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BackWeb Goes Enterprise

It's been a long road for BackWeb (www.backweb.com). In the early days of the Internet, it was among the companies that were bringing "push" to consumers. Push was heralded as the newest and best way to receive content (like sports, news, weather) because it was sent directly to an end user's computer rather than having them go out and get it. But the push phenomenon died after the mass of users flooded corporate networks. Although solutions were implemented to get around the traffic slowdown, push was quickly, er, pushed aside.

Now, San Jose-based BackWeb is looking to make a name for itself in corporate video, with the introduction of its "e-Accelerator for Enterprise Video Communications" offering. The company said that it is combining streaming with its locally-delivered caching product to help corporations distribute video to employees. Because of its on-screen reminders, the company said it can reach the most users for "mission-critical" video.

BackWeb is already focused on the enterprise, says Yishay Yovel, director of Market Development at BackWeb. It makes products to help companies communicate with their staff or customers, by pushing, content to their computers. Already in place are call center automation and a sales automation system, as well as an agreement with RealNetworks to push music to its RealJukebox users.

This push into the corporate video space, says Yovel, will allow anyone, whether on LAN, WAN, desktop, or on mobile offices, to get high-end multimedia.

Yishay said that when video is downloaded in the background, it uses "polite delivery" methods to notify a user that new content is available. "That'sour value proposition," he said. "We address key issues that are halting streaming now." Notification can be in various steps, from quiet and subtle, to overbearing. He points to one company that has an animated version of the CEO walking across the screen whenever a new video is received.

BackWeb's e-Accelerator product can be integrated with Microsoft or RealNetworks servers, so there are no migration worries. BackWeb simply works on the back-end to manage video distribution, background downloading and notification. Users can select to view content immediately via streaming, or to cache it locally for later playback.

Yovel cites Nortel as a customer, which uses it on 64,000 computers to notify employees of critical data. Cisco, too, is delivering video to employees at a rateof 2 to 3 a week. About 7,000 employees at Cisco's UK offices have BackWeb installed, boasting 80 percent viewership. "Our core value," said Yovel," is to deliver any size file and integrate our technology with streaming."

Yovel said that showing a video, rather than a text message, is important because the message isn't diluted or have any chance of misrepresentation. "It also puts them in front of customers," he said, which gives them face-to-face communications when necessary.

According to Yovel, BackWeb essentially addresses three core components of corporate communications: cost, reach and quality. Costs and reach, said Yovel,are inter-related, saying that its important for an audience to see the message. "Companies are investing in creating content that they want people to see,"he said. "If viewership is low, the ROI is low. That's how companies measure ROI." Using BackWeb, companies can push content directly to desktops and get high audience reach levels. "The goal is to 100 percent viewership," said Yovel. "To either make sure you're aware of the content [for live] or to know that it's there waiting [on-demand]."

In terms of quality, Yovel said BackWeb can deliver very high-quality video files if they are delivered via background downloading. "You can be more generous withencoding rates," he said. "People need to be blown away by the quality of the content. They've had enough of postage stamp-sized videos."

An interesting new feature of e-Accelerator is a peer-to-peer component, which lets computers share files from PC to PC. Yishay calls this Neighborcasting, since it lets computers within one particular office, for example, share a video with its neighbors. So if a message needs to be delivered into a remote office, just one user needs to request the file, and it will then be shared to anyone else in that office. Thus, bandwidth is being saved, since a request isn't being sent back to the main server.

Although it's best used for on-demand content, Yovel said BackWeb can help with live events by using its notification methods to get people tuned into the event. A future version of the product will include a way for users to subscribe to live content, so that if they miss the live event, the on-demand version will be available for them to download later.

Yovel admitted that the annoyance factor is an issue. Having many pop-ups can be a distraction to many users. The solution, he said, is to have options. "You can abuse this tool, but if you do it right, it's very valuable," he said.

So what's the cost? Yovel said that it's a seat-based pricing structure, not server based. So a company can use as much streaming/downloading as they want."If you go with a CDN, you get billed for every minute," he said, which makes it tough to add more streaming down the road. He said a typical small to medium company might expect to pay about $75,000 to $100,000.

Yovel sees this move into the enterprise video market as a big step for the company. "We think it's important for the enterprise because the quality's not there and the costs of delivering content is critical," he said.

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