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.

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

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!

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.

 

Introducing 2.1 Analytics…

I’ve been giving demonstrations of analytics for a while now and I thought I’d share some of my experiences with you.

Analytics in Acano Manager 2.1 was a long time coming; reporting and analytics were dropped from our 2.0 release because we were late and needed to avoid being even later.

Our objective with the Acano Manager 2.x platform was to address some of the issues we’d learned in earlier versions of Acano Manager and VQ Conference Manager.

Analytics uses some of the same techniques used elsewhere in Acano Manager 2; users are given the flexibility to select the data they want to report on, what processing should be applied to the data and then how it is to be presented (both in tabular and graph form).

It’s been really encouraging to see how well Analytics has been received. One particular report generates particular interest; it’s shows how well calls are performing and shows the calls that have alerts associated with them such as packet loss, jitter or round trip time.

One of the things that has surprised us during the years we’ve been doing this is how many people delivering video conferencing services don’t know how their service is performing. It’s less ‘data driven’ and more ‘hope driven’.

VQ Conference Manager provided previous generations of our customers with reporting tools which helped our customers avoid ‘flying blind’; we’re now really pleased that we’ve added a more flexible and extensive version, Analytics, into Acano Manager 2.

Acano Manager 2.1 is now available for all of our users, please log into the members area of vqcomms.com and download your 90 day free trial. Email licensing@vqcomms.com to get your 2.1 license needed for the download.

 

Giles

2015; another busy and successful year

We had another amazing year! I know it doesn’t look like we’ve been up to much as we’ve been so hunkered down ‘doing’ that the web-site has been seriously neglected (again).

Here’s a summary of some of the things that have been going on:

  • Acano Manager 1.x has been ‘holding the fort’ as we worked on Acano Manager 2.0.
  • Acano Manager 2.0; we’re still pre-release but now at RC4. AM 2.0 has been a massive undertaking and has completely consumed us. It does, however, look really good and will provide a fantastic platform; not only does it look good, we’ve invested heavily in automated test tools and processes which is now yielding great results. We’ll post more details along with more content on AM 2.0 (VQ 7.0 platform).
  • VQ Conference Manager 6.5; a steady stream of refinements, performance increases and TLC. 6.5 is a trusted work-horse being used by some pretty big players. Going into 2016, we’re working on some fairly major changes that’ll push scalability and performance. We’ll post more as things firm up.

Finally, a big thank you to our customers and partners.
Mike

How we use and contribute to OSS at VQ

Open source software is a key area for many developers and it is exciting that more .NET based companies are joining this world. Take for example Microsoft’s ASP.NET vNext project on Github as a sign of the times!

We’re really pleased to have finally got to the stage where we’re contributing back to the open source world. It’s small at the moment but we expect it to grow. Watch this space.

We’re now on Github at:

https://github.com/vqcomms

We look forward to your pull requests!

News catch-up…..

We haven’t posted any news items for a while and our news section looks distinctly skinny. We had an amazing 2013:

  • We restructured the team which resulted in people leaving; although this was painful at the time, we’re now seeing massive benefits.
  • We moved office; we’re now in much larger, spacier offices with loads of natural light. Fantastic!
  • We signed an OEM agreement with the major new disruptive force in video conferencing.
  • Two new major international customers became customers (Aerospace and Banking)
  • Our existing customers continued to ramp up call volumes.

2014 has started well with new customers coming on board and first versions of OEM software shipping. The team is growing with some very talented new engineers joining the team who will help accelerate the innovation we deliver.