equipment.  This applies to employees as well as patients.
    • Minimum bandwidth and computer requirements will need to be met to ensure sufficient quality in videoconferencing sessions.
    • You will need to establish how support will be provided to users outside of your network.

Usage Requirements

  • How many users will be engaged in simultaneous, separate videoconferences?
    • Simultaneous videoconferences will require additional bandwidth.
    • Some applications have licensing limits for the number of simultaneous connections with your users.
    • This will impact the infrastructure and licensing needs of your organization.
  • How many simultaneous users do you have that will need to participate in the same conference?
    • Multicast videoconferences may require additional planning and configuration of virtual conference rooms.
    • This may require the purchase of additional bridging devices.
    • This may impact the infrastructure and licensing needs of your organization.

Connections

  • Will users be using desktop videoconferencing to communicate with other organizations?
    • Your organization will need to ensure sufficient bandwidth and connectivity to the other organizations.
    • Gateway devices may be needed to manage interoperability between different standards-based applications.
  • Will your organization be using desktop videoconferencing to communicate with existing hardware-based VTC systems?
    • Gateway devices may be needed to manage interoperability with hardware systems.
  • Will your organization be communicating with patients through this system?
    • Standards-based systems may require additional licenses for each patient using the system.
    • Consumer-grade systems will require users to install, configure, and manage the selected software clients.
    • Sufficient bandwidth will be required to the patients’ homes to ensure sufficient connectivity and video quality.
    • Your organization will need to assess and mitigate any risks associated with using these products, and may want to prepare educational content for your patients and providers regarding these plans.

Considerations for a Standards-Based Product

  • Will your organization be hosting the core infrastructure, or will your organization use a service provider?
    • Hosting the core infrastructure will require additional work to ensure that it is properly configured for your organization.
    • Using a service provider may reduce how much immediate control your organization has over the equipment in the case of a technical problem.
  • Will your organization be purchasing or leasing the devices from a vendor?
    • Video equipment changes rapidly; purchasing equipment may mean that you are supporting legacy equipment until your organization can afford another large capital expense.
    • Additional funds may need to be set aside for software upgrades and extended warranties to adequately maintain this equipment.
    • Leasing equipment may include fees for upgrading to new equipment before the lease has ended, or may require a time- and resource-intensive upgrade of equipment for your organization.
  • Will your organization need additional hardware infrastructure to meet all of their needs (bridges, gateways, proxy servers, etc.)?
    • The need to support multicast conferences, connect to existing devices or outside organizations, and home-based users may all require additional devices.

Considerations for a Consumer-Grade Product

  • Does your organization currently block any of the ports or IP addresses required to communicate with the manufacturer’s system?
    • Manufacturers may utilize a different IP addresses or communication protocols for logging in, videoconferencing, and sending files.
  • Will your organization provide physical media for users to install the software, or will it direct users to a download location?
    • Users may select the wrong version of an application if using the internet to find the correct software.
    • Malicious websites may provide downloads of viruses posing as popular software.
  • Will your organization be providing a “Business” or “Professional” edition of the software to your users, as opposed to the free version?
    • Free versions might not have options to be controlled by available administrative interfaces.
    • Business editions will require an additional cost for each person to use the software.

Network Requirements

  • Does your organization have sufficient bandwidth to support the demands of videoconferencing?
    • Videoconferencing can require immense amounts of bandwidth, especially with multiple simultaneous calls.  Bandwidth requirements vary by manufacturer, video resolution sent and received, and other factors.  Look at the manufacturer recommendations to decide if you need additional bandwidth in your organization.
    • Quality of Service tools may help control traffic, but will add more costs to implementing a VTC program.  QoS can be useful, as it can prioritize delivery of certain content, meaning that video content may be sent in real-time, while email and asynchronous communication may be sent as bandwidth is available.

Hardware Requirements

  • Do your users have sufficient computing power to run the desktop videoconferencing software?
    • Achieving some of the high-resolution capabilities of these applications requires more modern computers than some organizations may have for all of their users.
    • People accessing the software from home computers may not have the budget to purchase a computer that can handle the demands of videoconferencing.
  • Do your users need USB webcams?
    • Built-in webcams may be sufficient, but often have lower resolution, cheaper optics, and microphones that are close to both the speakers (causing feedback) and the spinning parts of a computer (hard drives and fans cause background noise). 
  • Do you users need USB headphones with microphones?These are an additional cost, but depending on location that conference are taking place, can provide additional privacy and reduce background noise in open office environments.
    • There may also be support issues related to any additional equipment that is used in conjunction with desktop videoconferencing.

Purchasing

The exact purchasing process will depend largely upon which class of product your organization purchases (standards-based, consumer-grade, or both), and which particular product within that class is selected.  Prices can range from free for consumer-grade applications with no support, up through tens of thousands of dollars for standards-based systems.  Based upon the decisions made in the planning process, various purchases will need to be made, quite possibly from different vendors.

Your organization’s selection of a vendor will be very important when purchasing a standards-based desktop videoconferencing application.  Some vendors can provide a full range of services, including hosting, hardware, installation, support, and upgrades; while others may focus on only one particular aspect. 

When purchasing the core infrastructure, it is often necessary to plan for an annual service charge of 20% of the cost of the devices.  You should clarify with your vendor what level of service is included with these charges, how equipment failure will be handled, and what options exist for upgrading hardware and firmware in the future.

Consumer-grade systems can typically be purchased directly from the manufacturer.  In cases where the “Business” or “Professional” version of the software will be used, your organization will need to purchase licenses for your users.  If the free edition will be utilized your organization will not need to buy the software, though you may need to consider purchasing media to store and install the approved versions of the software.

Additional funding may be needed for increased network capacity, Quality of Service mechanisms, and personnel to operate the videoconferencing system.  Also, consider the hardware needs of the individual users; while desktop VTC is largely a software-based solution, it still requires a couple of devices for each user.  USB webcams are recommended even for many of the laptops with built-in cameras, as they often have inferior optics and microphones.  Headphones may be needed for some environments to reduce the disruption of videoconferences in an office environment or to counteract problems with audio feedback. 

Be sure to consider additional staffing costs when establishing these systems, such as networking personnel, Telehealth coordinators or scheduling staff, support services before, during, and after videoconferences, and other IT staff that may be needed to setup or troubleshoot the deployment and use of desktop videoconferencing applications.

Deployment

While each manufacturer has a slightly different process for deploying a desktop videoconferencing solution throughout your organization, there are some steps that are generally required in the entire process.  At a high level, these include installing hardware components, configuring the devices for your network, and installing client software.  In order to have a successful deployment, your department needs to plan on how to deploy the necessary network infrastructure and configure the network design.  Then there needs to be a strategy set in-place for deploying equipment, software and training to the end users.

Servers and Other Hardware

Standards-Based systems require the installation of additional hardware components, such as  their own server for managing the clients.  The servers need to integrate in some way to existing VTC infrastructure (such as videoconferencing bridges) or to other optional elements (such as proxy routers for handling firewall and NAT traversal).  Installing these in accordance with the recommendations of the manufacturer is critical.

The videoconferencing server and other components will require additional configuration steps to connect them to other network infrastructure, such as Active Directory servers that contain user authentication and contact information.  Firewalls may need to have additional ports opened to videoconferencing traffic, and settings may need to be configured to guarantee Quality of Service for video applications.

Webcams and Audio Devices

Webcams and any headsets should also be provided to users as a part of the deployment.  You may need to ensure that the drivers are properly installed, and that the devices are correctly working with your users’ systems.

Software

Client installation also varies by manufacturer.  Some manufacturers provide a way to download the clients from the desktop videoconferencing server, while others require your organization to use existing application deployment policies and tools to be used.  Whether this involves walking computer-to-computer with a CD or using a network-based installation tool is dependent upon your organization.  Your installation process will require administrative rights to the users’ PCs.

Your organization will also need to make a decision as to how the client application will be deployed to non-network computers and users, such as those located in home offices or patient homes.  A download link or physical media may be the most appropriate option for your organization.  Applications installed beyond your network may also need to include a guide for how to configure the software to communicate with your system.

Once the system has been deployed, testing of the software is critical.  There is no worse time to find out that there is an error in a configuration file than when trying to perform a conference with a patient or for a critical meeting.

Support

There is support for the end-user and support for your organizations.  Users will look to your IT department for Tier 1 support, unless otherwise informed.  If you are establishing an enterprise-wide solution, whether Standars-Based or Consumer-Grade, you need to be prepared for Tier 1 support for your users. 

A troubleshooting guide should be created and provided to your external users that walks through the most basic of network and computer problems, addressing topics such as how to restart a wireless router, install a USB webcam, reset their password, and place a call.  If your organization has the personnel available, providing phone support may be necessary when working with your patient population.

Your department will also require support, generally Tier 2 support.  The support provided to your organization will vary greatly depending on the service level agreement with your particular vendor in the case of standards-based systems, and by the version used in consumer-grade applications.  Typically, if using a free version of a consumer-grade system, expect all support issues to be handled via community forum or email.

The issue of support grows more challenging when adding external users into your user base.  As you will not often have control over their network configuration and quality of their computer and internet service, problems that they experience will directly impact you without necessarily providing an easy resolution.

As your user base increases, your organization may need to plan for handling scheduling conflicts, either through the creation of dedicated physical and virtual meeting rooms or through the use of a formal scheduling application.

A backup procedure should be put in place if the desktop videoconferencing system is to be used to deliver patient care.  As network or computer issues may render a videoconference useless, have a plan to connect with the patient via the phone to either attempt to resolve the problem or propose a follow-up plan.

Upgrading the software and hardware will eventually become a necessity.  While you will often be able to configure the applications to perform automatic updates, you may occasionally need to install a new version.  In those instances, use a method similar to your initial deployment strategy to get the software out to your users.

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