A Tale of Two Worlds
Tom started his career as a photographer. His award-winning photojournalism eventually led him to video production, first as an independent producer and later as a full-time employee of a Fortune 100 company. Like most creative people, Tom (a pseudonym along with many of the other names in this article; large companies are especially reluctant to allow the use of employees' names for fear of exposing their processes or their problems) spends countless hours using his creative energy to produce the best possible product for his internal clients. He agonizes over color, hue, and saturation, using a broadcast vectorscope to ensure his video is up to broadcast standards. His capital budget is tight, but he dreams of new lighting systems, audio mixers, video production switchers, and, of course, the latest in broadcast video cameras. To Tom, "IP" used to mean "intellectual property," which meant we were talking about copyright issues. Now, he understands its new meaning.
Tom uses Apple computers for his video production. Like many video producers, he is comfortable with Final Cut Pro and is very adept with Photoshop and Illustrator. A typical production uses professional titles, banners, and video clips Tom created for that production, mixed with live studio video, and the output is virtually indistinguishable from a production created by a major network studio.
In years past, the live production was distributed via coaxial cable to select locations in the enterprise, recorded to tape, nd later produced, encoded, and burned to a DVD. The DVD would then be mailed to interested parties. In recent years, the live video production is streamed live in the enterprise and also over the public internet.
Paul is a network engineer at the same Fortune 100 company as Tom. Paul started his career as a corporate desktop support engineer, helping the 10,000 employees set up and fix their Windows PC applications. He became very skilled with support and advanced quickly. His supervisor sent him to several schools and technical seminars, and he decided to focus on network engineering rather than desktop support. He has an engineering degree and a network engineering certification from Cisco. Following a recent merger, he became the principal network engineer responsible for integrating the company's many new branch offices.
The network Paul manages is getting much better than it was a few years ago. Like most networks, it evolved from an unplanned hodgepodge of wires, workgroup hubs, and switches to become a fully managed network consisting of GigE fiber backbone and 100Mbps Ethernet delivered to every desktop. Virtually all desktops operate using Windows XP, and there is a migration to Windows 7 planned.
Paul is not responsible for network security, but he is responsible for helping to implement it. Paul thinks the network security people have a tough job: How do you learn to trust people that you intuitively might not otherwise? One of them, John, really drives Paul crazy because John's first answer is always "no." When Paul designs a new network node, John seems to say, "Prove to me that nothing bad will happen in an infinite number of circumstances." In other words, prove a negative.
Paul and Tom are about to cross paths.
There are huge cultural differences between video producers and network engineers.
Video producers are artists. Artists start by saying, "How can I do this differently?" They then instantly leap "out of the box." Network engineers are problem solvers. Problem solvers start by defining the problem, thus, creating a box. The two worldviews are not necessarily in conflict, but if you have seen a video produced by a network engineer or a network built by a video producer, you know these are different skills.
A television production director values artistic teamwork, while network engineers tend to operate best when left alone. The network engineer values innovation and new challenges, while the video producer values dependability. The video producer is offended if the result of his work is degraded, while the network engineer is offended if the result of his work degrades the network. This difference in culture and attitudes can lead to misunderstanding and potential clashes when video streaming brings the two cultures together.
Tom and Paul know each other casually. While it was against corporate IT policy, Paul helped Tom get his email working on Tom's "illegal" Mac. He also assisted in networking Tom's local video storage server in a way that it would not be exposed to the corporate network. Paul is intrigued by streaming video. He has posted a few clips on YouTube, but beyond that, he has little experience. Paul has set up a few H.323 videoconference systems in the corporate network. Most of his "video" work has to do with helping remote sites open ports so that the videoconference system will work. When you say
"video" and "corporate" in the same sentence, this is what Paul thinks of.
Tom's primary "customer" is the corporate marketing department. When members of the marketing department approached him with a need to webcast a live production every month to all employees, Tom entered "The Convergence Zone"-the place where the cultures of video production and IT merge (see sidebar). Tom calls Paul and explains what he wants to do: deliver a live video production to all employees worldwide-not just once but every week. Tom also describes the need for a video-on-demand (VOD) platform where employees could select and view video assets as needed. While management supports the idea, no one really knows how to do it.
Adversaries or Partners?
Tom and Paul develop a “want list” and consult with several vendors. They receive quotes for encoders, video storage, and a lightweight delivery access protocol- (LDAP) authenticated conditional access video portal system. They make a decision, and the system is installed.
Three months later, Tom is broadcasting live video to everyone in his location via multicast, and he sends unicast streams to remote locations over the corporate backbone, where it is received and converted to a local multicast. Paul is happy that it all works, and he was surprised at how easy it was to implement. Security is not an issue because only a designated source sends to designated receivers at the remote locations, and nothing else traverses the firewall. The system easily worked with the corporate LDAP database and VOD was an instant reality, at least locally. Paul still has to work through lots of issues with proxy servers used by branch offices, but they are on their way.
Tom is still getting to know streaming video. He prefers streaming in MPEG-2 DVD quality, which he uses within his campus. This allows him to bring live video from locations around the campus to his studio, where he decodes the video via a dedicated appliance and has low enough delay to remotely control the camera at the source. Paul and the rest of the IT staff are pretty comfortable with a request to deliver a 5Mbps UDP video stream from point A to point B. In fact, they help Tom set it up for high-profile off-campus remote locations using the corporate backbone ... which has more than 100Mbps of capacity. But Tom still laments more classic streaming at bitrates that viewers can get in their home offices. "I can't have the video look less than DVD" he says. For the most part, Tom's videos are corporate productions that are largely talking heads, not high-action sports. But Tom likes to insert a news crawler overlay on the bottom of the screen-if it is not absolutely smooth, Tom is upset. A physical DVD does not behave this way.
Tom insists on using 30 fps, 720x480 resolution because it looks best. At conventional streaming rates of about 500Kbps, the video looked awful.
The phone rings.
"Hi Tom, this is Paul. Are you doing something on the network right now?"
"Yes, I've got a live session running, why?" Tom says.
"Well, the guys in Singapore just called, and they say they can't send or receive email or access the corporate server. What video rate are you using?" Paul asks, anticipating the answer.
Tom drops the bomb. "I set it up to 5Mbps." he said. "I know you said to use 300Kbps, but it didn't look good."Tom, you are inflicting a denial of service attack on the network. That's bad. Please change the settings immediately!" Paul says with urgency.
For the next few months, every network event, every email trapped by a spam filter, every database error, every network slowdown, and virtually everything that was bad is blamed on Tom and streaming. Paul's boss, the IT director, issues an edict that there will be no streaming because streaming is "bad."
When the dust settles a few days later, the edict is lifted. The solution was quite simple: "If it hurts when you do that, don't do that." Tom understands the limits better now, and he adjusts his streaming settings for what he feels is optimal for his content and the bandwidth he can reasonably use. While he likes his news crawler in the video, he has removed it because it tends to illustrate any streaming delivery issues. He is now using more modest resolution and has dropped to 15 fps, which increased the sharpness of video. With experience, Tom discovers he can have good video quality at bandwidths the network can support.
For his part, Paul learns that the wide area network (WAN)links were not optimal. Sure, Tom should not have used so much bandwidth, but that should not have taken down the branch office. Paul convinces his boss that they need WAN optimization devices, which are ultimately installed on all WAN links. Now, traffic is given proper priority and no one application can hog all of the bandwidth. Streaming over WANs has a precise limit that makes everyone happy.
So it is with this new alliance between video producers and network engineers. Streaming s new ground for many, and they are feeling their way.
Are Things Getting Better?
Increasingly, the corporate A/V staff reports to the IT director. At least these new convergence issues don't cross departmental boundaries. But mere reporting structures are not quite enough to overcome the prejudices built up over years of experience in one focus area. A new role in IT has emerged, the "video streaming and videoconference engineer." This person is largely responsible for visual communications infrastructure and, as the title implies, usually comes from the world of integrated services digital network (ISDN)/H.323/session initiation protocol (SIP) videoconference products and technologies and/or from the web streaming world. Not quite IT, not quite video production,not quite webmasters, the video streaming and videoconference engineer can speak all of these languages.
This is a relatively new phenomenon. Historically, there had been a sharp divide been the videoconference people and the streaming people.With different purposes, different customers, different content, different technologies, the only thing they have in common is audio and video. The videoconference people largely evolved from telecom and graduated from ISDN to IP. The streaming people largely evolved from web technologies. But enterprise video streaming often relies on multicast- something neither had encountered before. This subconvergence of streaming and videoconferencing has led some organizations to truly integrate the two systems, allowing videoconference systems to be the streaming video source and to archive videoconference sessions and make them part of a unified video-on-demand library.
"Corporate streaming violates virtually every security rule," says Jim, the webcasting director at a major accounting firm. "The network staff tries to enforce rules that were established long before streaming even existed. Those rules must be revised because they don't make sensefor streaming." From a security point of view, packets that attempt to go everywhere are bad, but that's often the whole purpose of corporate streaming. "You can't apply your database development experience to a streaming media problem, but that's how some look at it," Jim says.
That problem is not new-when you are a hammer, the whole world looks like a nail. "Most corporate leadership does not understand the difference between enterprise streaming and YouTube," Jim says. "That the CEO's kid can make a video with his webcam and upload it to YouTube makes the CEO think either streaming is easy or that his kid is brilliant. The CEO is simply not equipped to know the difference."
Whenever media is not the core business, there is the potential for trouble. When media is the business, the company looks at the problem from the right perspective: How do we best engineer the network to deliver this? When media is not the business, the problem is often quite different: How do we stream in a network that has been engineered to prevent it?
Producers and Network Engineers
Video producers love to see their work appreciated. Much of what drives YouTube is a producer's joy of having his or her work seen. It is no different in the corporate environment. But producers have new tools and metrics that shifted the balance in favor of streaming.
Modern video delivery platforms that deliver both live and on-demand videos provide a rich set to viewing metrics (see Rich's Media). These metrics tell you not only how many viewers you have but who they are, when they viewed, if they completed viewing, and more. This natural feedback loop to the producer is invaluable, both to improve content as well as to keep producers motivated. Like everyone, producers become disheartened when their work goes unnoticed and are encouraged when their work is appreciated.
Network engineers may not have artistic aspirations, but they like to be appreciated too, especially by their peers. Their metrics tend not to be how many people viewed a video but how many viewed it simultaneously. Having a large webcast proves that the network performs well-it's a source of pride. And hunting down and repairingnetwork segments that do not perform well allows them to use the skills in meaningful and visible ways.
Russell Scaduto, director of education technology at Penn State College of Medicine and Hershey Medical Center, discovered the value of enterprise streaming. With 9,000 users and about 200Mbps of redundant internet access going to 1Gbps, the constant worry about streaming bandwidth use is beginning to fade thanks to recent network upgrades.
"The video comes from the operating room," Scaduto says. "Surgeons can just press a button to record their surgery, and it is automatically published to our enterprise video portal." The IT staff was excited to use its recent network upgrade in new and meaningful ways. With 100Mbps to each desktop, there is plenty of room for video.
"Security used to be a real problem," Scaduto says. Doctors would insert a memory stick or CD in the OR video equipment and record what they wanted, but the physical device had no security. They would leave the memory stick or CD, sometimes not well-labeled, on their desks.
"Now, access to the video is controlled by the network system," Scaduto says. "If you have authorization, you can log in and select the video you want to view. It is instantly searchable. And you can't download your own copy, so streaming has actually improved our security."
Enterprise webcasting has created a new source of content that some video producers like and some hate. User-generated content (UGC) is looked at with disdain by some producers who think all video should be professional. While watching a casual department-level internal webcast, some producers can't help but critique the lighting, lack of set, or poor audio. "Some people shouldn't use a telephone either," a network engineer quipped. But enterprise UGC is growing, and it enables subject-matter experts to impart their knowledge without all the cost and fanfare of a formal studio production.
It gets more serious when the video is intended for viewing by customers or investors and when production values really do matter. Network performance matters most here too. It's one thing if the CEO's weekly "Town Hall Meeting" to employees has a problem. It's a different story if a live webcast intended for investors does not go well.
“We use a CDN for external webcasting,” Jim says. “Look, we don’t need the internet distribution infrastructure to deliver Hulu-like movies to millions of consumers, but CDNs are cheap and easy. It can easily cost less to use their bandwidth than to buy our own.”
The IT staff has a love/hate relationship with CDNs. On one hand, a live webcast to people outside the enterprise is surprisingly simple: Just push a single stream and use only 300Kbps– 700Kbps of outbound bandwidth. On the other hand, if more than a handful of internal people attempt to view that live stream from the public internet, inbound pipes become clogged. Clogged pipes make the video look bad, which upsets the producer. But it could also affect mission- critical applications. Simple solutions such as reflectors and stream splitters easily address these issues, and it falls squarely in the lap of the network engineer to anticipate the problem and to devise the solution.
“My job is to impart important information in the most interesting and compelling way to people inside and outside of this company,” Tom says. “Video does this. If the information is not delivered for whatever reason, I have failed.”
“My job is to protect the mission-critical network. If the network fails, the loss can be measured in millions of dollars a day, and I not only fail but I may be fired,” Paul says.
“My job is to ensure the information in our network is not disclosed to unauthorized parties and that unauthorized parties cannot do damage to our network or to our information,” John says.
Video producers like Tom are tasked with imparting important information in an interesting way, while network engineers like Paul have to protect a mission-critical network. Complicating matters further, network security engineers like John are making sure internal information is not discovered or damaged by unauthorized users.
While these three parties sometimes run into problems with each other’s work, the good news is that they are now talking more than ever before, and they are forging an alliance.