I recently came across an article where the VRVS (Virtual Room Videoconference System) was touted as one of the 12 Key Stages in the History of Unified Communications. It got me thinking as to the impact cloud based video collaboration technology has had on past, present, and future accomplishments. Check out this infographic to learn more about the History of Video Communications.
Back in the 90s, realtime collaboration was in its infancy. At that time, I was working at CERN in the communication services department. We were really excited about a new protocol called “HTTP” which among other things was developed to provide a way for physicists to seamlessly share documents between multiple locations and projects. The need for a real time, persistent collaboration tool and a platform to exchange information increased with an order of magnitude when it was time to build the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the world’s largest and most powerful particle accelerator. This new era of scientific experiments including LHC and other DOE-funded (Department of Energy) HEP programs were faced with unprecedented challenges. Scientists located at sites around the world, remote from the experiment, needed to work collaboratively on data analysis, and on a wide variety of activities during the construction, commissioning, and operation of their experiments. It was especially challenging for LHC physicists in the U.S who were separated from the experimental site by 6-9 time zones to keep current with the real time happenings. Therefore, the US Department of Energy (DOE) was looking for a scalable, robust and affordable solution to allow the US physicists to participate actively with these large scale research projects. As often is the case, physicists tends to build their own tools if there are none generally available to use. In the 90s, because no large scale real-time collaborative tool existed, they decided to simply develop one on their own. At this time Caltech took the lead with this initiative and asked me to take charge of the project. The VRVS (Virtual Room Videoconference System), the first globally-scalable, extremely cost-efficient collaborative system was deployed into production in 1995. We can certainly claim that VRVS was the first cloud based video collaboration system and the precursor of all VaaS deployments that exist today. Over the years, the VRVS infrastructure included a worldwide network of 85 servers (called “reflectors”) that automatically interconnect to manage and efficiently route the video and audio streams, supporting several thousand of researchers from 120 countries. VRVS became a standard part of the toolset used daily by a large sector of HEP, and was used increasingly by other DOE and NSF-supported programs with several thousand meetings a month. The VRVS’s unique architecture and service was the basis of further videoconference service generations deployed later to support the international research community from EVO (Enabling Virtual Organizations) to the eZuce SRN (Science Research Network). Today, the eZuce SRN and Viewme technology fully benefit from these 20 years of expertise and experience developing and managing large scale visual collaboration software and is very well equipped to enter to the 21st century.
On July 4th, 2012, the LHC experiments announced the observation of the Higgs Boson particle predicted by the Standard Model. This discovery led to a Nobel Prize in 2013 and just recently, LIGO, a longtime SRN member announced the discovery of gravitational waves. You can learn more about our history with LIGO here. I am so proud of my LHC and LIGO colleagues for their accomplishments, and also feel a sense of pride that maybe in some small way that tool that I helped develop back in 1995 has provided the collaborative environment scientists and researchers need to further advancements, and make new discoveries. I like to think that newer iterations of the VRVS, like the eZuce SRN have enabled collaboration amongst not only the LHC and LIGO communities but a multitude of other research communities using the SRN today.