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The State of Enterprise Video 2015

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By the end of 2014, a number of multinational corporations had kicked the tires on newer enterprise media platforms. The majority of the ready-made platforms available today are cloud-based, a few are hybrid, and an even smaller number appear to be on-prem-only solutions.

Yet they all represent a move away from legacy codecs and delivery methods. It might be hard for those in the media and entertainment space to fathom, but the use of Windows Media Server (WMS) has remained strong in many enterprise deployments, even years after Microsoft itself abandoned the Windows Media codecs and Windows Media Player. In its place, Microsoft now favors standards-based, in-browser delivery via the combination of H.264 video and AAC audio codecs, and has championed its own Smooth Streaming adaptive bitrate (ABR) protocol plus the emergent Dynamic Adaptive HTTP Streaming (DASH) protocol.

So what are these enterprises looking for as they enter the brave new, post-WMS world?

We spoke with several companies that have gone through the process of specifying and implementing solutions that take advantage of newer protocols, cloud solutions, and even mobile delivery. One clear theme from these discussions is that there’s still no single, clear-cut solution, and that many aren’t yet ready to go to a fully cloud-based platform.

Moving Away From Overlay

Before we discuss a few examples of ongoing integrations, let’s step back and look at what’s changing in the enterprise video space at the end of 2014.

One of the most welcome changes in the enterprise video space is the homogenization of the transport layer, merging video traffic into the rest of the enterprise’s data network. This ability to combine traffic together is as big a story for enterprise video—and the IT departments that support it—as the move from proprietary to standards-based codecs. Both will happen in lock-step, since the move to ABR technologies requires HTTP.

Traditional enterprise media networks, many of which have been around for a decade, started out as overlay networks. Whether through the use of virtual local area networks (V-LAN) or truly separate data pipes and leased lines, an overlay network is supposed to offload heavy video traffic away from mission-critical transactional or operational data. Remote workers generally would use a virtual private network (VPN), but the bandwidth was often severely limited, meaning that few offsite employees could view streaming content originating from behind the corporate firewall.

The advent of dynamic, HTTP-based media technologies—from the aforementioned Smooth Streaming and DASH to Apple’s HTTP Live Streaming (HLS)—has made it not only practical but desirable to consolidate video traffic from overlay networks to traditional HTTP-centric data networks. HLS itself has become a de facto standard thanks to its inclusion in many mobile devices, from Apple’s iOS-based devices to the newer versions of Google’s Android mobile operating systems.

When it comes to the cloud, discussions for this article yielded two disparate lines of thinking: the concern from enterprise media managers with ongoing security issues (especially when it comes to mobile users) and their continued, ongoing interest in cloud-based solutions.

Security concerns outweighed convenience in the minds of many of the enterprise communications managers we spoke to. And with good reason: To date, cloud vendors have done little to truly address security concerns.

Until that occurs, the number of enterprises that choose to replace their legacy solutions with cloud-only, or even cloud-centric, solutions will remain low. What are they doing in the meantime? Representatives of at least two of the companies we talked to say their next systems will be based on in-house content delivery networks, or enterprise CDNs, rather than moving fully to the cloud.

Thomas Aquilone, enterprise technology programs manager with Lockheed Martin’s ISGS (Information Systems and Global Solutions), says his company assessed several solutions that were cloud-based and, while intrigued, ultimately went with an E-CDN solution to address the security concerns.

“Our next-generation enterprise webcasting service (EWS) needed to be able to do what we have been doing,” Aquilone says, “but we also have to think beyond multicast. That led us to choose an E-CDN approach. The new solution has network appliances for edge casting, and our announced winner will provide both equipment and support to Lockheed internal resources via a support contract.”

Aquilone’s point about “thinking beyond multicasting” is a valid one, as the death of WMS has led to the unintended “death of multicast,” to quote another enterprise video manager.

From the enterprise standpoint, multicast has always been a vision to aspire to, as a way to lower overall bandwidth requirements for content that will be broadcast across the entire enterprise. Now, though, Microsoft and other companies are looking toward peer-to-peer solutions, a technology that was once reserved for gray areas of the internet.

Movement in this direction is somewhat slow. Microsoft announced a partnership with Peerialism and its Hive Streaming at the 2013 International Broadcasters Conference (IBC) as a potential way to solve the scalability problem. Yet there seems to be little traction in the marketplace for this kind of solution, as both Adobe (with its Real Time Media Flow Protocol) and several other peer-to-peer vendors have discovered.

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