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When Size Matters in the UC World

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When Size Matters in the UC World
    

By: -
21 Mar 2016
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It’s not every day you get to peer under the hood of a customer’s UC and video conferencing deployment that stretches to over one million users.  But such a deployment has indeed been rolled out by the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Russian Federation (employee headcount approximately 1,003,172 responsible for law enforcement, road infrastructure and safety, security and surveillance, driver licensing, etc.).  The system, (dubbed SVKS-m by the clever Russian marketing gurus), built around an exclusive software solution from video conferencing software developer and VCaaS service provider TrueConf, supports video conferencing, messaging, and presence services for more than one million employees.  It supports the Russian Minister of Internal Affairs and extends out to department chairs, regional managers, and ordinary information workers scattered throughout Russia.

Here are the four key elements to the story:

  • The service has been rolled out to over one million named accounts (though not all yet have audio / video peripherals).
  • The project took two years from start to finish
  • The solution is based on a network of 85 Windows servers, TrueConf UC and video conferencing software, and integration with the ministry’s multiple directories and authentication systems.  (See diagram.)  Each Russian region has its own server that supports session initiation and multipoint calls; in the TrueConf architecture, media in point-to-point calls go direct, a consideration in the network design.
  • Cost for the public tender was 100M rubles ($3M when the tender was started, approximately $1.5M today), which included the 1U servers, logistics, and software licenses, but did not include personal computers, mobile devices, or USB cameras and microphone hardware.

How the project started:  When the project began at the end of 2013, the systems in place consisted of over 80 Cisco / Polycom group systems spread out over the regions, all connected to 10 MCUs.  Usage was limited to high-ranking employees.  As is often the case in large distributed organizations, some regions moved on their own to deploy other solutions, including hardware-based and software codecs for personal and room systems.  There was no centralization, no common network, and no guaranteed interoperability or connectivity within the Ministry of Internal Affairs.  It was a “zoo.” 

This situation had many disadvantages: high costs, poor scalability, expensive maintenance, and complicated administration issues. To eliminate these disadvantages, the Ministry decided to create a single unified video conferencing network to support all employees everywhere. This ambitious project had several specific requirements: the new communications network had to be secure and hosted within the Ministry’s own data network, be able to provide stable performance across variable bandwidths, and integrate seamlessly with the systems of other Russian government agencies.

In October 2013, TrueConf (based in Moscow) won a public tender to provide a unified informational and analytical support system capable of supporting all units of the Ministry.  Server deployment began in Q2-2014.  Within nine months all the servers were in place, the Ministry’s Active Directory service was connected, and an official evaluation period began in five regions.  At the end of the year the system was formally accepted by the government and the full-scale rollout began.

Today the SVKS-m system is integrated with the Ministry’s online portal, telephony, other existing video conferencing systems, a user access database and the Ministry’s internal information systems (each user creates his own contact list by selecting from the global directory of all employees), thereby maintaining an updated address book for all employees. 

Challenges Overcome:  As can be the case in any UC and video conferencing rollout, network bandwidth is a consideration.  This case was no exception.  In several regions the Ministry has had to upgrade its basic infrastructure, especially to support multiple calls into a single server.  In addition, some of the rollout has been delayed due to limited availability of PCs and USB peripherals. 

Usage is driving success: Soon after the launch of the video conferencing network at the end of 2014, the Ministry’s employees were making up to 13,000 calls per week, using over 500K minutes in total. By early 2015, usage reached one million minutes per week and continues to grow.  In February alone there were 141,000 conferences with 4.8M minutes of usage.  All employees have SVKS-m accounts and can sign in, but only 100,000 physical video-supporting endpoints are available today, as the government continues to roll out equipment.  By the end of next year, the number of endpoints is expected to quadruple.

Payback is coming from two directions.  1) With simple and reliable video communications, workers are traveling to remote meetings less, freeing them up to provide better public service.  Travel expenses are also reduced.  2)  Hardware and software maintenance costs for the legacy room systems and MCUs are expected to drop as these are replaced by SVKS-m endpoints and industry-standard server hardware.

TrueConf is essentially unknown in the USA, but the company has been around since 2003 and is one of the largest video conferencing and UC vendors in Eastern Europe (the company claims 1,500 deployments).  The company is engineering-heavy and was obviously able to tweak its commercial software to meet the client’s strict encryption standards and to run across its special VPN. 

Video conferencing as a service (VCaaS) considerations usually fall into two or three lines of thinking:

  • SMB customers cannot justify investing in their own video infrastructure and internal support teams, so VCaaS services like Blue Jeans Network, Videxio, and dozens of others, including TrueConf, are appealing.
  • Large enterprises don’t’ want the burden of supporting thousands of users, and they have the volume to drive deep discounts, so VCaaS services are appealing here as well.
  • Some customers have special communications needs ranging from specific integrations to security and legal / regulatory constraints and need a collaboration service running on their own network.  The Ministry of Internal Affairs clearly falls into this category.

We’ve been talking about “pervasive video” and similar phrases for 7-10 years.  We have a long way to go before video is the new voice and in many minds, this transition will likely never happen.  But a case like the one discussed here, where the client is rolling out video to all one million employees, shows that a massive deployment can be done cost-effectively and that benefits can come early.  From our perspective, it will be interesting to see over the next 2-3 years how the system evolves, whether usage grows, and to what extent video comes to play a mainstream role in the Ministry’s collaboration environment.