VaaS-ing with LifeSize Cloud

21 Oct 2014

Many hardware companies are shifting to software and services, so its no surprise that LifeSize has a new video conferencing service. The new LifeSize Cloud is the company's second video as a service (VaaS) offer. The first service was known as LifeSize Connections a few years back.

Unfortunately, Connections was a bit of shotgun marriage. The parent company Logitech had acquired two companies, SightSpeed in 2008 and LifeSize in 2009, and naturally put the two together. The service worked well, but had some severe limitations. Also, I am not sure the market was yet ready for VaaS. However, I do think VaaS makes a lot of sense now.

The new LifeSize Cloud leverages some learned lessons from Connections. The service is a comprehensive video service with software clients for both desktops and mobile devices, and offers tightly integrated room-based appliances. LifeSize Cloud is an entirely new, purpose-built service that became generally available last Spring.

I've been using it heavily for the past few weeks and I like it - a lot.

First, let's address the free vs. paid debate. Why buy a cow when you can get the milk for free? Simple, the free milk is sour. You may not know it's sour, but it is - and all it takes is a few calls on a quality HD service to realize exactly how sour most free services are. Yes, I know that many of them purport "HD," but don't be fooled. When I use LifeSize cloud with contacts, the consistent reaction is "that's impressive quality." Even my mother-in-law can't get over it, but she insists on calling Skype <cringe>.

You can use the service with software or the Icon series of hardware appliances - or both. The interface is similar.

Regarding the room systems, a few years back LifeSize introduced the Icon room appliances. These systems are similar to LifeSize's prior generation known as Passport, but with significant upgrades in the horsepower and simplicity departments. The appliance powers the P/T/Z HD camera and mic saucer, and requires a single wired network connection and local power. There's an optional tabletop touch-enabled mic saucer.

A key difference between Passport and the Icon series is in architecture. The Icon is cloud savvy. Things like the address book and even the software version is maintained and managed via the Cloud service.

The best part about the Icon is the simple remote, The complexity of most video room system remotes are the leading cause of audio-conferences. My last remote has more keys than a piano. The Icon series has only a few buttons, and uses on-screen menus. The remote experience is intuitive, and the on-screen nuance means the operator looks up rather than down while operating the remote.

LifeSize made a major effort to keep things simple. The room system took me about 10 minutes to install (5 of which were unboxing) without a need for a manual. The controller itself can be hidden. It connects to a standard television via HDMI. When the system boots, it automatically finds the cloud service. The serial number is used for authentication, so there is no room-system login necessary. Nor are there typically going to be any firewall modifications necessary. Screen sharing involves a video connection to the PC. I'd prefer a networked option, but I did find a work-around (below).

There are a few different ways to conference - including dialing. The easiest route is to invite people with a personal link that adds them to your directory. The invitation is generated from within the software using a mailto link. The directory is accessible from the soft client and appliance. The link can be used with the Cloud client or without a download in Chrome. There are no additional charges for guest participants.

One feature I really like is that there is no difference between a point-to-point and multi-point conference in terms of set up. You can add users to a point-to-point to create a multi-point. Or, participants can dial-into a point-to-point - though each participant's call still has to be "answered" to ensure privacy.

The licensed user has their own "room" and the URLs go to that room, but if there is a need to separate groups, then "meeting" URLs can be generated as well. For example, meeting links would prevent overlapping guest arrivals in the case of back-to-back conferences; meeting URLs are persistent.

A single user license can be used on up to five devices (one at a time) and can invite unlimited guests. That's how I get around the video cable on the room appliance. If I need to share my desktop when using the room system, I just log out of my desktop client and re-enter a guest.

I think LifeSize cloud is useful for any size company including just one person, but LifeSize disagrees. The service is targeted to businesses, and the entry-level licensing packages start with a 10-user annual subscription. Prices start around $37/user/month. That's a bargain compared to a Ebola. Ok, maybe that's not fair, but I do think avoiding travel is a positive step toward a healthy lifestyle.

Overall, very impressed with LifeSize Cloud. I am a strong proponent of increased video communications. See my post Embrace Video. It's time to stop making excuses and start getting things done. Video is not only productive and effective, but we should all be taking steps to reduce travel to keep ourselves and our planet healthy.

Dave Michels, TalkingPointz.


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