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Multicast: Enabling Future Expansion

As is true for many other enterprises, network bandwidth limitations have helped to limit the more rapid integration of streaming media at Boeing. Boeing's initiative to multicast-enable its network (engineers expect the Puget Sound region to be multicast- capable by the end of 2001) is intended to free up valuable bandwidth and clear the way for new streaming applications. Dave Baxter, a streaming media technologist for Boeing who manages the video servers, says that the company wants to take the BEN network and broadcast that to the desktop. "We can do that now," he says, "but one of the things we're trying to do is step up to a multicast environment."

"Most vendors probably think of a company as being 5,000 to 7,000 employees, so when they apply their pricing formulas to something as huge as Boeing, it simply makes it not affordable for us."

When the Boeing network is multicast-enabled, live webcasting will have minimal impact on the bandwidth available for other applications. Until then, access to live webcasts will be restricted. Boeing protects its network bandwidth in a number of ways: by routing unicast streams to buildings and campuses that are multicast-enabled; by directing unicast streams to large rooms, where groups of employees may gather to watch; and by limiting advance notice of live webcasts to high-level executives and those directly involved with the particular content.

Bigger events are a different matter, however. "When John Glenn went [up in the Space Shuttle], we streamed that on the public network," says Weitz. "Well, that URL leaked out and everybody was trying to see John Glenn lift off. We could not get out to update the Web site because the proxies were full, so it just locked everything up."Clearly, Boeing is a step ahead of many companies in its implementation of streaming technologies, but even equipped with generous human and monetary resources, the company hasn't solved all the problems inherent in streaming to a large, geographically disparate company audience. Plans to introduce new streaming applications — in sales and marketing, and with BEN — face technical and practical hurdles. But with 4,000 to 8,000 video streams already delivered each week over the Boeing intranet, it's easy to see the potential power of corporate streaming media.

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