Conference Servers

What is a Conference Server?

A conference server (often called an MCU – Multipoint Control Unit) is a software/hardware combination that allows 3 or more clients to participate in a real-time conference. Generally it provides a conference control interface (usually browser based) and the data management facilities to manage the joining and leaving of participants, route data, audio and video from all participants to all other participants thus providing multipoint data. It may provide a host of other conference management features, and may also provide for cross media participation (ISDN based video conferencing, POTS audio participation, TCP/IP clients, web interfaces, interfaces to real time video or audio from other sources).

Articles and Reviews

bullet IEEE Spectrum July 1998 has an excellent article “Virtual Meetings with Desktop Conferencing”. An abridged version of the article is available on-line to IEEE members at the Spectrum site. The complete magazine article is however much better.
bullet another source of information is at PictureTel
bullet more detailed information can be had at the keeper of the standards the International Telecommunications Union (ITU)),

Conference Servers

My original survey of conference servers include was based on the following criteria:

bullet mate well with the NetMeeting product,
bullet provide multi-user audio, video and data,
bullet support T.120 and H.323
bullet cost <$10000,
bullet run on Windows (I would like to see something that runs on Windows 95/98 but none do).

I have included URL’s for companies selling more expensive products as well but did not do much further investigation on those products.

The Players and their Products

MeetingPoint

MeetingPoint it seems may not longer be available.It seems that the current owner of this product is First Virtual.

Pricing — I am not sure about.

 

Last changed
October 2003

Lotus Sametime

Lotus has recently announced Lotus Sametime , which is I think a repackaging of the Databeam Net.120 and MMCU products.
 
Last Changed May 23, 2000

MeetingPlace

MeetingPlace is a Conference Server that marries T.120 using NetMeeting .It is available from Latitude.
Added January 12,1999

Exchange 2000 Conferencing Server

Microsoft’s entry into the market happened without much fanfare in the fall of 2000.I haven’t actually used this server but from all accounts it is a solid product. Information is available at the Microsoft web site.

The Microsoft licensing/pricing scheme is complex but from what I can determine a usable server can be purchased for $3995.

A 120 day evaluation kit is available. It requires Exchange 2000.

Visit amazon.com product page
Added January 13,2001

Open Source

Open H.323 ( http://www.openh323.org) is offering an open source MCU that runs on Linux as well as Windows.
 
Added October 2002

The High End

Other products:

bullet PictureTel 330 from PictureTel-24 users $24,000 (but $12,995 for 8 users). This is the product that Microsoft is rumored to have used for NetMeeting testing( this company and product is now owned by Polycom — I am not sure of its current disposition)_
bullet Encounter Family from Ezenia ( formerly VideoServer)
bullet Radvision MCU323
bullet Data Connections it seems makes an MCU called MeetingServer — only available to server providers and OEMs though

H.323/T.120 Toolkits and Information

I have created a separate page to collect this information.