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The Challenge for Next-Generation Enterprise Video Platforms

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It’s long been accepted as gospel that enterprise video solutions lag behind platforms geared for entertainment. But while enterprise streaming media delivery used to consist of Windows Media, Real, or even older legacy streaming technologies, the past year has seen a number of changes in the enterprise video delivery ecosystem. Real Networks has ceased sale of its Helix servers, Microsoft is fully on the HTTP-based delivery bandwagon (with both DASH and Smooth Streaming), and a surge in mobile video usage in the enterprise shows no sign of abating.

The last issue—mobile usage for enterprise video consumption—is probably the biggest challenge facing the enterprise today. Mobile or remote workers, armed not with just a laptop but also a tablet and a smartphone (sometimes two or more of each), have forced companies to look at greenfield solutions to move beyond internally created legacy delivery solutions. Some of these may even include cloud-based or hybrid solutions.

This article explores the challenges and opportunities an enterprise might face in choosing an enterprise video platform (EVP). The article doesn’t provide a checklist of key features, as we’re still in the midst of preparing an enterprise video platform buyer’s guide as part of the upcoming 2015 Streaming Media Sourcebook, but it does provide insight into some of the building blocks that are necessary for video platforms to co-exist within the multi-use networks found in most enterprises and large organizations.

To address these building blocks, we will try to shine the light on a series of acronyms, from SQL and NoSQL to AD, ON, and SDN.

AD, ON, and SDN

Three nonstreaming technologies are important for the proper dissemination of next-generation enterprise video within the corporate network.

One of these, Active Directory, has been around for quite some time, and we’ve highlighted one scenario of Active Directory’s use in the article Video in the War Zone: The Current State of Military Streaming.”

The other two are networking technologies that fall under the terminology of open networking (ON) or software-defined networking (SDN) as descriptors of the intent to move toward standards-based networking that can be modified solely via the use of software.

To best achieve SDN, though, the switch and router manufacturers, sometimes called the “big iron” companies, need to offer deeper access to their switching fabric via software development kits (SDK) and application programming kits (API). In some instances, the “big iron” companies have responded, even open-sourcing the managed switch and router operating systems.

The Open Networking User Group (ONUG), is leading the way not just toward SDN but also common platforms as well. ONUG calls this the Common Networking Ecosystem.

The ONUG Board requires six levels of commonality to provide a proper ecosystem: provisioning, orchestration tools, control mechanisms, baseline policies, current-state management databases, and integrated monitoring.

The six commonalities were outlined at a recent ONUG Board meeting in New York (opennetworkingusergroup.com). And, lest our readers wonder why the streaming industry should care about the ONUG Board, let’s just say it’s made up of fairly heavy hitters in the enterprise IT space: Bank of America, Citigroup, Fidelity Investments, Cigna, Credit Suisse, FedEx, Gap Inc., JPMorgan Chase, Pfizer, Symantec, and UBS.

While many are familiar with the first commonality—the use of automated discovery, provisioning, and asset registration used to attach a device or a subnetwork to the primary network—ONUG sees the benefit as going beyond just a software-defined connection of local area networks.

In fact, the goal is to provide software-defined wide area networks (SD-WAN) in conjunction with virtual network overlays as a way to eliminate the hard-wired dependencies of more traditional virtual private networks (VPN).

At numerous Streaming Media shows, enterprise speakers and panelists have discussed issues facing their mobile or remote-worker streaming video needs and emphasized the issues created by multiple workers attempting to view content housed behind the firewall over a VPN.

The reasons for these limitations are twofold. First, companies bought these VPN services— and the hardwired lines that are often used for VPNs—back when the idea was to “dial in” for basic email access or simple remote desktop connections. They really weren’t intended for video delivery, nor were VPN services priced with high-bandwidth delivery in mind.

Second, these psuedo-private networks, while virtual in nature, are still beholden to legacy technologies—and even legacy hardware, at the service provider’s level—that limit the overall growth of VPN capacity.

All of which is to say that with open networking, SDN, and even SD-WAN, the intent is to be able to reconfigure any pipe into a more modern version of a VPN, one capable of meeting dynamic bandwidth and use-case requirements.

To do so, automated orchestration tools for network configuration and change management are needed and have been highlighted as part of the overall ecosystem by the ONUG Board.

Common Control

In addition, given the likelihood that physical routers will coexist with both physical and virtual switches for the foreseeable future, common control mechanisms are needed to control networking gear from a variety of competitive switch and switching fabric manufacturers. To get there, though, one must also assure that a common baseline policy for all vendor gear is not only in place but also enforceable through a controller environment common to all gear attached to the local and wide-area networks.

A final portion of common control, called out by both the ONUG and vendors, is the need for a standardized “state management” database. This is less about the control of the network than it is about the network’s current state. For streaming media delivery, this would be both the state of the route—from the origin server to a Wi-Fi-based mobile device moving between access points on the corporate network, for example—but also whether networking protocols have been defined and are in an active state. Those protocols could be HTTP (assumed to be on), as well as RTP/ RTSP, RTMP, and even legacy protocols that use specialized ports and transport.

Interestingly, ONUG says these network states should be “automatically captured for all physical and virtual network devices” and most software-defined video solutions (such as the type that Elemental Technologies is pitching as part of its SDV initiative) would fall primarily into the virtual device category.

I asked Sam Blackman, co-founder of Elemental Technologies, to help our readers understand the difference between SDN and SDV, as the terminology can be confusing.

“Software-defined data centers will entirely consist of virtualized infrastructure—compute, storage, networking—and SDV applications will ride seamlessly on top of these virtual machine resources,” Blackman says. “Media companies managing these SDDCs will be able to spin up and down SDV resources (on-demand transcoding, linear or live encoding/ transcoding, packaging, and content origination) as business needs dictate.”

SQL or No SQL?

Most legacy enterprise video systems are built around a relational database system or RDBS. Regardless of whether the backend is based on a proprietary (Oracle, IBM, Microsoft) or an open-source (MySQL, Maria, Postgres, SQLite) database engine, the language used to run queries and request content from an RDBS is based on a form of structured query language (SQL).

SQL variants are different as the RDBS solutions that run them, but they share a common foundation: Structured content is stored in tables and columns; the queries use those tables and columns to search for content stored in a given row or field, otherwise known as a database record.

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