VQ’s new Master Distributor in the USA

5th May 2017: Perfect Wave Technologies and VQ Communications sign Master Distributor agreement for the USA.

UK based VQ Communications are a leading supplier of management software for video conferencing and unified communications. Acano Manager 2 is deployed globally and hosts some of the largest Cisco Meeting Server deployments.

Located in Mount Laurel, New Jersey, USA, Perfect Wave Technologies, are a team of skilled experts in the video collaboration market who offer products and services that allow customers to utilize their existing collaborative investments and cohesively integrate new technologies. Perfect Wave’s team of experts knows how to design and implement easy-to-use video conference rooms, and how to provide training and support that help clients make the most of their investment.

“Perfect Wave Technologies is extremely excited at the opportunity to partner with VQ Communications and act as their Master U.S Distributor.” says Rick Green, President of Perfect Wave Technologies. “As a service organization dedicated to enhancing our partners customer service offerings, we believe the VQ solution fills a significant void in the market place by truly optimizing previously purchased Acano solutions as well as new CMS deployments through their management and monitoring software.”

“We are delighted to be working with Perfect Wave” states Mike Horsley, CEO, VQ Communications, “their extensive knowledge of the Cisco Meeting Server and their track record of enabling customers to successfully deploy this technology makes them a fantastic partner.”

 

 

Thinking big in UX

VQ Analytics

I started at VQ Communications in March and although I’d previously experienced working with a global technology company I was excited to join a company where there is a focus on ‘big’. For our conferencing management software, this means staying ahead of our clients who already have some of the largest deployments of video and audio conferencing, based on the CMS platform. This focus on scale has both tactical and strategic implications for UX.

UX needs to use design patterns for filtering, sorting and searching that are resilient to large volumes of meeting and calls data. Scale creates challenges that are usually only revealed when talking to users. For example, users often leave the default call name, making auto-complete search tricky when there are hundreds of calls all called ‘New Call’. Email search patterns provided a useful starting place for the challenges of volume searches.

One client now makes approximately one million minutes of video and audio conference calls a day. Volume on this size is exciting for UX as it means finding new ways to reveal the most important aspects of the data so that operators, can view both correct and meaningful data they require to monitor and support growing amounts of calls– quite a challenge. Acano Manager 2.0 had already introduced the idea of Dashboards and Analytics long before I joined. So now it’s interesting to start to think about some daily monitoring tools that support user goals moving from managing individual meetings to monitoring hundreds or even thousands of meetings.

What’s next? Well, I’ve barely scratched the surface in understanding the UX challenges and opportunities that ‘big’ brings. But I’m excited about pushing the boundaries of what’s possible with conference management. More from me again in the coming months as I continue on this exciting UX journey.

If you’re technically minded and interested in the path to big, read our CEO’s blog ‘The path to big’, where he talks about how we use Microsoft’s open source software platform to increase the resilience of the Acano Manager software.

What did Giles Adams take from his American roadtrip?

I was able to spend the last 10 days in the USA attending Enterprise Connect in Orlando, a day with our new USA Master Distributor in Philadelphia the team and their customers, and a series of client meetings in New York.

Enterprise Connect was the former Voicecon event, and has grown from the IP telephony focus and advertises itself as The Communications & Collaboration event. There were around 200 exhibitors and several thousand visitors – of which 50% seemed to be End Users

The recurring theme from the show was all about Teams and how to enable the users who represent the massive growth in the gig economy and the demand for flexible working. During the Microsoft keynote, we heard a statement that over 60% of the workforce will be remote workers by 2020. One of our customers deployed Acano during 2016 and has seen the service explode – regularly seeing over 1 million minutes a day. That success is about enabling teams to collaborate with the tools they need in a way that replicates, how they want to work. We are especially pleased to be a part of that success story.

It was also good to catch up with industry stalwarts:

   
 

We are steadily adding partners around the globe, and see this is key to our growth strategy. The road trip to Philadelphia and New York was all about growing and consolidating our partner base. One of the new partners we are working with previously supported Acano in North America. They add great experience and knowledge, are a great team, and are also fun to be around.

I’ve come back from this trip with a real buzz. For VQ, we’re in the right space, right time and with the right product. As ever, it’s foot on the floor time to keep building on this success.

March – A VQ Update

Hi, Mike from VQ again.

I thought you might be interested in some of the things that have been going on here at VQ Towers (a wildly amusing reference to the fact we’re not in any form of skyscraper or exotic business park. Our office home is infact a 2 storey building and we occupy the top floor). It’s actually a very pleasant office; spacious and light although at the rate we’re adding people, not spacious for very long. We recently commissioned VQ.Sofa@realtimeconnect.com which, as the name suggests, connects into a system enabling us to make calls from the office sofa.

Here’s a picture taken of (most) of the team a couple of weeks back…

We’re located about 90 minutes west of London in a fantastic part of the country; plenty of green fields, open spaces and small market towns. Nearby we have Bath and Bristol which provide plenty of big city things to do. Great bars and restaurants. One of my favorites is the Bordeaux Quay on the harborside in Bristol – http://www.bordeaux-quay.co.uk/brasserie.php. I found this site which sums up harborside nicely: http://www.heatheronhertravels.com/10-things-to-do-in-bristol-harbour/. London is an easy 90 minutes away so all the goodies it offers are near enough to be used but far enough away to keep us sane.

Back to business, the big thing that is simply staggering is the rate at which users are adopting CMS based services. One of our biggest customers is now doing 1 million call minutes a day and growing at something like 20% per month. The customer did 350,000 calls in February. We’re seeing 3300+ participants in calls concurrently on this system.

This is absolutely fantastic because it tells us that the users like the services that CMS delivers. The old days of having to convince users to use video calls are long gone; the platforms are delivering services that delight users and they consume enormous quantities of them.

The customer referenced above is running an 8 node cluster; another big one ramping is at 10 nodes currently with an upgrade to 15 scheduled. One of the big activities for Acano Manager (AM) 2.3 was extended load testing. We spent the backend of last year developing a test tool we call the ‘virtual Call Bridge’ or ‘vCB’. It allows us to test large call volumes on a single CMS server by wrapping the CMS server with some Nancy magic and then simulating the CDR traffic generated by real calls. The current test pattern cycles around 2000 participants joining CoSpaces and then as soon as everybody is in call, we shut all the calls down and then repeat. This cycle repeats about every 120 seconds.

The vCB testing of AM 2.3 yielded some interesting results.  We were able to induce a problem in one of the key queues within AM that writes commands to the call bridge; this, over time, would backlog up as AM tried to optimize commands and performance went out the window as we spent most of the time optimizing the queue. We were able to fix that in the gap between RC1 and the final release of AM 2.3. Another issue struck at about 800,000 calls; it turned out to be nothing to do with the number of calls and was, in fact, a function of the number of commands the test tool had issued to AM’s API. It crashed AM’s web server which handles the API requests.  With these resolved, the latest batch of tests saw us getting to 10,000,000 calls on a 15 node cluster. The test stopped because we’d reached the test limit. We reset that to 20,000,000, have restarted the tests and should see results in about a week.

In addition to the vCB tests, we have banks of servers running against real CMS and Acano Bridges; we have approximately 80 call bridges at the moment being used for development and testing.

The plan now is to do a relatively quick turn for AM 2.3 MR1 where we plan to fix the problem introduced with CMS 2.1 when the validation rules changed on blank PINs. MR1 will also include new functionality giving more control of Call IDs during the LDAP import process.

Moving past AM 2.3 and 2.3 MR1, we’re working on AM 2.4. The 2.4 work started about 5 months ago with the objective of enabling AM to work as a distributed cluster of nodes. We’re looking for another massive hike in performance and the ability to support large numbers of users signed into the portal. It will also be resilient. 2.4 is at test parity with 2.3 which is great news and a testament to the automated test infrastructure we’ve put into place to grind every build that’s produced. Expect to see more details on 2.4 over the next couple of weeks as we start to get data that we can share. It looks incredibly exciting.

Wrapped in with all of that, the work we did for AM 2.2 has become a case study for Microsoft. We’ll be writing more on the significance of the move to .Net Core very shortly.

Please feel free to drop me a line if you’d like to talk thru aspects of Acano Manager or what we’re doing. It’s always great to talk to customers or people interested in what we’re doing.

Regards

Mike

My First Month at VQ

Hi, I’m Barry Pascolutti and I’m the latest addition to the VQ team as their Lead Sales Engineer.

I write this at the start of my 6th week since joining VQ Communications Ltd and what a month or so it has been.

I was a Collaboration SE at Cisco at the time of their acquisition of Acano last year and I was tasked with becoming expert in Acano technology. It soon became apparent that to truly unleash the power of the Acano server at any scale, some sort of management platform is necessary that can utilise the Acano API. And researching that is when I first became aware of VQ as they absolutely tick that box.

I’ve joined the company at a really exciting time.

Alongside 2.1 MR4 which has just been made available to all customers , VQ are just about to release the highly anticipated version 2.3 of Acano Manager with support for Cisco Multiparty licensing. I remember when Multiparty was first introduced. The change from port-based to meeting-based licensing was regarded as something of a paradigm shift and was welcomed by many. It was logical to extend this licensing scheme to the Cisco Meeting Server but ensuring the correct license is consumed and keeping track of license usage is an important concern for the administrator. So I believe this will be a much-used feature of Acano Manager.

A key part of my Sales Engineering role has been hosting customer demos. The demos not only allow me to put a face to the name in the email address but to build up relationships with customers. Over the past 5 weeks I have enjoyed hosting a bunch of demos to customers all around the globe and have witnessed a good number of deals being signed off during my short time here.

I’m home based and typically spend more time working from there than in the office. The team as a whole is dispersed around the UK (and further afield) with a small group based in the main office; every Thursday those based more locally come in and the office is full and we enjoy a “brown bag lunch” from the local farm shop – really tasty.

What’s really clear though is how video (CMS based) and tools such as Slack, Github and a team that knows what it’s doing can work really efficiently together. It’s a business that simply couldn’t have existed without video calls and a big fat pipe. The whole world really is just a click away.

VQ itself is a dynamic, vibrant company whose people share a genuine passion and enthusiasm for what they’re doing. This shines through not only in the product but also the day to day office atmosphere.

I look forward to my next trip to Chippenham with relish and keeping you up to date with my VQ journey.

VQ Visit ISE 2017

ISE 2017 redux – it’s the cloud stupid!

OK so nothing surprising then (!) It’s all about delivering services via the cloud and the subscription revenue model.

Let’s recognise the show for what it is though, the UC section is a tiny portion of the RAI facility with the key areas taken up by the increasingly bright screens and projectors.

Call me jaded, but walking past yet another curved display – isn’t this just like 3D TV – a solution looking for a problem to solve? And all those displays started to believe you would need to wear sunglasses to use them.

Hall 11 of the show was packed with companies talking about, and providing evidence that the cloud is now the major delivery mechanism for customers to connect. A smattering of black boxes and end points – a 4k Endpoint for $200’s! But mainly lots of 42” monitors proudly showing impressive network topologies.

Cisco dominated the event with a huge stand, and pride of place was the Sparkboard. It was also great however to see Videxio, AVISPL and Starleaf alongside Pexip investing in the event.

It was also good to see the Lifesize Alumni Simon Dudley, Jon Tracey, Andreas Weinold and Mike McCarthy at the show with the new briefs.

ise 3ISE 2
 

 

 

 

 

 

So that leads me to why go to ISE?

Like InfoComm, and a lesser degree Enterprise Connect, with one flight you can have 20 meetings. It becomes a magnet for scheduled, and walk up meetings. In a day and a half I squeezed in three scheduled formal meetings, and numerous “catch ups” with partners, customers and industry influencers.

Next stop, for me, Enterprise Connect at the end of March. No doubt I will meet the Lifesize boys again!

Giles Adams

2016 – Another Remarkable Year

2016 was another remarkable year for us. How many times have your read this on blogs? Well, ours really was and this is why.

  • AM 2.0 shipped and became established in the market. It’s now running some truly enormous systems and we have a large and growing installed base.
  • We learned to communicate with the world; an updated web site, blogs, social media, email communications and a massive hike in the amount of product information that’s available. We feel like a completely different business compared to where we were at the start of the year.
  • Our Reseller and Partner program launched and is working well; we expect that to continue to expand this year.
  • We invested heavily in test infrastructure to ensure we can test ahead of our customer’s workloads. Massive use of Docker is enabling some really sophisticated testing systems and we’re really proud of how that has developed during the year.
  • New team members have been added; the amazing team is now even more amazing.
  • It was so good we had a Christmas Curry in our conference room. “Curry with Conference” could become our new strap line.

Finally, our customers did equally amazing things; workloads grew at a rate that has surprised us and our customers. This explosive growth is driving our product roadmap; the performance gains we are working on in our next releases are designed to keep abreast of this growth and give us a very scalable platform that can grow and accommodate massive workloads. Very exciting…!

We look forward to another amazing year in 2017 on this journey called VQ.

Mike Horsley

Using Selenium Grid with Docker Compose

Selenium Grid combined with Docker is a simple but powerful solution to getting Selenium based infrastructure up and running quickly and easily.

Rather than dealing with the hassle of manually configuring and installing Selenium Grid we decided to go with Docker, it’s quicker and easier to use.

Our Selenium grid is used heavily for Protractor testing and to run our Jasmine unit tests on a constant cycle making sure we don’t introduce issues into our product.

The docker selenium image repositories are located at:

https://github.com/SeleniumHQ/docker-selenium

It includes instructions on how to get the containers up and running, which is great as it’s 1 docker run comamnd per container and you are up and running.

However, let’s take this further and combine it with docker compose to make using it even easier to use.

This compose file is designed to:

  1. Pull down the required images from docker hub for you.
  2. Allow easy create, start, stop and destroying the grid.
  3. Do the hard work of joining the containers together in a docker network (docker link is deprecated).
  4. Easily scale the number of Chrome or FireFox nodes.
version: '2'

services:
    selenium_hub:
        image: selenium/hub:3.0.1-aluminum
        container_name: selenium_hub
        privileged: true
        ports:
            - 4444:4444
        environment:
            - GRID_TIMEOUT=120000
            - GRID_BROWSER_TIMEOUT=120000
        networks:
            - selenium_grid_internal

    nodechrome:
        image: selenium/node-chrome-debug:3.0.1-aluminum
        privileged: true
        depends_on:
            - selenium_hub
        ports:
            - 5900
        environment:
            - no_proxy=localhost
            - TZ=Europe/London
            - HUB_PORT_4444_TCP_ADDR=selenium_hub
            - HUB_PORT_4444_TCP_PORT=4444
        networks:
            - selenium_grid_internal

    nodefirefox:
        image: selenium/node-firefox-debug:3.0.1-aluminum
        privileged: true
        depends_on:
            - selenium_hub
        ports:
            - 5900
        environment:
            - no_proxy=localhost
            - TZ=Europe/London
            - HUB_PORT_4444_TCP_ADDR=selenium_hub
            - HUB_PORT_4444_TCP_PORT=4444
        networks:
            - selenium_grid_internal

networks:
    selenium_grid_internal:

To use this docker compose file you could issue commands like:

docker-compose up -d to bring up the 3 containers and run as a background process.

However, @Yantrio, our Linux magician, a while ago came up with the idea of using Makefiles to help simplify the commands.

https://www.yantr.io/post/docker-makefiles/

Take this Makefile:

NODECHROME=5
NODEFIREFOX=1

.PHONY: default up down start stop scale

default: up

up:
    docker-compose up -d
    docker-compose scale nodechrome=$(NODECHROME) nodefirefox=$(NODEFIREFOX)

down:
    docker-compose down

start:
    docker-compose start

stop:
    docker-compose stop

# Have to restart hub due to it trying to connect to destroyed nodes
scale:
    docker-compose scale nodechrome=$(NODECHROME) nodefirefox=$(NODEFIREFOX)
    docker restart selenium_hub

It abstracts away having to remember to say put -d on the up compose command to run as a background process.

You simply can do:

make up to create and start all the containers

make down to stop and remove all the containers

make stop to just stop the containers

make start to just start the containers

But, the key win is how to scale the selenium grid.

You simply call:

make scale NODECHROME=10 NODEFIREFOX=5

To bring up another 5 Chrome containers and another 4 FireFox containers.

As docker compose will see you already have 5 Chrome containers and scale up to the requested 10 containers by making another 5.

Scaling down your grid is as simple as lowering the number of containers you require.

As the comment suggests, we restart the hub container to get around network connection timeout issues when containers disappear.

Simples!

November – A VQ Update

It’s been an interesting couple of weeks at VQ as various things appear to have come together. As I’ve often told people, this stuff isn’t easy and it quite often feels like one step forward and two steps back.

We’ve had some amazing data coming back from some of our biggest Acano Manager 2 customers; one is pushing on 7 million minutes of call volume a month and another is around 3 million minutes a month. So, two systems and a whopping 10 million minutes a month. In terms of topology, one’s running 8 X3’s distributed globally and the other is 4 X3s. Other numbers include 1500+ participants in call (or about 4000 call legs).

Neither system’s progress from initial deployment to now has been without issue. We’ve had problems on both which have been resolved but the four week period mid-July to mid-August wasn’t particularly comfortable.

What were the issues?

On one, we had a caching issue which crippled our performance as we went through 450 participants in call (we’re now at 1500+) and on the other, co-existence with another application using the Call Bridge’s API caused us (and the call bridge) issues which we needed to contain (as well as the other application changing their API usage slightly to be a bit more considerate of other API consumers).

One of the interesting things we’re experiencing is the difference between expected and actual adoption rates of users making calls; actual is way higher than we (or our customers) were expecting. Call volumes are substantially higher than we were anticipating this time last year. It’s a great problem to have but it is keeping us very focused on scaling, resilience and screaming performance.

Acano Manager 2.2 is really close to being released (target November 14th); 2.2 moves us onto a new version of Microsoft’s .net that runs on Windows and on Linux. Great News: no more issues with more than 2 call bridges on the VM Appliance. Oh, and its super quick.

Expect 2.3 (Beta) early December; this adds PMP/SMP licensing for CMS.

Behind the scenes, we’re making good progress on what we’re calling 2.4; this moves us onto a “message bus” and is the stepping stone to big, distributed, systems that take us onto 10,000 concurrent participants in call. We’re really excited.

Our reseller partner program is gaining momentum with a steady stream of great names coming on board; they like the product and their customers like the product.

So, maybe, just maybe, we’re not going crazy and we are making progress.

Regards

Mike

PS: I forgot to mention that we’re also starting to think about when we change the product’s name back to VQ Conference Manager.

VQ’s Partner Programme

Over the past couple of weeks we have been busy rolling out the first stage of our new partner programme.

There has been a real eagerness of the partners to come on board to help provide their customers the solution they are looking for. Many are former Acano partners who know Acano Manager well and are keen to take their existing Acano Manager customers to version 2.1 and, moving forwards, to include Acano Manager with their new Cisco Meeting Server opportunities.

Two of our resellers, DEKOM’s CEO Jorg Weisflog and InSync Technology’s CTO Stuart Moore, have spoken about their experiences of being a reseller for VQ which you can watch in the videos below. It makes us very proud of the work the team provides on a daily basis to help our partners deliver support to customers.

If you are interested in being a reseller for VQ, please contact me at gadams@vqcomms.com.