VQ is a Cisco Solutions Plus Partner: 3 month update

In early April, I announced we’d reached the stratospheric highs of Cisco selling VQ Conference Manager. A really, really, big day.

So, three months later, where are we?

It’s been amazing; demand for video is going through the roof and the multiplier effect from Cisco has taken that to even higher levels. We just closed our biggest quarter ever and Q3 looks even stronger with Cisco sales starting to come through in more volume.

Internally within VQ, our usage of video calls has trebled and that doesn’t include all the time we spend on WebEx doing customer calls and demos. On that note, one of the questions we get asked is “why don’t you use your own CMS for demos?” – the answer is that we don’t view ourselves as being a service provider and are not geared up to deliver high quality calls globally – Cisco’s WebEX has data centers and network capacity lined up to ensure great calls all day, every day. We want to be able to show customers VQ and not to have to worry about network issues between our CMS and, for example, a customer located in New Zealand.

Customers are sharing stories of their call volume growth. My favorite is one of our large financial services customers; their working from home numbers went from 9-12% of the workforce to 94%; their call volumes increased substantially which leads us to the best bit of the story – their CMS based system (a big, multinode cluster) enabled them to keep working across the organization; everybody kept working and they were able to respond to customers. They ended up growing market share because their competitors experienced patchy services from their cloud based video/UC providers with regional outages/poor service which meant they couldn’t keep all their employees working and because of that, couldn’t respond to their customers. Ka-ching.

Another surprise has been the number of ‘non conferencing’ systems we’re seeing where the pandemic has made people it impossible for people to meet in non-business environments. We’ve got a growing number of systems being used by prison services to enable family outside to meet family members inside. Having been around video for what feels like a million years, the idea is not new. What’s new is the scale and call volumes.

As a team, we’ve felt like our contribution to the collective challenge of getting through the pandemic has been to enable a large number of people to continue their life in a semi-normal manner using video conferencing.

Increased usage is driving interest in Kibana and questions on using it and creating customized reports. It’s been really enjoyable helping a growing number of customers use Kibana, discover they can use it and then how much they like it.

One of our long term, strategic, goals has been to make VQCM a platform for video/UC solutions. APIs are coming and we’re in discussions that we hope will lead to our first Strategic Solutions Partner.

Next stop, VQCM 3.5 in a couple of weeks. Thanks for reading.

Stay safe

Mike 

VQ is now a Cisco Solutions Plus Partner

This is a big day for VQ and I’m really pleased and excited to announce that VQ Conference Manager can now be purchased through Cisco. Thank you to everybody at Cisco who made it possible and championed VQ. Thank you to our partners and customers for their risk taking and votes of confidence over the years leading up to this result.

This isn’t all about VQ; the real message is CMS plus VQ and enabling enterprise wide audio and video conferencing. For example, over the last couple of days I’ve seen data from 4 large CMS/VQ systems with in-call participant counts of 8000+, 7000+, 3000+ and 1000+ for large periods of the day; that’s over 20,000 people in call on just 4 of the 150+ VQ systems in the field. The numbers clearly show how CMS based systems deliver services on a completely different scale from previous bridge generations. The CMS platform is underpinning organizations, delivering the promise of the digital workplace and enabling a degree of business as usual in these difficult times.

Secure, VQ Conference Manager is mostly installed as an on-premises solution although we also have a number of service provider customers and are starting to see secure cloud offerings being evaluated. Customers are located globally and include a wide range of categories including enterprise, health, government and defence.

Our roadmap looks great and should start to see the next round of changes from mid-May targeted at enabling customers transitioning to CMS as their Codians go end-of-life.

We look forward to working with you.

Take care,

Mike

Coronavirus (COVID-19) – Business Update from VQ

VQ has always operated in a distributed manner; we have team members located around the UK and a central office. We’re about 90 minutes west of London with our closest big cities being Bath and Bristol. It’s a great place to live; low density and plenty of green.

Following advice from the UK Government, we have now moved to a full home working mode.

I want to keep this blog simple; we’re here to help. We’ll be making more announcements and issuing advisories on how to optimise VQ for increased workloads.

What we’re announcing today is that we’ll make free licenses available to existing customers who need to increase their VQ Conference Manager capacity or install more instances of VQ Conference Manager. When the crisis is over, we’ll revert back to the original licensed VQ capacity.

If there other ways we can help, please let me know.

Stay safe

Reflecting on 2019 at VQ Communications

2019 has been quite a year for VQ. Our relationship with Cisco has continued to develop and we’re really looking forward to working more closely with Cisco in 2020.

I’m incredibly excited about where we are with the product; 3.2 is stable and working well hosting customer workloads. The success of the product is winning new customers and opening a range of new opportunities.

Here in the labs at VQ Towers, we’re starting to see signs of life for some seriously cool functionality heading towards the door marked ‘customer’. High Availability (‘HA’) has been a goal for a long time; we’ve had ‘warm standby’ and then during the 2.x and 3.x years, ‘no standby’. Well, the great news is that HA is coming your way; the multi-year investment in advanced stuff like Kubernetes has meant that in the relatively short time since Summer, we’ve managed to configure and test a first-generation HA architecture. A three node HA cluster with integrated load balancer has just completed a 9.6 million call test that ran for just under 12 days running 24/7. The test features 2000 participants repeatedly joining and leaving calls. It simulates about 10 times the call volume per day of our biggest systems in the field. We were rather disappointed because it should have run to 10 million calls but failed because a network blip caused a fail-over event that the test tool didn’t contain and stopped. VQCM handled the issue perfectly. We still have work to do to wrap-up packaging so it’s easy to install and update but then we’ll make it available as an ‘Experimental’ 4.0 version for customers to get their hands on and start to prepare for. Dates to be confirmed but expect to see more on HA in Q1.

The other feature we’ve been talking about for a long time is Recurring Calls; they missed the cut back in 2015 for the ‘self-service’ focus of 2.x and have been absent ever since. They’re now wired up at the 3.5 platform level and next-up is adding a UI. All on a modern, state of the art architecture that’ll scale.

Activity 2 is making progress; in its first form it’ll include Participant Move and Pane Placement. Activity 2 and Scaling are yielding some very interesting possibilities which are being validated and have the potential to be fairly impactful. Dynamic Space Templates are coming; change the Space Template and all Spaces based on the Template change immediately…

Our investment in an advanced architecture is starting to enable some of the functionality we hoped it would and have spoken about; it’s now becoming real and looks great!

Finally, a big thanks for all of your support in 2019. Have a very happy Christmas and we look forward to seeing you in 2020.

Regards,

Mike Horsley

VQ Conference Manager 3.2

I’m really pleased to announce that VQ Conference Manager 3.2 is now available for download.

3.2’s an exciting release because of what’s in it and, moving forward, what it enables.

What’s in it? Lots of refinements:

  • The data written into Elastic and been restructured to make it easier to produce visualizations. Goodness like CMS Alarms are now available. We’ve updated all the Visualizations and Dashboards.
  • The Outlook Add-in now caches the login name so users don’t have to repeatedly type it in (passwords are still required in non SSO mode)
  • We’ve added support for Cisco Duo to the list of supported SAML2 providers.
  • The Blast-Dial app now includes an optional “press-1 to join” message when each of the Blast-Dial recipients receives a call.
  • CM-Admin refinements; changed certificates and Outlook Add-whitelists in SAML2 mode (to name but 2).
  • Bug fixes to the Call CoApp. Placing outbound calls from an inactive Space now works consistently.
  • The LDAP Configuration page has been cleaned up and restructured into a page with 3 tabs; much easier to use
  • The Bulk-Emailer contains a second template that includes functionality to auto-configure the iOS app. Very cool.
  • Bug fixes

What it enables:

  • One of the big ‘under the hood’ changes is upgrading Kubernetes to the latest version (1.15). 1.15 includes the Beta High Availability (“HA”) support. Please note that this is not VQCM High Availability at 3.2; it’s the enabler that will (should) enabled HA in the next release of VQCM (3.3; due Q4/2019).
  • With the Elastic data  restructuring just about complete, we also plan to enable syslog ingest in 3.3 (due Q4/2019) which we’re also really excited about. The goal here is that we’ll be able to save syslog data in Elastic and, by doing so, be in a position to include CMS/VCS logging as part of the data contained in visualizations/dashboards.

More information is available in the release notes which are available for download from vqcomms.com. Please ensure you select version 3.2.

Regards

Mike

Visiting customer site in Geneva

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to visit a brand-new customer we’d recently won in Geneva. The request from them was some on-site assistance and consultancy with installation and configuration of VQ Conference Manager. These kinds of professional services are not something we do a lot of; we simply can’t scale to provide them to all our customers and we already have a growing network of highly skilled and trained partners quite capable of performing these functions.

However, our transacting partner in this case wasn’t quite fully up to speed and I hadn’t been to Geneva for a while, so I decided to volunteer for the trip: Switzerland is a lovely place to visit this time of year.

We’re seeing a large number of customers who are migrating video conferencing services from legacy Cisco MCU (formerly Tandberg/Codian) infrastructure to their new Cisco Meeting Server estate. A request I often get in pre-sales product demonstrations for VQCM is, “Can you make my CMS work like my Codian used to?” And this customer in Geneva also fell into this category.

The old MCUs are hosting a set of permanent conferences, one for each of their meeting rooms. The idea being, once you have reserved a particular room, by definition you have also reserved that conference. Creating permanent conferences (or ‘Spaces’ in CMS parlance) is of course bread-and-butter for VQCM and CMS, so this part of it was completed in very short order.

But in this case, not only could we replicate the existing service, we could actually enhance it. VQCM’s ability to easily create multi-role Spaces via its Space templates meant we could create a different dial-in and in-conference experience for the hosts and guests. The hosts can dial a short dial code and enter the Space without being challenged for a PIN. The use of a couple of dial rules means that guests have to dial the full code and are required to enter the PIN before entry. We were thereby able to meet a requirement for quick easy access to the Spaces for internal users but added security for external participants.

It’s always interesting to see VQCM working its magic in live, customer environments. Especially when I see with my own eyes the benefits it brings now and the enhancements it makes possible in the future.

Giles & Barry’s Great American Adventure

I start this blog with an apology. It’s been over week since I returned with my colleague Barry Pascolutti from a whirlwind trip to the USA. Since Cisco announced at the SEVT earlier this month that customers deploy CMS with VQ Conference Manager we have been inundated with Cisco, Partners and now customers wanting to know more about how to enable the service model they need for their users.

But I digress. We had been invited by our partner WWT to an exclusive event in Tampa to present and meet with 180 Federal customers. Barry and I joined the team from WWT and ran back to back demos and had many discussions with both customers, Cisco and potential clients. In addition to features such as Single sign-on and Blast dial/Reactive calls, it was interesting to hear the need for simple user tools like the Outlook Add-in/Plug-in, and of course the comprehensive Analytics for the Ops teams. It’s clear that Federal users typically experience constant turnover of staff due to deployment demands, so simple, out of the box tools are essential.

Then a short hop up to Washington DC and a major presentation at the Cisco Herndon office. Not a lot we can share, but the customers have some major CMS projects, and after a stellar demo by Barry and some intensive technical questioning, we believe we may have un-blocked a couple of major projects. Whilst in the building we then ran to another meeting room to join an internal Cisco webinar session called “Know your Stuff”; the audience being internal Cisco and wide ranging in their responsibilities.

So what did we learn? I start many of presentations in the USA stating we are two countries separated by a common language. That wasn’t the case when we got into how VQ Conference Manager and CMS enable the services users want.

Frankly CMS and VQ Conference Manager rocks.

2018: A remarkable year for VQ

As we start a new year, I thought it was time to reflect on what a remarkable year 2018 was here at VQ.

Product wise, AM 2.x has matured into a rock-solid platform, doing valiant service at a wide range of locations and hosting some monster workloads. We released VQCM 3 mid-year and it’s now hosting production services; we’re really pleased with how well the product has been received, the breadth of new customers looking to adopt it and how well the product is working in the field. Coming up next is VQCM 3.1 which introduces Single Sign-On (Windows and SAML 2.0) as well as a whole raft of refinements and really useful new functionality (in particular, new Generators for Call Ids and URIs. This includes “Random” URIs and Call-Ids).

We work really hard on trying to make the product as robust as possible; we’ve had some great feedback from customers who “lost” VQ in the Acano/Cisco acquisition and “found” us during the year – they are still running the first generation AM 1.x product and want to move to the latest product generation. What they loved is the fact it just keeps running. The other “legacy” twist is that we’ve spent a lot of time during the year designing how the Activity page will evolve moving forward; the work is being driven by customer demand and the problem that legacy Codians (Cisco 4500, MSE, 5300 etc.) are heading towards retirement by 2020. Customers are looking to move their “white glove” Codian workload onto CMS and want (for those that used it) as much of the legacy VQ “Calls in Progress” functionality that is possible to migrate onto the CMS platform. For readers who face a similar problem and didn’t use earlier VQ versions,  think of Codian Director without the limitations (specifically, how many operators could use it at the same time) and running in  browser. It feels like coming around full circle.

I get real pleasure from meeting the people who either use, or are considering using, our software and working with them to understand the challenges faced and how we might help solve them. We get a definite sense of being on the leading (and sometimes, bleeding) edge of what is possible when delivering video/UC solutions and services. It is a great privilege to be able to work with such a range of open-minded, forward looking people from around the world.

You might have seen in our marketing material that we have one system doing over a million calls a month (approximately 1.1 most months) or 50,000 calls per day. During 2018 we learned that another system is doing over 1.3 million calls/month or approx. 70k calls/day (we knew it was a big system – 20 CMS nodes – we just didn’t have the call volume).  The two systems together are delivering approximately 1 billion call minutes per year. One of the goals behind VQ was to get people out of planes and help the planet; it is therefore very rewarding to see the installed base and call volumes grow and feel like we’re helping make the world a better place.

From a product development point of view, all the effort that went into the 3.x platform feels like its starting to yield results; we’ve got some funky stuff in development that wouldn’t have been possible on the earlier platform – we look forward to introducing you to some great new features and functionality as 2019 unfolds.

We’re very excited looking into 2019, we’ve got some great things planned and look forward to working with you during the year.

Have a great 2019!

Mike Horsley

CEO

Technical Training Update

Do you want to get more from your VQ Conference Manager/CMS deployment?

Users of VQ Conference Manager are invited to enrol on two new remote VQ Conference Manager (formerly Acano Manager) courses run by Scott Waschler from TEKnowLogical Solutions, (an Acano and Cisco certified instructor) our technical training partner.

By attending these courses you will gain in depth and hands-on experience…

– To enhance the capabilities of your CMS deployment

– Give your operators and administrators more knowledge thus driving adoption

– Get the most from your investment

The first beta sessions have been scheduled for 12-16 February 2018 between 9AM and 5PM (CET).

Beta training sessions give you the opportunity to help shape the course for future sessions so it can meet your organisations specific needs and requirements.

The pricing reflects that they are beta courses and are offered at a 50% discount from the standard rates. You can sign up via the links below or contact Scott at TEKnowLogical directly.

2 day – VQ Conference Manager Concierge and Call Management

3 day – VQ Conference Manger: Deployment and System Administration (VQCM-DSA)

Looking back at 2017…

I haven’t put out a blog post for some time; with the year-end looming, I thought it would be a good idea to put out a quick update.

Very loosely, 2017 turned out to be “Year of the PIN”. This might surprise you as much as it surprised me. As 2017 started to unfold, it became apparent that something we’d considered in the abstract during the design and development of the Acano Manager 2 platform had become a reality. With a twist. Our focus in legacy versions of VQ had been around call management: how could we allow operators and the service delivery teams schedule, launch and manage calls? In volume and make it fast.

We knew from previous product generations that predictability of call experience was key; calls had to work well and work consistently. If that happened, users came to like the in-call experience (great audio and video) and trusted they could use it for business calls. Calls worked. Every time. Usage normally grew relentlessly.

We therefore went to a lot of effort to design predictability of the in-call experience into Acano Manager 2.

The twist was the customers wanted to use not only different types of calls and exploit the ability to have multiple roles per call, they also needed some roles to have PINs and others to not have PINs. That would have been OK but there was a subtle change in how CMS 2.1 handled PINs. The year started with PINs (or, to be more correct, PassCodes).

With flexible PINs in place, we started to see wide adoption of Acano Manager’s coSpace Templates and the ability to define Service Tiers; different groups of users being able to make different types of calls.

Customers started switching audio conferencing workloads from external providers to on-premises CMS/AM. That does interesting things to the ROI models!

By mid-year, new large enterprise systems were being commissioned and going into production. coSpace Templates (and those pesky PINs) played a bit part in enabling them. We’ve learned the hard way about many of the obscure ways things can go wrong creating coSpaces and all the associated objects. In addition to a steady string of refinements into Acano Manager itself, we’ve also created some very useful tools to identify and fix coSpaces issues which will eventually find themselves in the product allowing the system to self-heal.

The “Year of the PIN” label should probably be more accurately defined as “Provisioning year” but it just doesn’t sound as good. It doesn’t stop there, other really good areas of progress include reliability/robustness, performance and new functionality. And plenty of bug fixes. We’re really pleased how the 2.x platform has matured since it was launched in April 2016.

The remarkable thing about the year is where we are at the end of it. We now have over 100 instances of Acano Manager 2.x installed globally. In November, one of the biggest systems managed by AM 2.3 went through the significant milestone of over 1 million calls (call legs) in one month; the system’s November call volume was over 33 million minutes. If we annualize the call volumes for systems we have visibility on, Acano Manager managed CMS systems are delivering approximately 1 billion call minutes/year. This is just amazing and we’re incredibly proud to be part of the global team (customers, resellers, Cisco and VQ) enabling this volume of calls.

If you have call volume data you could share with me, please let me know and we’d really appreciate it. We will not reveal customer names; the data will be aggregated and will remain anonymous.

Behind the scenes, we’ve invested heavily in how the product evolves and we’re really excited about how that is looking; expect more on that next year.

Oh, and one last thing…..

We’re hiring. If you or somebody you know is looking for a new challenge….we’ll be adding open positions onto the web site. The team say they really like working at VQ; some have even said it’s the best job they ever had.

Enjoy the rest of 2017 and have a great 2018.

Mike