This report is also available as an Acrobat file.
INSTALLATION AND SUPPORT
One of the most marked differences between the use of videoconferencing within higher education and its use in the commercial sector appears to lie in the installation procedure adopted. In only three cases was the retailer or manufacturer solely responsible for the installation. Whilst a company might be called in to set up a specific piece of equipment (such as the codec or the echo canceller), the majority of the installation was done by the respondents themselves, either completely unaided (in 9 cases) or with the help of local experts.
In most cases the installation procedure was trouble-free (described as “a doddle”, “a piece of cake”, etc.).
However, some problems to watch out for include:
- Late delivery by the supplier.
- Working on a Windows_ installation with a retailer who is only familiar with the DOS version.
- Excessive length of time taken to provide a reliable ISDN service.
- Poor performance of the ISDN aggregator.
- Installation instructions which were vague and not comprehensive enough.
- Difficulties in installing some of the hardware in older models (e.g. SPARC 1).
- Difficulties in installing the analogue part of the network because there is no accepted standard.
- Problems in achieving an acceptable sound balance. Echo cancellers are particularly difficult to set up.
- Great problems in persuading BT to rent a line!
Identity and performance of personnel responsible for support
Support from manufacturer/retailer
Some were not in a position to comment because they had had little or no reason to call upon their maintenance contract so far. Most that had were very satisfied with what they deemed to be prompt, efficient service providing ‘real’ fixes (often consistently so over a period of several years). In several cases, the only problems to have occurred have been resolved through software upgrades.
However, criticisms included lack of resources (i.e. insufficient personnel to provide the required support) and the supplying of patches only when they are requested rather than when a bug has been found and fixed.
Most importantly, if you are offered hotline support, make sure you ascertain what is and is not included in the contract (e.g. engineer available on call out, telephone support only, etc.).
Since budgets are limited, full service contracts are often no longer an option. If the fault is traced to a particular item of equipment then the manufacturer is called in, but it is usually down to the user to do a substantial amount of the first-line maintenance themselves.
Many of the Computing Services personnel provide their own support anyway, or call upon local expertise, since they are already running the machines. This seems to work well in most cases. There are “many willing and helpful experts on the doorstep” and because the support team are themselves users they tend to notice immediately when something goes wrong and can usually fix it or at least raise bug reports with the software authors. However, it is often difficult to find out what the problems are when an interruption occurs in the communication infrastructure.
Support can also be found via mailing lists such as:
This is rated as an excellent source of support. It is usually possible to find out the source of a problem and how to fix it within a few hours via e-mail.
It is worth noting that within the London Interactive Video Network (LIVENET) there are resident engineers; with SuperJANET, this is supported by the UK Education and Research Networking Association (UKERNA) who have contracts for maintenance.
Virtual Environments Visualisation