Prepping the Stage
Weinstein breaks the video lifecycle into four major phases: capture, content management, content delivery and playback. He identifies four vendors that he thinks have done the most to address all four phases-- Accordent, Sonic Foundry, VBrick and Starbak--and says each one has different strengths. For example, he says Accordent is particularly strong in simplifying the initial video capture.
Beyond picking a core video management system, you will need to assess the impact on your network. WAPA's Potts says he was surprised to find that introducing video hasn't put any undue strain on his region's network. Two other WAPA regions are implementing the same on-demand video technology, and Potts has agreed to grant them access to the servers on his network rather than making them field their own. The incremental increase in demand will be modest enough that he is not requiring them to pay for access.
However, one other WAPA region decided it couldn't use the video technology at all. The Upper Great Plains region covers large rural areas in the far Northwest where the network is thin, according to Potts, and many offices are served by mere 256 kbps wide area network links. Those connections are fully loaded with existing transmissions of e-mail and financial data, and he says the ROI on video isn't good enough to support a complete network upgrade.
Monaco says Pace University's major challenge was to upgrade a university network that stretched across six campuses in New York City and Westchester County. "The infrastructure got to be robust enough to handle video," he says, explaining that video and voice are time-sensitive, meaning that quality suffers if the supporting data arrives at an irregular rate.
Modern network switches are capable of delivering the required quality of service by treating video differently from routine data transmissions. But Pace couldn't afford to replace all its network switches at once, so the process took about five years.
Raytheon's Tarleton emphasizes the importance of enabling multicast routing if you are going to do live video broadcasts on your corporate data network. Most routers support this feature, but they don't have it enabled by default.
Multicast routing eliminates redundancy in the broadcast of an audio or video stream by transmitting a single copy of the stream across the network and feeding it to individual recipients. In the absence of multicast, each user's computer would open an independent connection with the video server and pull down its own copy of the stream, placing a far greater load on the network.
As a large organization, Raytheon also uses content distribution techniques to replicate the stream to video servers in each geography, which then redistribute it to the users in that region. The company has about 32 video servers, most of which are dedicated to the edge server function of redistributing content.
The system is also designed for redundancy at the level of Web servers, video servers and video encoding appliances. The Qumu software ties together all the components of the system and also provides a Web-based program guide and a search tool to help employees find relevant programming.
WAPA's Potts, Pace's Monaco and Raytheon's Tarleton all mention integration with network user directories and authentication systems as an important part of their selection criteria. This enables them to restrict access to a given piece of content to specific users or groups of users within the enterprise.
Of course, there are alternatives to the approaches discussed here. For example, instead of streaming video, you can send it out to employees using a file distribution product such the Ignite Technologies Content Distribution System, which delivers a complete copy of the video to each recipient's PC.
Also, instead of hosting video on your own network, you can contract with a company such as SplashMedia, which will help edit, encode, host and manage your video. The firm has a professional-grade studio available to record programs or add an introduction to programming you've produced internally.
However you approach it, there is nothing quite like video for allowing an executive to "look his employees in the eye," even if they're halfway around the world, Raytheon's Tarleton says. "It lets you see what's going on in other parts of the company in a way no other technology can," he adds.