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Product Reviews
June 2001


Media Xchange Manager Version 1.0 with use of ViGO Systems

VCON, Inc.
10535 Boyer Blvd., Suite 300
Austin, TX 78758
Tel: 512-583-7700
Fax: 512-583-7701

Price: Ranges from $250 per seat for 25 users to $80 per seat for 1,000 users (with a maximum of 200 active calls); for example, $150 per seat for 100 users would be $15,000.

Editor's Choice Award

Installation: 4.75
Documentation: 5+
Features: 4.5
GUI: 5
Interoperability: 3.5
Overall: A-

In a climate rife with so much merging -- data and voice, collaboration and video, gateways and routers -- corporations are seeking an efficient way to administer and manage their entire IP network. For VoIP management, gatekeepers allow H.323 calls from one endpoint to be registered and passed though to another endpoint, as long as the gateways, IP phones, etc., are compatible with that particular gateway.

Administrative, management, and monitoring features are usually available with gatekeepers. However, most often, these gatekeepers are equipped only to handle VoIP audio calls, thus not allowing for the full potential of interactive and centrally networked communications. VCON's Media Xchange Manager (MXM) is a software solution that acts as a centrally managed video conferencing H.323 gatekeeper. It supports a wide range of equipment, including Multipoint Control Units (MCU), gateways, and video endpoints, such as VCON's ViGO personal conferencing appliance. Furthermore, an administrative GUI can be installed onto any PC on the network so that management and monitoring functions can be achieved remotely.

For TMC Labs to test the MXM properly, VCON sent us two ViGO video conferencing systems so that we could see all of the functionality that the MXM software had to offer (there is extra functionality that works exclusively with the ViGO system). We first installed the MXM software onto NT Server 4.0 by following a few simple procedures. We then set up the ViGO systems on two Windows 98 PCs. With all the connections in place, with the exception of the camera connected to the PC's USB port, we installed ViGO's software (MeetingPoint 4.5) without a problem. The equipment for the ViGO and camera detected right after we plugged the USB connection and turned on the ViGO, and the drivers were installed. We then registered with the MXM. A dialog box appeared upon opening the software. We entered the NT Server's IP address and the appropriate password and were successfully logged in and registered. All in all, the installation for the MXM and ViGO took less than a half an hour to accomplish.

There was an instance where we had an issue, and MeetingPoint would not open. We attempted to reboot the Windows 98 PC, but the same issue occurred. When shutting down the ViGO and waiting a few seconds before turning it on, we saw our PC reinitialize the USB camera. Afterwards, we were able to open MeetingPoint. When questioning a VCON representative about this, he reassured us that this issue was a rare occurrence. Of course, we tend to find these occurrences for some reason. Fortunately, the issue did not happen again.

To install a new version of MeetingPoint, the old version must be uninstalled from your PC. There is no upgrade functionality for MeetingPoint currently available.

To say that VCON's printed and online documentation is impressive is an understatement. We had trouble finding anything wrong with it at all. The printed material consisted of MXM installation notes, an administrator's guide, and an endpoints guide. The guides have a well-organized table of contents, an abundant amount of readable screenshots, and well-detailed information. The administrator's guide also includes an index.

Frankly speaking, the help files for both the MXM and the ViGO are among the best we have seen. We did not receive the ViGO printed documentation, but the help files were so good that we did not miss the printed material. The help files give detailed information on just about any MXM or ViGO topic and are contact sensitive to the point of going right to the topic needed. A user could find the information they need almost instantaneously. (Now, if only we saw this type of excellent documentation for all products...)

While we may mention some of the features of the ViGO personal conferencing appliance in this review, it is the MXM that is the focus. The following is a list of the major features of the MXM:

  • Centralized Administration -- remote endpoint configuration and identification of equipment, dial plans, and remote GUI with secure, mobile access to support multiple consoles and servers; perform configuration, management, and administrative functions.
  • Centralized Management -- conversation status monitoring, event logging, H.323 V2 compliant gatekeeper with registration and admission control and address translation capabilities.
  • Directory Services -- LDAP interface to Novell NDS and Microsoft Exchange Server, Active Directory, and ILS directories.
  • Gateway Dialing -- delimiter to signify gateway calls and gateway hunt groups.
  • Reporting -- history log of all conversations, exportable call detail reports, customizable history period for each severity level.
  • Quality of Service (QoS) -- bandwidth limits, IP Precedence and DiffServ settings, maximum packet size settings, and RTP port range configuration.
  • Telephony Services with Video -- ACD functionality, call forward, call transfer, call pickup, and hunt groups.

After installing the MXM server software onto NT Server 4.0, the MXM Administrator is all that remains; this can be run from a Windows 98/NT/2000 PC. This GUI is extremely user friendly, using most Windows conventions, which is extremely important for a product such as this one. The main portion of the administrator interface is done in a hierarchal manner with number/IP address and the connection status on the right side of the screen. About the only minor aspect of the GUI that we might improve is to allow the resizing of the Properties dialog box. Otherwise, the GUI is nearly flawless.

When we registered our endpoints with the gatekeeper and logged on as an administrator, we immediately saw a listing for them with the ViGO systems listed separately from the rest of the H.323 endpoints. When clicking on MXM's Properties settings we saw that the ViGO interface included more features than that of the H.323 end points. The other H.323 equipment allowed for the general MXM properties such as call forwarding, numbers and network addresses, bandwidth control, pickup permissions, LDAP preferences, and the viewing of the event log.

Additional ViGO properties that can be adjusted via the MXM Administrator consist of conversation, calls, user data, communication, hardware, and advanced preferences. Through these properties, settings including video, data, audio, camera, ringing, interactive multicast calls, LAN, and QoS options could be altered to ensure better call quality and video while still managing the network. Features that can be applied here include application sharing, a choice between using MeetingPoint and NetMeeting, auto-answering calls, audio through the speakers or headphones, and controlling the bandwidth use of calls being made offline.

With these settings in place, we attempted some VoIP calls through the MXM, which was acting as a gatekeeper. We first placed simple calls between the ViGO systems. With MeetingPoint, we dialed through the MXM across our LAN. We were able to hold a conversation and see both the local and remote video. On some calls, the video was slow but the quality was usually quite good. Sometimes, due to network congestion, the bandwidth had to be lowered in order to continue a clear conversation. While there was some echo and latency, the audio quality was acceptable. Performing transfers and interactive multicast conferencing are features of the ViGO systems using the H.450 protocol and can be monitored by the MXM, but we did not have a third ViGO to test these features. However, we are pretty confident that possessing a third ViGO system on our network would have allowed us to establish and manage a three-way video conference call. Since the MXM supports MCUs, video conferencing can also be established by this method.

We then added NetMeeting into the equation and connected a call to a ViGO through the MXM gatekeeper. These calls also functioned well. We contrasted the older camera's video with the newer ViGO's camera, and the difference was striking. The picture from the newer camera was far superior. The ViGO also had noticeably less audio delay than that of the NetMeeting client. While we proved that these calls were interoperable, we could not transfer or conference a call using NetMeeting as the third party. The call transferred or conferenced our NetMeeting client but could not complete the audio connection. This happened because NetMeeting does not support the H.450 protocol.

For more interoperability testing, we registered Watney/Sun Forum 3.2 software that was running on a Solaris server and used it as an endpoint. We had no problem registering this endpoint with the MXM, but we could not complete a call with either a ViGO or with NetMeeting. The calls connected and video was obtained on both ends, but we could not receive audio. There were times when we could hear the other end for a brief second but then the call disconnected. At other times, we could see the remote video on our end but still retained no audio. We also tried this same call using a generic gatekeeper from UniData and successfully performed video, audio, and collaboration functions. This proved that our problem was a compatibility issue between the MXM or ViGO and the Sun Forum software, but in what capacity we were not sure. We figured that the problem was most likely due to the incompatibility of the audio compression codec being used (G.723).

Virtually all of our suggestions to improve the MXM have to do with interoperability, which is undoubtedly one of the biggest issues facing the Internet telephony industry. The MXM is great when it comes to registering H.323 products and excels when other VCON products are used with it. However, there is not nearly as much management functionality when it comes to other H.323 endpoints and the VoIP calls made from or to these endpoints may have trouble completing. Improving their H.323 endpoint compatibility as well as adding the G.729 audio compression codec would help the audio aspects, which was of the most primary concern during our tests. We would also love to see the ability for the MXM to be interoperable with other gatekeepers. This would bring the art of management to a whole new level. In addition, we would also like to see the Maximum Xchange Manager work on Windows 2000. While the MXM Administrator works with any Windows operating system, the main server manager software only works with Windows NT 4.0 Server.

For their first version of the product, VCON got most things right with the Media Xchange Manager. With its quick installation, user-friendly administrator, and excellent management capabilities, the MXM is certainly a product worthy of consideration with any company using video conferencing and VoIP equipment and needing to effectively manage their network. And with their dedication to interoperability efforts to match, subsequent versions of the MXM product should prove even more agreeable. For these reasons and for the innovations inherent within, we honor the MXM with our Editor's Choice Award.

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