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Raindance Meeting Edition

Raindance Communications, Inc.
1157 Century Dr.
Louisville, CO 80027
Ph: 800-878-7326
Fax: 303-928-2832
Web: www.raindance.com

As gas prices continue to rise, traveling for business meetings becomes a very expensive proposition, making Web conferencing a much more attractive idea. Raindance, a Web conferencing provider with $75.3 million in revenue in 2004, is the fourth fastest-growing company in Colorado. The company sent TMC Labs a demo account to try out its hosted audio/video/data conferencing solution. Featuring integrated voice, video and data, is the application highlight that gives Raindance a competitive advantage over many of its competitors, which include Microsoft and WebEx. Because it’s a completely integrated audio/Web/video solution from one provider, you have one access number, one tech support team, one bill and one place to go for help, versus “single” play offerings, which require multiple points of contact, multiple bills, etc. Raindance also features a 24x7 customer support center, and the company claims to be able to handle over four million minutes per day with 500 T1s, 3 OC12s. Raindance also contends it is both carrier-grade and the only conferencing solution to publish its uptime (99.99 percent). Raindance was the first company to provide reservation-less audio conferencing, so we were excited to check out the company’s voice/video/data conferencing application.

Installing Raindance was a snap. We simply went to www.raindance.com/rndc/register/rfmCorpDownload.jsp and clicked Install; we then entered our conference I.D. and PIN and chose a security question and answer; finally, we entered our passcode and clicked Log In. Literally, we had it installed in fewer than three minutes. After logging in, we were presented with the profile screen for entering our information. We also had the option to enable Microsoft Outlook integration for integrated scheduling; in fact, unlike competing conferencing solutions that build their own calendaring system, Raindance leverages the ubiquitous Outlook e-mail/ calendar client for scheduling conferences.

For our first conference, we actually attended a meeting hosted by Raindance and the company’s public relations firm. As you can see from the screenshot (Figure 1) of the Web conference, we had both video displayed and the application-share feature displaying PowerPoint slides. Surprisingly, Microsoft Live Meeting has no integrated video. Also, WebEx is only single-point video, and you can view only the moderator. During our Web conference, we were able to share and edit documents, as well as our entire desktop, in real time.

We should point out that Raindance has acted upon a number of compression techniques, in relation with both the video and the application sharing. When sharing a PowerPoint presentation, you can even see transition effects that many competing application-sharing products remove due to bandwidth concerns. Further, the video uses a unique way of transmitting video. Raindance actually utilizes still frame JPEGs to transmit the video, enabling you to quickly switch from viewing one participant’s video to viewing another participant’s video, whereas streaming video technology would take a second or two to buffer down the video. A statistics window (Figure 2) allows you to view the various network statistics, including bandwidth consumption.

The Raindance application has several noteworthy usability enhancements. For instance, it has a “follow talker” option that will switch the displayed video to the speaking person. This helps in emulating a real meeting when the person speaking has the floor. There was about a five-second delay before it switched to a new person speaking — not too bad. You can also manually view any of the participants who may at that time be sharing video. Another notable usability feature is the ability to view the Web conference in full screen simply by pressing the F11 function key.

One unique feature to Raindance is its integrated billing codes. Professional services want the ability to bill back for time spent on a conference (whether it’s simply a conference call or a full-fledged Web conference with audio). Raindance facilitates this option via its integrated billing codes. It is also useful in enterprises with multiple departments that need separate billing for budgetary reasons.

Concerning security, Raindance has done well. You can set 128-bit encryption on a stream-by-stream setting. So, for example, you can encrypt application and document sharing, but if you don’t care about encrypting video and chat, you can choose not to do so. In addition, you can set a passcode for the meeting to prevent unauthorized access to your meeting’s Web link.

Room For Improvement
There is no VoIP support at this time, so we would like to see Raindance set up a media gateway on the company’s network to terminate inbound SIP callers using a SIP phone or SIP soft client. While the quality may not be as high as PSTN during Internet congestion periods, we feel customers should make that choice for themselves. Raindance could still charge a per-minute rate, but perhaps a slightly discounted one because inbound VoIP calls to Raindance’s data pipe are obviously much more cost-economical than inbound PSTN calls, which use more expensive TDM ports.

Raindance is so confident in its product that the company offers a free, unlimited version that allows you to perform a one-on-one, “person-to-person” Raindance meeting. While limited to only one-on-one, as opposed to including multiple participants, this allows customers to try it free of charge. TMC Labs commends Raindance for giving potential customers the ability to try a product before buying; more importantly, however, we were impressed with the features of Raindance Meeting Edition. The user interface was very clean and easy to navigate. We loved the video capabilities, and we would highly recommend this hosted conferencing solution.

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