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Web Meetings

ConferenceThe concept of a virtual conference is not a new one; its roots are firmly embedded with a history of audio and later video conferencing.  What sets it aside is the ability to interact with the other participants and to accurately and converse and discuss.  The basic tenet of screen sharing ensures that all participants are indeed looking at exactly the same file and discussing the exact same piece of information – no more checking of which page are we talking about or describing in detail the area of graphic or drawing being discussed and therefore running the time consuming risk of talking at cross-purposes.

The web meeting can be had in either an ad-hoc or more structured manner and from the pleasure of one’s desktop or laptop, no complicated nor expensive equipment is needed merely some software and a network connection.  This is leaps and bounds on from the days of sharing screens on video conferencing – there is virtually no jerkiness or stuttering of the video.

From a work process perspective the beauty comes in being able to screen share with a geographically diverse located team and quickly hammer out an issue.  Control of the mouse and application can be given to other parties to further facilitate the discussion.  There is no need for all to have theapplication software – it is being “shared” for the duration of the conference.  From a green perspective, there is no travel involved – the carbon footprint is very, very low.  From a personal perspective there is no time spent travelling – time that could be better spent in the office or at home.  Of course the cost is much, much less as well, typically a license could cost between £6 and £30 per month (though depending on the vendor there may be a minimum number to purchase).

Many of them are easily adapted to providing seminars or eLearning – training diverse teams on small subjects.  It could be updates to the intranet or new CAD standards – I would suggest no more than a lunchtimes worth of training otherwise it becomes onerous..  The software will let delegates post questions and the training session can be recorded for offline playback at alter date.  Some will let the trainer know who is focused – that is to say who is actually watching the session and who is reading their email whilst logged in to the session.

Well known vendors include Microsoft with their Live Meeting, Citrix with their GoToMeeting, Cisco with WebEx, Adobe with ConnectPro.  Lesser known, though equally good and useful include Zoho and Beam Your Screen (who are unique in being a UK based company).  Many offer different prices depending on the number of users and whether it is one-to-many or many-to-many.  In terms of choosing a vendor – I would suggest trialing a number – maybe one of the well known vendors and one of the less so for comparison.  All systems offer a try before you buy option or have free versions which typically offer 2 or 3 attendees.  Look out for latency – how long the other end has to wait before the screen changes, other features such as recording the session and if audio conferencing can be included in the cost.

So in conclusion, you should be doing this already; if you are not then you are missing a trick.  You will be saving money, saving time, saving the planet and devoting more effort to creative thinking and providing excellent service to your clients.

Having said all this however, it cannot replace face-to-face interaction.  The key to success in using web meetings is to know the limitations.  Whilst web meetings may be quick and efficient, do not expect to generate group decisions, inspire and engender teamwork or build relationships with clients.

What is virtualisation?

SharingVirtualisation is one of those IT hot topics which encompasses a wide variety of meanings. But here we will talk about server virtualisation.

Server virtualisation involves making two or more “logical” servers on one physical server. That is, we have one “box” with one processor (though more are possible and will make things run better), one set of memory and one set of hard disks — but onto that, we build multiple instances of servers for various uses. Each of these servers is totally independent of the other and exists only in software — they are of course linked by the shared hardware. Each has its own name and network address, and can be rebooted without affecting the others on the same box.

Typically, these servers could be used for any function, but the specifications of the server must grow in accordance with their use. For example, a box with virtual servers which perform the functions of active directory, DNS, a small web server and printing will need fewer processors, memory and disks than one with a couple of databases running the corporate intranet and document management functions.

So what’s it for? If space and budgets are tight, it is useful to make the best use of hardware. Practices tend to deploy single applications to single servers. In the first example above, I would require four actual servers, but in the virtual world, only one. The magic lies in the fact that most servers run at around 5-10% capacity most of the time.

Virtualisation makes best use of this by consolidating many servers into one — some typical ratios are 10:1 and 15:1. This could save you a lot of time and money.

Virtualisation is also very quick if you need to roll out new servers with new applications or websites. Traditionally, you might have bought a new server, waited for delivery, constructed it and racked it into the cabinet, put Windows on and patched it. With virtualisation, you can simply build a new virtual server on an existing physical server and be up and running in hours rather than days or weeks.

Downsides? It is important not to overload the physical server with too many virtual servers and swamp its resources. The physical server you use also needs some redundant components — hard disks, power supplies, fans.

If you need to power down the box to make a change to one of these items, you will now be affecting many servers and functions rather than just one.

Cost, resource efficiency and speed of provisioning are the key drivers, although the price you might pay is having all your eggs in the same basket.