The importance of video conferencing systems for companies

2020-06-17T11:20:34+02:00June 16th, 2020|

In this particular period, corporate IT systems faced an important challenge: enabling agile work as quickly as possible. In Italy so much has been said about new ways of working, but such an abrupt acceleration had never been seen.

Even if primarily dictated by survival rather than by a philosophy, I am sure it will be the basis for a change in the way of thinking of companies, something hat has been postponed for too long. By saying this, I place a big responsibility in the IT departments, and in the people who provide IT services. In fact, they will have to be able to make perceive and touch with hand that current technology allows all companies to work from home or on the move without losing productivity.
Challenges are many, and vary from the increased demand for security (accessing company resources from the outside always creates a bit of anxiety in company managers), to the difficulty of using home connections, not always as performing as company ones.

Not all companies found themselves unprepared, in fact those who had already embarked on a desktop virtualization path did not have the same difficulties as the others. This type of company has had a clear path in mind on how to let their users securely accessing all resources. What this type of company surely had to face was the change in the tools used by the users.

Working from home, in fact, doesn’t mean working alone, and this explains the explosion in the use of video collaboration systems by many companies, as a sharing tool during employees’ working days.

On the one hand, the use of Citrix technology has made it possible to quickly provide the tools needed to work, on the other hand it has created the great need to support collaboration tools efficiently. Speaking in technological terms, supporting this type of network flow is a task that creates interesting, even if sometimes complex, scenarios. One of the things that often cannot be perceived is that choosinf the right tools is fundamental, and it radically changes the methods and possible choices.

Teams, Zoom, Skype4Business, Google Meet, Slack,… are just some examples of software that have had an incredible surge in requests, and not only in the business sector.

The two technologies, present for years now, that allow the management of webcam video streams through a Citrix session are the so-called HDX Realtime Webcam Video Compression and the USB generic redirection. The first one, recommended by Citrix, compresses the flow in the endpoint, transmitting the compressed video to the virtual machine, which decompresses the flow and creates a virtual device within the session. The problem with this mode is that it often suffers from incompatibility with applications, in particular it has several problems when there is a mismatch between the architecture of the client’s operating system with respect to the architecture on which the software is compiled. Furthermore, at least on non-Microsoft endpoints, the video quality is very poor and client-side image encoding plans to “pay” a royalty depending on the video codec used.

The second historical mode, the Generic USB redirection, greatly increases the compatibility with software and devices, transferring all USB packages related to the webcam directly to the virtual session in an agnostic manner. This mode does not need to install drivers on the endpoint side, but at the same time involves a high bandwidth usage, because the streaming is transmitted uncompressed.

To these two methods, present for many years, we add the specific optimizations for the different applications: the best known case is that of Skype For Business, an optimization that allows offloading and peer to peer of audio and video streams after having instantiated the call. Optimization requires installing a plugin, HDX RealTime Media Engine client side, and another component called HDX RealTime Connector inside the virtual desktop.

Likewise, an optimization for Microsoft Teams has been developed in recent months. This optimization allows, through the development of a new component called HDX New Embedded Media Engine, to use it without installing additional components to offload the video and audio streaming. To date, the feature is only possible through Windows endpoints (video and audio), while on Linux endpoints there is a beta version, but only for the audio part.

Specific plugins have also been developed for Cisco Jabber and Zoom, in this case we must pay close attention to the installed versions. Version of server and client must be the same one.

As for web-based collaboration tools, there is an interesting possibility, thanks to a Citrix feature called Browser Content Redirection. This allows certain web addresses, specified in ACL Citrix policies, to be reproduced on the endpoint. The local browser is superimposed on the remote session browser, transparently to the user. In this case, attention must be paid to the ACLs of the sites to be redirected, especially as regards the authentication session.

To investigate the matter in a more technical way, this is a good starting point.

HDX Webcam compression example

Esempio di compressione della webcam HDX (notare la videocamera Web Citrix HDX)

Skype for Business Optmization Check

Verifica dell’ottimizzazione di Skype for Business

Microsoft Teams

Teams Optmization Check and Results

Teams Optmization Check and Results