Startup opens videoconference bridging service

FRAMINGHAM, Mass. — Startup Blue Jeans Network has launched its cloud-based videoconferencing bridge service, letting customers blend conferences over legacy systems as well as with video services such as Skype.

The company says its “Any(ware)” videoconference service enables standard videoconferencing systems that are made by different vendors to participate in meetings along with parties connecting from devices as varied as PCs, laptops, tablets and smartphones.

Stu Aaron, the company’s chief commercial officer, said the service is aimed at companies with a small number of video conferencing systems or rooms who want to extend the reach to customers or partners that can’t connect because they have incompatible equipment.

For example Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar, based in Newport Beach, Calif., has Tandberg (now owned by Cisco Systems Inc.) videoconferencing gear at each of its 64 restaurants that it uses for internal meetings as well as business meetings among guests in restaurant dining rooms. Customers wanted to include participants over Skype, but the restaurant had no way to accommodate it.

Fleming’s IT manager Craig Sheppard says he heard about Blue Jeans and joined its beta program, and has successfully held conferences that bridge the Tandberg gear with Skype participants from as far away as Italy. He says the restaurant chain hopes to add conference wine tastings that include a wine maker calling in from a vineyard via Skype over an Apple iPhone.

Right now the service supports H.323 videoconferencing systems and has plans to support SIP-based systems within a few months. It also supports Skype and Google Talk, and has plans to support Microsoft Corp.’s desktop videoconferencing products.

The service includes a server in the cloud that translates protocols and bridges connections over the Internet, establishing the highest resolution images each connected device supports. Parties can be displayed in three ways: active speaker occupying the whole screen; active speaker displayed larger and others smaller; all parties up to nine displayed all the time at the same size. The service also supports screen sharing of documents.

Blue Jeans has point of presence in San Jose, Calif., Washington, D.C., and Amsterdam, and plans to build more including one to service Asia. Aaron said a POP in Canada is possible, given that in the last 75 days users from 50 Canadian cities have tried the service. He cautioned that the location of POPs will depend on demand. His company is also talking to Canadian firms about reselling Blue Jeans service.

Pricing is between 10 cents and 15 cents U.S. per minute per endpoint in a conference, and customers can buy a package of minutes per month, similar to cellphone plans, the company says. The service requires no additional infrastructure for customers beyond the endpoints, and meetings can be encrypted to secure them.

Customers can register for a 30-day free trial.

Blue Jeans Network was co-founded by Krish Ramakrishnan and Alagu Periyannan. Ramakrishnan is a former entrepreneur in residence at Accel Partners and general manager of the server virtualization business at Cisco. Periyannan was CTO at WAN optimization vendor Blue Coat Systems.

The company has raised US$23 million from Accel Partners, New Enterprise Associates and Norwest Venture Partners.

(From Network World U.S. With files by Howard Solomon, Network World Canada)

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