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Planning for Webcasting Success

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Enterprisewide multimedia communications initiatives are often delayed or derailed at the 11th hour because of a failure to consider IT and networking requirements at the outset. Often driven by business managers or video professionals motivated to use webcasting as an economical and effective way to communicate with or train employees, these projects can run off course when crucial network, integration, scalability, security, and management issues are not a core part of the evaluation criteria. This article will identify some of the key factors organizations should consider when planning an enterprisewide multimedia communications strategy, from end-user operational and management considerations to the technology and architectural factors that determine whether a system can coexist with mission-critical production applications on the corporate network.

Application Considerations
One of the primary considerations at the outset of the enterprise webcasting deployment is how it will serve the organization’s business objectives. Whether the chief executive needs a live webcasting system capable of reaching thousands of employees simultaneously or the training department needs an on-demand solution that can integrate with the corporate learning management system, the nature of the communications application plays an essential role in determining the components and topography of the optimal solution.

Corporate Communications
Many organizations’ streaming initiatives stem from a need for corporate executives to communicate in real time with employees located around the globe. In this case, webcasts usually originate from a corporate studio where a trained media professional with the skills and experience to operate complex multimedia production systems that integrate with highly advanced audio visual environments is employed. Given the mission-critical nature of these productions, the solution must be able to scale reliably to a large live audience by leveraging a distributed internal network architecture as well as one or more commercial content delivery networks.

Training
Whether for compliance, work force training, skills training, or professional development, training occurs with far greater frequency than an executive all-hands meeting, and it is rarely staged in a corporate studio. Instead, organizations want to capture the event where it takes place, thereby extending the value of the session by creating an on-demand online version that other employees can access at any time on any device. In this case, automation is the most critical component of the multimedia system because the instructor or subject matter expert will almost always lack professional media expertise. As a consequence, organizations should consider solutions that can be widely deployed yet centrally managed and configured to provide an automated content creation experience while preserving important control over resources and infrastructure.

Professional User-Generated Content
With the rise of social media and web-based collaboration technologies, the need to empower highly skilled subject-matter experts throughout the organization will soon become a competitive imperative. Already a core component of information sharing in professional services fields from law to financial services, enterprise desktop webcasting is on the near horizon. In this application, the biggest challenge will be for network administrators, who will need to maintain control over who is authorized to create and view content and how to limit and prioritize webcasters’ use of limited corporate network resources.

Network Considerations
While there are many ways to implement a webcasting solution, such as using an outsourced, hosted application service provider or using a commercial content delivery network (CDN), this article will focus on enterprise webcasting solutions that utilize CDNs and run behind the firewall.

A scalable, network-optimized enterprise deployment leverages IP bandwidth via the corporate data network (including VPN and/or eCDN) and incorporates a variety of audio-visual equipment, encoders, and databases as well as web, streaming, and application servers in this, or a similar, workflow:

—Video and audio of the speaker and HTTP graphical content from his or her computer is captured and synchronized via a multimedia communications software and/or hardware product.

—Video and audio from cameras and microphones is sent to multiple load-balanced encoders, based on audience size, for compression.

—The encoded media streams are sent to multiple load-balanced, multicast-enabled streaming servers for optimal scalability and redundancy.

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