Chapter 4, "Meet the 'Brain' of the Voice over IP Network," discussed conference calling support in an IP telephony environment. A CCM server supports conference calling (that is, mixing multiple audio streams together into a single conversation). For more scalability, a CCM can leverage digital signal processors (DSPs) located in Cisco routers or switches.
However, for companies with frequent conference calling needs, CCM administrators might want to empower specific users to set up conference calls. The Cisco Conference Connection application gives specific users rights to configure their own conferences via a web interface. Although Cisco continually evolves its products, just to give you a frame of reference, Cisco Conference Connection version 1.2 supports up to 180 conference participants.
After a conference coordinator (for example, an office manager with rights to configure conferences) schedules a conference, the Cisco Conference Connection can send e-mail notifications to conference participants. The Cisco Conference Connection application runs on an MCS. However, the Cisco Conference Connection cannot coexist on an MCS with the CCM application.
While the Cisco Conference Connection application serves audio conferencing needs, the Cisco MeetingPlace application supports audio and video conferencing, in addition to web collaboration, as shown in Figure 7-4. Conference scheduling integrates with Microsoft Outlook and Lotus Notes.
Figure 7-4. Cisco MeetingPlace
For example, imagine you wanted to set up a video conference. From within Microsoft Outlook, you can open up your Outlook calendar, select the starting time for the meeting, and click the MeetingPlace tab, as shown in Figure 7-5. You can then specify conference options, such as the conference duration, the number of audio participants, and the number of video participants.
Figure 7-5. MeetingPlace Integration with Microsoft Outlook
After clicking Send, the necessary audio, video, and web resources are allocated. Meeting participants using Microsoft Outlook have the meeting appear in their Outlook calendar. Meeting participants not using Microsoft Outlook receive an e-mail notification instead.
Perhaps you need to reschedule the meeting to a later time in the day. With MeetingPlace, you only need to drag and drop the event from one time on your Outlook calendar to another time. Fifteen minutes before the conference begins, by default, conference participants receive a meeting reminder, and they simply click the Connect Me button in the appointment appearing in their Outlook calendar to join the conference. In the background, MeetingPlace connects the participant to appropriate audio, video, and web resources. Even conference participants lacking computer access can dial into the conference from a phone and participate in the audio portion of the conference.
I've participated in meetings with attendees I didn't personally know. Someone would speak, and I wondered who spoke. Fortunately, MeetingPlace graphically identifies the speaking party. MeetingPlace also uses icons to indicate each conference participant's capabilities (that is, audio, video, and/or web capabilities).
Conference moderators control which participants can speak. As another personal example, I've participated in conferences where someone would put the conference on hold, in order to make another call, and guess what all of the conference participants heard. That's right. Music on hold! MeetingPlace allows conference moderators to eliminate such disruptions.
MeetingPlace participants can select how they want to view conference participants using video. For example, a participant can view the video from up to four other participants. Alternately, a participant might only want to view video from the speaking party.
Conference participants can share applications on their computer for demonstration purposes. One participant also can allow another participant to control an application on their computer. For example, imagine you're in a conference, and you are showing the conference participants how you designed your VoIP network by sharing your Microsoft Visio application (that is, a graphical design program used for such things as designing computer networks). Another participant might say, "Hey, I've got a great idea! Let me show you how to distribute the servers in your cluster." You could then share your Microsoft Visio application, which is running on your local computer, with the other conference participant. The other participant could then add additional components to your Visio design because they could take control of the Visio application running on your computer.
MeetingPlace participants can open up chat windows with each other, much like an instant messaging application. Breakout sessions can also be created on the fly. If not all of the invited participants are able to attend the conference at the scheduled time, MeetingPlace can record the conference and make synchronized audio and video playback of the conference available over the web.