Last March I wrote a previous blog post about Polycom's announcement at Enterprise Connect to deliver a cloud-based video interop solution for Office365 (code named Project Aqua), which provides Polycom’s RealConnect service to seamlessly bridge Skype for business Online users and industry-standard Room Video Endpoints (VTC) together with full audio, video and content sharing capabilities. This service will be hosted on Microsoft’s Azure cloud and available as an add-on service to any Office 365 customer. At ignite last month, more technical details were given regarding this service . More information can also be obtained from the Ignite session recording and also in Jeff Schertz's latest blog article. In this article we will explore more greater detail the planned technical architecture regarding this upcoming service. (Caveat: As this is still under development, the information here may be subjet to change)
For those not already familiar, its worthwhile to explain what exactly is RealConnect and why is Polycom offering this as the Cloud Video Interop Service for Office365? Way back in June 2014, Polycom released the first Polycom RealConnect for Lync2013 solution, which offered a unique and innovative approach to addressing the challenges of bringing the Lync meeting experience and user workflow to standards-based video VTC endpoints. Since then, Polycom RealConnect has become the de facto model that other vendors have tried to follow such as Pexip Infinity or Acano's Dual Homed Conferencing. Just this month, Polycom has made major advancements in this solution which is now in its 5th generation release, adding support for Office365 Skype for Business Online, layout enhacements and content sharing improvements to name a few. Polycom's RealConnect solution is part of the Polycom® RealPresence Clariti™ collaboration infrastructure software that gives users a comprehensive videoconferencing and collaboration solution with flexible purchasing and deployment options. The diagram below illustrates the RealConnect solution for on-premise Skype for Business environments.
Lets get into greater technical detail regarding the upcoming service also known as Offie365 Cloud Video Interop Service which was available for SkypePreview sign-up last month. The concept is similar to RealConnect for Skype for Business on-premise environmnets as described above, but with the key differences neing that customers are purely on Office365 Skype for Business Online. These customer may have no existing Skype for Business or Lync 2013 Server infrastructure, but it is assumed that they already have an existing on-premise standards-based VTC infrastructure for call control and media firewall traversal. In fact, this is a pre-requisite as stated in the Ignite Session mentioned earlier and a simplified network diagram of such an existing infrastructure can be seen in the diagram below along with the typical example solutions seen in many customer environments:
With the above existing VTC infrastructure in place, we can now envision how Office365 Skype for Business environments can leverage Polycom's RealConnnect Service for Office365. We know that Polycom will be building out its infrastructure in Azure. When customers sign up for this service, they will receive aditional meeting join information in the Skype for Business Online meeting where standards-based VTCs can dial into and join the meeting just as they would with a RealConnect on-premise solution. Of course, the 'bar-bell' MCU cascade happens entirely in the cloud, between Polycom's MCU farms in Azure and the Skype for Business Servers in Office365 datacentres. The detailed call flow and signaling diagram is shown below:
As with any cloud service, it is expected that Polycom will design the solution to support both geograpical affinity and redundancy. For example, an Office365 tenant based in the US West Coast where most of their users are located will leverage Polycom's Cloud Infrastructure hosted in the West Coast Azure datacenters. This will minimize media traffic going over long distance to reduce latency and ensure the best possible meeting experience. However, if for any reason the VTCs in the customer's environment are unable to access the Azure DC nearest to their location, they will be redirected to the next nearest one and the VTCs will still be able to connect back to the same meeting that was scheduled. This is depicted in the diagrams below:
Normal Network Conditions
US West Site Link Down - Redirect to US Central Site
While Skype for BUsiness Server 2015 provided a simple on-premise video interop solution known as VIS and is still available today, it is not available for Skype for Business Online users. Hopefuly, this article provided deeper technical insight into how the upcoming Polycom's Cloud Video Interop Service works. Since it's announcement the response from customers around the world for this cloud solution from Polycom has been overwhelmingly positive. This service is currently undergoing beta testing in the US and is expected to be released in NA in Q1 of 2017 with plans for EMEA and APAC in the Q2 2017 timeframe. Again, all these are still in development and features and timelines can be subject to change of course.