Enterprise streaming solutions are oftenoverlooked. Compared with their media andentertainment counterparts, which progressrapidly, or even higher education solutionsthat see frequent updates to meet the demands of newerportable devices, enterprise streaming products cansometimes be accused of being stuck in a time warp.
Part of the reason for this is the limited bandwidththat most corporate streaming services require: Manyenterprise systems have been content to use a 100Kbpsvideo stream across the local area network (LAN) orvirtual private network (VPN) as well as 16Kbps–32Kbpsaudio streams for remote employees. Streaming highdefinition(HD) content at 720p isn’t even on the horizonin most corporate or enterprise environments, although300Kbps–450Kbps may soon become the new norm.
For all the talk of more exciting verticals, theenterprise streaming market has been vibrant over thepast decade, with workhorse products that produce dayin and day out. What is more interesting is that contentcreation and viewership of enterprise streamingcontinue to increase.
This buyer’s guide is based on a set of emergingtrends that were uncovered during interviews for theStreaming Media article "Navigating the EnterpriseWorkflow" (October/November 2009). The articlecovered best-practice solutions shared by representativesof several multinational companies: ComputerAssociates (CA), Lockheed Martin, Merck, and QAD.
Time to Upgrade?
One thing that surprised me was that many of thesecompanies still use encoding and decoding solutionsthat formed the core of their early streamingprototypes or initial rollouts.
"We are currently using the same Windows MediaServer that we installed in 2001," says Scott Lawson,business systems architect for the informationtechnology team at QAD, Inc., noting the robustness ofWindows Media to meet his company’s streaming needs.
Current solutions that have been in place for 5–8years work adequately, don’t break, and couldprobably continue working for the next decade were itnot for a shift in the underlying technologies. The move by technology providers, such as Microsoft, towardadaptive bitrate streaming (Smooth Streaming forSilverlight is Microsoft’s version) will force someenterprise managers to reassess their Windows Media9 (or earlier) streaming server solutions.
Besides the fact that the Silverlight plug-in supportsVC-1, H.264, or Windows Media 9 Advanced streaming,the potential of HTTP streaming solutions also meansthat infrastructure costs could drop, as Silverlightsubsumes the features of all but the newest players onthe most recent operating systems (Windows Vista andWindows 7).
An additional benefit is that, as browser plug-ins,Silverlight and Flash yield a more-flexible player andmultipane viewing instead of the relatively static optionsthat were available a few years ago.
"We look forward to the integration of Silverlight,"says QAD’s Lawson, "so that we can … use [both]embedded and standard players, tracking viewingusage from a single reporting system."
Another reason some companies are consideringupgrading is a need to consolidate disparate encodingtools from across the enterprise. While largeenterprise often uses several solutions (includingcompeting and/or homegrown solutions) across thevarious divisions or business units, this trend isshowing signs of consolidation.
Merck, for instance, started webcasting internalmeetings in 2000 using a product called sofTV. At thetime, the company was more compartmentalized witheach business unit functioning independently. In 2007,about the same time Merck outgrew sofTV, the companyset up a shared-service environment and a streamingglobal center of excellence, moving beyond sitespecificor division-centered platforms and into asingle Accordent platform.