The Farr Institue: the modern approach to multi-centre collaboration

The Farr Institute now uses videoconferencing for meetings, presentations and workshops between colleagues at over 15 university sites.

Farr meeting room Edinburgh

Quality and robust fitting of touch panel, microphones and retractable cables.

Farr meeting room in CTIR Dundee.

Farr at UCL seminar presenter desk.

Farr seminar room UCL.

University of Dundee CTIR building table detail.

This group of academics in health informatics and public health research are based in Dundee, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen, Manchester, York, Bradford, Liverpool, Swansea and London. The requirements across of all these locations were for 32 rooms, of various sizes and types, equipped for video meetings and a growing number of desktop units.

There are dedicated meeting rooms, multipurpose seminar rooms and boardroom style installations.

Video South won the tender for carrying out the entire project, with a final interview and pitch via multipoint videoconference! The brief was to develop a platform that would provide easy to use and similar rooms in every centre. All systems would be operated by users. No single University IT department was controlling the project, but since network hardware would be based at the University of Dundee, Video South developed the IP design and network access with Dundee.

The client defined early on what they meant by ‘easy to use’; lead academic on project detail, Jonathan Monk, said simply: ‘I want my colleagues to go into a meeting room, press a button that says Farr Meeting and that starts a multi-point video meeting between any centres.’

This has been achieved and is in line with the philosophy at Video South that drives our touch panel design. We have refined our software to include as many defaults and automated sequences as possible.

In order to fulfil the brief with high quality conferencing via JANET and network hub facilities in one place (Dundee), it was decided that Cisco would provide the most reliable systems. Cisco also provides a range of endpoint equipment that suits all the sizes and types of room as well as desktop systems.

The core of the network infrastructure is key to success in such a system. The Farr structure is all Cisco and includes Call Manager to enable call control and directory updates, which are centrally distributed automatically, a vital function for a platform with endpoints at many universities.

Along with the VCS video controller inside Call Manager, there is VCS Expressway to traverse the firewalls in and out of Dundee. To host multi-centre meetings effortlessly, there is also a full HD (all 1080p in both channels) MCU.

The result is a system of harmonised endpoints across the UK that, although in a variety of university networks, interoperate seamlessly. All endpoints are equipped with touch panels. These all have directories for quick dial and the directories update whenever a new endpoint joins the system. They call each other using simplified E.164 alias (one touch on the touchpanel).

They can also make and receive calls across the internet using IP addresses, if the University allows it. In the seminar rooms and meeting rooms, Video South designed the furniture to fit the rooms and the associated audio-visual systems. No matter how complex the presentation systems in the room, the user control to set up a point-to-point or a multi-point video meeting is still reduced to one press of the directory entry. All other video, audio and default settings for cameras and microphones are automated from this one selection.

Jonathan Monk commented: ‘The Farr Institute has offices in many universities. Video South has carried out the project management to ensure that each premises is appropriately equipped for the accommodation they have. The entire installation of 32 locations has been managed by them and the quality control and project management has met our expectations.’