Improve Meeting Effectiveness with Now Micro and Intel NUC

Evaluating Services and Hardware for Remote Collaboration 

What Should You Consider? 

Events in early 2020 forced nearly every industry to reconsider at least some part of how their employees communicate and collaborate.  Some organizations had a high level of maturity with collaboration and conferencing tools, while others made hasty decisions on tools and hardware to prevent disruptions in the workforce.   

Looking back six months’ later, even if some miracle technology ends the global health crisis tomorrow, the idea of working remotely is most certainly a cat running free of its proverbial bag.  As IT decision makers and admins, it is time to look back at the solutions and decisions we made at the beginning of the year and ask the following questions… 

  • Are our users empowered or hindered by our communications and collab tools? 
  • Are the services and solutions we spun up the best fit and return on investment? 
  • Are the services and solutions secure and compliant? 
  • Have we been able to integrate our existing apps and services into our new solutions? 
  • Do our users have the right hardware and peripherals to leverage the services? 

 In this blog post I would like to highlight a common crossroad that most organizations find themselves at.  I hope to dissect the most popular tools and services on the market and hopefully get the reader to consider somethings they may have not otherwise. 

What Kind of Tool Am I Looking For? 

Let us look at the functionalities that logically separate each tool.  Most tools are not limited to a single functionality, so evaluating what each tool can do and whether you can leverage the functionality now or in the future is important.   

Conferencing/Meeting Solutions 

Conferencing solutions have been a staple in the professional world for over a decade.  However, many organizations found a drastic increase in the number of users that required a meeting/conferencing tool to do their jobs in the early months of 2020.  What defines a conferencing/meeting solution? 

  • Dial-in conferencing 
  • Video and audio meetings 
  • Screen sharing 
  • Meeting chat 
  • Presentation 

Collaboration Tools 

While conferencing/meeting solutions can certainly fall in the realm of collaboration, more purpose-built apps for team collaboration are available.  Some of the features common to tools built for collaboration are… 

  • Persistent chat 
  • Integrated file shares 
  • Document/file co-authoring 
  • Shared notes  
  • Shared application within a collaboration tool wrapper 
  • Whiteboard Persistence 

PSTN Calling Services 

Working remotely can present a challenge to organizations reliant on a on premise resources for telephony.  Ideally, we do not want to be back hauling our VOIP calls through the VPN to our network only to go out to the end destination.  Cloud PBX options have matured rapidly over the past five years.  It is not uncommon to find a VOIP solution integrated with other collaboration tools.  Example of PSTN calling services are… 

  • Cloud PBX – Place calls over the public switched telephone network (Hard or Soft Phones) 
  • Cloud Voicemail 
  • Hunt groups 

What Should You Considering When Selecting a Conferencing/Collaboration Tool? 

Whether you are evaluating a new or existing tool, it is important to identify what considerations will be most pertinent to your choice.  Those considerations can act as a filter and help you to identify which choice may or may not be right for your organization.  

Current Ecosystem 

  • What tools are you already leveraging?  Does your organization have familiarity with a vendor already?  Is there existing cloud infrastructure you can leverage in the new tool? 
  • How will the tool be used?  Considering how existing tools are being used and how they may be used in the future can help you narrow in on the appropriate choice. 
  • Who will be using the tool?  Most organizations do not have the luxury of a single business unit with similar user types.  Often tools that are a good fit in one department, may not lend themselves to another.  Taking stock of the needs of each business unit can inform your selection 

Pricing/Licensing 

  • How much is the tool going to cost?  The pricing a vendor may offer is only a piece of the total cost.  It is important to consider if any other tools can be retired as the new tool is put in place.  An addition in licensing for one tool may result in an elimination or reduction in the licensing for another.   
  • Do you already have licensing or partial licensing?  Many vendors such as Microsoft or Google package total or partial licensing for these tools with licensing you may already own.  It may be possible to pilot or even rollout a new tool with no additional licensing cost. 

Organization Culture 

  • How willing are your users to adopt a new tool?  The tolerance of change is something varies drastically from organization to organization.  Communication, training, and evangelism for technology changes can be the difference between grateful productive user and confused reluctant users. 
  • What is it going take to manage the tool?  Fortunately, the labor investment to manage most cloud tools is minimal when compared to legacy systems of the past.  However, it is important to consider configuration and troubleshooting when factoring management costs. 

Comparing Conferencing Solutions 

Let us look at some of the most popular conferencing solutions.  How do they stack up?   

Comparing Collaboration Tools 

In contrast to the conferencing solutions, a good collaboration tool should be the hub of your organizations business units.  Features like document co-authoring and integrated file shares have been around awhile but are more important in a remote collaboration scenario.  Collaboration tools can also act as a single pane of glass for files, chats and the apps your users need to access.  

Google 

  • Persistent Chat = Google Rooms  
  • File Share/File Collaboration = Google Drive, Document Coauthoring 
  • Notes = Google Keep (collaborative?) 
  • App integration = Support through third party apps like Zapier 

Slack 

  • Persistent Chat = Slack Channels – Public and Private
  • File Share/File Collaboration = File sharing through channel attachments 
  • Notes = no 
  • App integration = no native support 

TEAMS 

  • Persistent Chat = Teams Channels – Public and Private 
  • File Share/File Collaboration = O365 groups backend – Included SharePoint Library for each Team/Channel, Document Coauthoring 
  • Notes = OneNote Shared Notebooks 
  • App integration = Prebuilt app integration for most apps. Free app development tools for customs apps 

Hardware and Device Considerations 

In 2020 we are lucky to have a multitude of services to enable remote workers and drive collaboration even when we are apart.  After we have done our evaluations and made our choices, how do we make sure our users are getting the best out of the tools we have provided?  How do we make sure we are putting our best foot forward to our clients?  

One key area is evaluating the devices these tools will be used on.  We have all been in a meeting where we could not see or properly hear some of the participants.  While sometimes that can be the fault of the service itself or downstream network issues that are out of our control, we can prevent issues that may arise from outdated or legacy devices.  The way we approach collaboration has changed, so it follows that the devices we collaborate on will be changing as well. 

Video 

  • Are the integrated camera’s in our devices sufficient? 
  • Sensor quality? 
  • Low light quality? 
  • Presentation worthy? 
  • Changes in lighting equipment? 

Audio 

  • Integrated microphones and speakers can be problematic 
  • Do your users need to be mobile while collaborating/conferencing? 
  • Headsets or conference speakers? 

Custom Solutions 

As collaboration services integrate themselves into our day to day, looking for ways to improve our interaction with them is a natural next step.  Luckily the choices for purpose-built hardware that pair with almost any service are increasing every day.   

Conferencing Room Hardware 

  • High quality conferencing hardware dedicated to a specific space 
  • Microsoft Teams and Zoom Solutions (Surface Hub, Zoom Rooms) 
  • Audio and video solutions 
  • May include whiteboards or touchscreens 

Mobile Collaboration Stations/Bars 

  • Cheaper alternatives to dedicated room setups 
  • Does not have to be a dedicated to specific space 
  • Offers more options for conferencing and presenting space 

In summary, It’s important, as we push into a new collaboration paradigm that we make sure we select the appropriate tools to enable collaboration but we are also providing the proper training, support and hardware to get a full return out of our investments. 

Evolving into Edge Computing

No matter the umbrella a solution is placed under- IoT, visual communications, or embedded, endpoints are driving more use cases in the real world while also generating and processing ever increasing amounts of information. Generating data shouldn’t be the end goal, the insights and action generated is key to driving value. While traditionally, this data may be uploaded and processed in cloud based infrastructure, Edge Computing changes this pattern in key ways by performing latency sensitive and data intensive computation local to the source of data to drive additional capabilities while containing cloud infrastructure costs.

Several common types of solutions can benefit from Edge Computing. Video analytics is an example of a workload that can cost prohibitive to use in cloud driven infrastructure from a bandwidth and resources perspective. Not sending constant video frames to cloud infrastructure greatly reduces the necessary cloud infrastructure to support the workload. Moving video analytics to an edge computing device also unlocks additional capabilities by lowering latency, including customizing messages to the audience and providing attribution in Digital Out of Home (DOOH) communication applications.

Other data driven, real-time and response applications that can show significant benefit from edge computing:
• Container application platform
• Content caching
• Rapid device provisioning and restoration

Now Micro has built a number of solutions on our existing Visual Data Device (VDD) and Edge Cluster platforms:
• ImageSync – A high performance and secure file synchronization and system imaging/provisioning solution
• Edge Cluster – A compact, high performance platform for containerized applications

We consider these solutions only the beginning of the possibilities of Edge Computing. There are numerous application specific workloads that can benefit from low latency and high performance computing on-premise. We look forward to working with integrators, ISVs and end customers to help design and build these future looking solutions.

For further Information
• To view our full range of IoT/Digital Signage devices: https://nowmicroplayers.com
• High performance Visual Data Device specification computing appliances – https://nowmicroplayers.com/Solutions/VisualDataDevice
• Our new container optimized container workload device: https://nowmicroplayers.com/Embedded/Product/DMPN-7i3-i5-i7-Cluster

Configuring LAPS (Part 2)- Configuring and Deploying Group Policy

This post is the second part of a two-part series on configuring and deploying the Microsoft Local Administrator Password Solution (LAPS). The first post covered the steps needed to configure Active Directory to support LAPS. That post can be found here . This post will cover the steps needed to enable the LAPS functionally on devices.
Continue reading “Configuring LAPS (Part 2)- Configuring and Deploying Group Policy”

Email Notification for Security Changes in ConfigMgr

Have you ever had a deployment or maybe a security change that happened with no one noticing? Maybe you’re working with a team and someone accidentally deployed to the wrong collection. We all have busy schedules, it’s not easy stay on top of changes or deployments in Configuration Manager. Therefore, we need to take advantage of the built-in status system. This post will walk you through creating a status filter rule that sends an email whenever a security setting is created, modified, or deleted in ConfigMgr.
Continue reading “Email Notification for Security Changes in ConfigMgr”

Captivating a Crowd

A Look at How to Deliver a Rich and Cost Effective Video Wall Project

Video walls are digital signage installations that comprise more than a single display.  Content is typically displayed seamlessly across the displays, providing a large format and immersive experience that can deliver diverse types of content.  While videos and informational overlays are a popular content choice, they can also be utilized to show multiple zones of mixed types of content. Continue reading “Captivating a Crowd”

Navigating the HTML5 Digital Signage Operating System Ecosystem

As traditional digital signage is subsumed under the concept of Internet of Things (IoT) in the mind of end-users, the industry must develop solutions with increased awareness of total solution security while still delivering 21st century consumer driven experiences.   High profile security events have elevated the importance of device security to the forefront when end-users choose devices.  Low power, HTML5 digital signage devices can deliver a simple consumer interface and increased device security with a low total cost of ownership.  We will examine these industry trends and give some goal posts to guide product development and solution selection in this changing environment. Continue reading “Navigating the HTML5 Digital Signage Operating System Ecosystem”

Recast 3.0 Release Preview (Part 2)

Recast 3.0 has not been released yet – we will post an announcement when the new tools are out.This blog will provide an overview of the latest features coming to both Recast RCT Free and Recast RCT Enterprise. 

Local Group Members (RCT Free and RCT Enterprise)
The System Information Tool now has a Local Group Members tab showing the users in each local group.  Right clicking on a group will show a “Remove From Group” tool that will remove the selected user(s) from the selected group(s). Continue reading “Recast 3.0 Release Preview (Part 2)”

Recast 3.0 Release Preview (Part 1)

Recast 3.0 has not been released yet – we will post an announcement when the new tools are out. This blog will provide an overview of the latest features coming to both Recast RCT Free and Recast RCT Enterprise.

RCT Builder / RCT Runner (RCT Enterprise)
The RCT Builder tool will let you right click on objects in the ConfigMgr console and create actions to be performed on those objects.  The various properties of the object can be used as input to run multiple Recast actions.
Continue reading “Recast 3.0 Release Preview (Part 1)”

Improving ImageConnect with 2Pint

ImageConnect is Now Micro’s solution for using a customer’s ConfigMgr task sequence to image devices they purchase from us.  Internally we give each ImageConnect customer a unique VLAN that’s designed to service PXE requests for their environment.  Before 2Pint, we maintained a table mapping customer to VLAN ID and our staff would need to SSH in to the appropriate switch to change the VLAN.  This blog post will describe how Now Micro uses the iPXE Anywhere solution from 2Pint Software to help us remove some of the manual steps by automating the VLAN switching process. Continue reading “Improving ImageConnect with 2Pint”

DSE 2017: Showing TCO Reductions through new mixes of playback, compute and storage

Now Micro had the pleasure of being in the Intel IoT booth at Digital Signage Expo demonstrating a number of technologies, all focused around lowering total cost of ownership and performing work in the correct place in your total solution.  This all delivers increased customer satisfaction by reducing screen downtime when it inevitably occurs and helping customer select the right mix of playback, compute and storage for their connected landscape which: Continue reading “DSE 2017: Showing TCO Reductions through new mixes of playback, compute and storage”