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Inside The Cisco Media Network

Typical Workflow
Cisco Media Network guidelines make a very clear distinction between content that is intended first and foremost for VODs. For internally-focused VODs, employees are encouraged to author from their offices, using a USB camera connected to their laptop. They fill out a form in a web page and are prompted to choose from a number of internal tools, depending on if they want to include video or only audio. One of the tools offered is IVT Media Platform Studio. There are specifications for different media, recommended dimensions for diagrams and font sizes that conform with Cisco policies. Once the content is captured, it is published through a central publishing portal.

The publishing process automatically creates media in Windows Media and Real Networks formats. For content created with USB cameras on laptops, 56kbps is the maximum data rate the publishing system will generate.

"This works well for showing someone who is a Cisco employee how to do something," Mitchell explains. "External facing information goes through an entirely different process. Webcam and self authoring are discouraged for content that will be available to the public or partners."

For live broadcasts and VODs that will be viewed by people other than Cisco employees, the Cisco Media Network provides studio infrastructure and professional caliber tools. First, the event has to be scheduled with the production resources. Some frequent users are allowed to use certain studio facilities on a "self serve" basis while others have staff dedicated to them. Live events are generally scheduled between a month and a week in advance. A 2MB video feed is sent to the encoders and transcoders and then streamed to audiences at 900kbps, 300kbps, 100kbps, 56kbps, and 14kbps. About half of the live and one third of the VOD is captured in Cisco’s studios. The rest are captured in large conference rooms or other facilities and the raw video data is backhauled to the production resources for transcoding.

Even with only half of the productions in a studio, Mitchell says that the utilization rate of the five studios is high, by corporate standards. "We’re doing something in there all the time. We record or broadcast about five out of eight hours a day, four days a week, in the San Jose studios. The rest of the time we are either setting up or breaking down." After a VOD has been captured in the studio, the workflow introduces this content into a Virage Video Logger to synchronize the media and automatically produce the various file formats and data rates. The results are all published to a single database.

Whether the capture is done in a studio, a conference room or an employee’s cubicle, all content put on the Cisco Media Network is organized in directories and "channels" in the database. This permits searching as well as management of the assets over time.

Looking Ahead
Even in a company that has integrated streaming media on so many levels, there remain areas where change is anticipated and systems can be optimized. Mitchell is working towards supporting MPEG-4 in both the live and on demand productions because he feels that it will provide a more converged environment between live and on demand assets, better quality video as well as open new opportunities when synchronizing dynamic data and static media files.

Another area of research and possible future investment is personal video. "In general, we see video getting more personal over time," remarks Mitchell. "Today we have integrated group videoconferencing with the media production systems and in the future, we will have to explore personal videoconferencing and video messaging support as well."

Between now and then, the Cisco Media Network is running seven days a week and, by several accounts, returning handsomely on the investments the company has made to date.

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