Hosted web conferencing software
Want to add web conferencing software as a communication tool for your company? Unless you plan on hosting a large number of meetings, you might want to start with an hosted service. Also known as software as a service (SaaS) or application service provider (ASP) model, hosted providers run the web conferencing system on their own servers. In most cases, there are no set up charges and you won't be locked into a contract right away, so a hosted service is a great way to evaluate a solution.
The process works the same as it does with in-house software, except you set up and run your event through a web browser. Note that some hosted conferencing systems may only work with Internet Explorer or PC operating systems, so be sure to check the software and hardware requirements if you prefer a different setup.
Hosted web conferencing services can save you from major expenses for servers and staff to maintain them. And if you only occasionally need to run a conference, a simple pay-as-you-go plan is cheap and doesn't lock you into any one vendor.
However, if you plan to run conferences regularly, look for a provider that offers unlimited usage plans. These providers typically provide different tiers of features and/or maximum attendee limits, and let you run as many meetings as you'd like.
Be sure to evaluate the provider's support services: if a problem comes up, you'll need to rely on their customer service instead of in-house IT staff. And, if you want complete control over particular features or extensive integration, you may want to consider installing your own software as hosted software can limit your customization options.
In-house web conferencing software
The more traditional method of delivery for web conferencing software is called in-house, installed, or on-premise software. By installing and hosting the web conferencing software on your company's servers, you get complete control of the system. You also get the ability to run as many conferences for as many participants as you like — up to what your infrastructure can support.
Costs start at $2,000-$5,000 — so you will pay more up front than you would for hosted services. But in the long run heavy users could save money because there are no per-minute, per-seat, or monthly charges. With in-house web conferencing software, you also have to invest in an IT staff capable of maintaining the product, acquiring updates, and quickly managing any problems. You may also need a dedicated server to run the application and considerable network bandwidth, depending on the number of attendees.
Most web conferencing software providers have trial programs on their web sites to allow you to test the system before making any decisions. This gives you the opportunity to try the tools and interactive elements before you commit to paying for the service — but keep in mind that some providers only offer "lite" demo versions that don't include the full feature set. You can also interact with the provider's live customer service reps directly to ask questions.