A Buyer's Guide to Enterprise Video Platforms
While most streaming media professionals are familiar with public-facing video distribution tools such as online video platforms (OVP) and content delivery networks (CDN), there's also a somewhat more anonymous class of products and services designed to help enterprises efficiently and securely distribute content within their firewalls. We're calling this class of product enterprise video platforms, and this Buyer's Guide identifies the most popular applications within this class and questions to ask when comparing alternatives.
At a high level, there are four major categories of applications/services, with significant overlap between the first two classes in particular.
- Enterprise Delivery Platform: A player-based technology designed specifically to streamline live and on-demand video distribution within an enterprise, typically via peer-to-peer delivery, which enables nodes on a network to deliver videos bits to each other. This is much more efficient than unicast delivery, where every viewer must retrieve a unique stream.
- Enterprise Content Delivery Network (eCDN): A product or service that uses existing enterprise infrastructure and other technologies such as multicasting (a single stream viewable by many simultaneous viewers) and peer-to-peer delivery to streamline live and on-demand video delivery within the enterprise.
- Enterprise YouTube: A product or service that enables enterprises to create an internal YouTube-like application for their employees, customers, and partners, allowing selected stakeholders to upload and publish video with content moderation and secure viewing.
- Enterprise Video Portals: A product or service that manages all video content produced by the enterprise and makes them available to employees, customers, and partners, both within a custom portal or via plug-ins that fit into existing portals, such as SharePoint. This is the broadest product category of the four and can include components of the other three categories.
Here are the questions to ask before buying. Since there are so many, and since this is a new category for the Sourcebook, we won't be breaking them out separately into bullet points as we have in most of the other Buyer's Guides.
DO I BUY OR ACCESS VIA A SOFTWARE-AS-A-SERVICE (SAAS) MODEL?
Some products are available for purchase and installation within the enterprise firewall, while some are available only as SaaS. There are also hybrid products that incorporate purchased software and a service aspect. If you have a strong preference either way, be sure that your candidate products meet that preference.
WHAT FUNCTIONS DOES THE PRODUCT PERFORM?
There is a significant disparity in functionality between the four product classes listed, and often between products within a class. For example, does the product or service include encoding capabilities, or does it simply work with existing content? If it does encode, does it produce a single stream or adaptive streams, and which platforms can it reach?
Obviously, delivery to iOS and Android smartphones and tablets is key, with Windows 8 RT on the technology road map. For portals or even enterprise YouTubes, you'll want a technology that can detect and customize delivery according to factors such as the playback device and connection speed, preferably with adaptive streams.
Beyond these capabilities, does the product/service handle on-demand content only, or live as well? For live events, does the product incorporate lobby functionality to manage the registration and communications functions with your viewers or simply distribute the live streams?
How much control does the product/service provide over which content your employees must view. For example, some portals can be used to dictate which videos your employees must watch, and then monitor compliance and even administer tests, which can be a huge time-saver in a heavily regulated environment. Others merely make the videos available via YouTube-like mechanisms where a supervisor can email a link to an employee but can't track actual viewing. If tracking which videos your employees watched and for how long is key, get this on the table early, because capabilities vary greatly here.
WHAT TYPES OF CONTENT DOES IT WORK WITH?
With enterprise delivery platforms and eCDNs, you want to be sure that the product/service can distribute a wide range of content types. For example, ask whether the product/service can incorporate and help produce content such as lecture-based videos containing PowerPoint slides and video. For example, many portals offer capture stations or web interfaces that integrate PowerPoint and traditional video. Many can also accept screen-based input or even Skype videos into their presentations.
Beyond this type of lecture capture, check whether the product/service supports screencam-based videos and normal real-world videos from a range of sources, from mobile phones to professional productions.
HOW EFFICIENTLY DOES THE SYSTEM MODERATE AND MANAGE CONTENT?
For corporate YouTube and portals, you'll want a robust, rules-based workflow that dictates which employees can upload, edit, and publish content. You'll also want a system that can detail the life cycle of content, for example allowing users to set retirement dates for their videos.
HOW EXTENSIVE IS THE SOCIAL MEDIA INTEGRATION?
Social media is key to fully leveraging your video content. Users should be able to rate content, add comments, share content via email, embed content on internal enterprise webpages, or even publicize the video via Facebook or Twitter if appropriate.
HOW DOES IT INTEGRATE WITH YOUR EXISTING SECURITY SYSTEMS?
Most products and services can integrate with your existing log-in infrastructure, whether lightweight directory access protocol (LDAP), SharePoint, or security assertion markup language (SAML). This saves the hassle of creating a new database and enables very granular reporting detailing all the videos contributed or watched by each employee. Working off classes or roles defined in your existing log-in infrastructure should also simplify creating and applying role-based permissions for the various functions enabled by the product.
HOW DOES IT INTEGRATE WITH EXISTING PORTALS OR LEARNING MANAGEMENT SYSTEMS?
If you have an existing portal, you'll want to make sure that your candidate products and services can work within these portals, both to present content to your community and to help deliver it efficiently.
HOW EFFICIENTLY DOES THE TECHNOLOGY SCALE?
Some technologies are built upon proprietary platforms, and the only way to scale is to buy additional devices. Others are built upon industry standard components such as Microsoft databases and media servers, which simplifies scaling for additional content or viewers.
HOW DOES THE SYSTEM INTEGRATE WITH EXISTING STORAGE AND DELIVERY SYSTEMS?
Organizations with existing internal video distribution technologies should seek a product/service that can work with these technologies to provide the most affordable and efficient delivery system. Some systems essentially replace your existing infrastructure with peer-to-peer and/or multicast technologies, while others can leverage existing infrastructure when it improves overall delivery efficiency. For example, they can do this by automatically pushing videos out to existing cache infrastructures after encoding.
In a distributed playback environment, with multiple remote offices, you'll want to understand how the system will serve your remote viewers and leverage existing infrastructure. The most sophisticated systems can work with existing internal infrastructure and also incorporate the delivery capabilities of external CDNs to simply reach all relevant target viewers.
HOW MUCH BRANDING IS ENABLED, AND HOW EASY IS THE PRODUCT/SERVICE TO BRAND?
Most organizations want a unique look and feel for their portals, and many have multiple divisions who may also want their own look and feel. These organizations should look for a product/service that's simple to customize.
HOW DEEP IS REPORTING AND ANALYTICS?
Most portal products will offer a useful array of canned and customizable reports. If your needs go beyond these basics -- again, perhaps because you work in a regulated environment -- be sure that you can dig down to see which videos your employees watched and for how long.
HOW IS IT PRICED?
Pricing varies dramatically by vendor; some price by portal, some by the number of encoders, some by the number of servers, and some by the number of employees. Identify the pricing schema early and determine how it will be impacted by future growth of employees or viewing.
This article appears in the forthcoming 2013 Streaming Media Industry Sourcebook.