Local Heroes: Solutions for LAN- and WAN-based Streaming (Part 1)

Certeon Distribution Platform
At a high level, Certeon is "middleware" that complements Microsoft’s Streaming Media Server offering, in part by managing the distribution of video content from one central office to multiple remote LANs. Certeon’s client list includes Caterpillar, the U.S. Army, and the U.S. Marine Corps.

Certeon’s Content Commander ($50,000), located at the main office, manages the distribution and synchronization of video out to the remote LANs, as well as security, policy administration, resource reporting, and user request routing and usage. Each of the three remote offices would need MediaMall ($2,000), in essence a Web server that stores and serves streaming video (and other content specified by the administrator) to users on that LAN. MediaMall requires a Windows 2000/2003 server to run, which they’ve got at each office.

Total initial cost for this solution is approximately $56,000. If there were no Windows servers on site, Certeon sells a hardware appliance that includes all necessary hardware or software, including MediaMall, and ranges in price from around $5,000-$6,000. So, without the Windows servers, we’d be looking at around $65,000-68,000.

Network Appliance Content Delivery
Network Appliance’s content delivery solution has two components, a NetCache appliance (approximately $10,000 with all necessary streaming media licenses) at each office and a Data Fabric Manager software component at the central office (approximately $18,000-$20,000). Total cost for this solution is about $50,000.

You install the NetCache appliance to the router or switch connecting your office to the network, passing all Internet and intranet traffic to the caching hardware. In default mode, once one user on the LAN requests a video file, the caching appliance stores the file and services additional requests locally.

The Data Fabric Manager makes the process proactive, allowing managers in the central office to distribute files to each caching appliance during off-peak hours, making files available locally for the initial request. Users of Network Appliance’s Content Delivery system include Logitech Corporation, TeleWest, and Vignette.

Kontiki Delivery Management System
Where Certeon is a server-based solution, and Network Appliance a caching solution, Kontiki uses a technology called Grid Delivery to distribute high bit-rate files to targeted users. Distribution starts at one central server, but each user who has received the file can become a server and service other requests on the network. In our example, after one user in each branch office received the file, subsequent requests for the file on that LAN would increasingly be served locally from previous recipients on that LAN, preserving WAN bandwidth.

Kontiki can service three types of requests. Users can click for streaming playback, which Kontiki will attempt to service from the origin server and other servers on the grid. Unlike Certeon and Network Appliance, however, there is no guarantee that the file is stored locally on the LAN, so streaming performance is not assured. Users also can request that the system download the video file to their computer, with playback delayed until fully received, and subscribe to certain videos, which will be pushed out to their computers during off-peak hours.

The Kontiki system has four main components. The Network Publisher manages the delivery of the video files, the Network Protector provides security for the files, the Network Manager controls deployment and sets policies for bandwidth usage, and the Kontiki Analyzer provides reporting. Additionally, a module must be downloaded and installed on each user computer.

Pricing starts at $87/seat, with volume discounts available, for a total cost in our scenario of around $17,400. Kontiki customers include Ernst & Young, PalmOne, and Nextel.

Questions to Ask
Let’s get answers to the easy questions out of the way. First of all, all systems can upload files from the origin server to the remote locations during off-peak hours, saving WAN bandwidth between those two points. Not surprising, given that this feature is the basic raison d’ĂȘtre.

All three vendors offer security modules that can restrict the viewing of your content as well as reporting modules that let you know who viewed the video, and generally for how long. All three can connect to your content management system, automatically publishing content as it comes online. Of course, capabilities and ease of use vary from system to system, so if these are particular areas of interest to you, be sure to ask for more specifics.

From there, capabilities start to diverge.

Next week, we'll dig into each system in more detail, analyzing their strengths and offering useful questions you should ask yourself before you go hunting for a streaming service provider.

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