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Ubiquitous Communication Through WebRTC

Welcome to Aventis Systems’ Techie Tips for 2014. If you have been a follower of these installments, you have seen a wide variety of posts covering the IT industry: everything from cloud to hardware infrastructure. However, there is one topic that, while strictly speaking, falls into the IT realm that we rarely touch on here. This is the topic of software development and software releases.

As IT professionals, many of our users whose IT environment we support, develop software applications for a living. The rest of our users use those applications to accomplish work every day. This is why, when a technology comes along that can impact our user base, we should be aware of it. Today, I would like to introduce you to the humble browser. Whether you prefer Chrome, Firefox, Opera, Internet Explorer or an alternative, until now, your interaction with web applications has been limited to basic forms. Without add-ons such as java, flash, or Active-X, it has been difficult to add multimedia to a website. Unfortunately, for us as IT professionals, those add-ons bring a lot more than just multimedia: compatibility requirements, additional security vulnerabilities, and yet another piece of software to update and support.

Over the last two years, HTML5 has gained a strong backing as a web standard, and as part of this update to the World Wide Web protocol, multimedia is now baked right into the browser - no 3rd-party extensions or desktop software necessary. And while HTML5 capability in general is too great in scope to discuss here, there is a project by Google that is being incorporated into modern browsers which is making its way into the W3C specifications. I am talking about the project known as WebRTC, and here is why you should be aware of it.

WebRTC stands for Web Real Time Communications, and it is poised to supplant the additional software that used to be required for video and audio communication over the web. WebRTC provides a platform for developers to easily add real-time video and audio capability into their web pages. You read that right - real time communications straight from any website, to any peer, in a conference setting or one on one.

This platform is already part of the latest Chrome, Firefox and Opera line of browsers, and there are demos from Google that will impress anyone who is not familiar with this technology. I won't belabor the paradigm shift that is looming due to these browser advances, however, I will point out a few thoughts to consider for the IT managing professional.

In the previous decade, the security net traffic protocol known as https was seldom used outside of eCommerce website purchases and bank website access. Since then, Google's Gmail service was one of the first to standardize using https to encrypt communications between the browser and Google's servers. In recent years, many social media companies have followed suit. The impact of https on network security is that only the recent crop of security products can intercept https traffic and analyze it to apply security policies.

Looking ahead at the adoption of real-time communications using the WebRTC technologies, it will be even more difficult to monitor network traffic and intercept malicious applications since embedding information in real-time network streams will render it invisible to current IDS and network security devices. Added to that, because WebRTC uses web protocols, it is more difficult to distinguish from traditional web traffic than current voice and video applications.

As a technologist, I tend to be optimistic, and I foresee WebRTC challenging the market of existing providers of voice and data communications. Even though this technology will be disruptive, it will make the Internet even more multimedia driven than it is today, making voice and video interaction on websites common, and building a sense of presence on websites that, up until now, has been elusive.

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