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The State of Enterprise Video 2015

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The concept behind the Microsoft-Hive partnership is a software-based content distribution solution, “in order to efficiently deliver live and linear video over enterprise networks, private networks, and the internet,” as it was put in the announcement.

“Hive is hosted on Microsoft’s Windows Azure platform, and will be available as a built-in component of Windows Azure Media Services Live,” the announcement says. “As a built-in component, Hive can be used as a highly cost-effective and qualitative way for organizations to distribute video with or without the use of a traditional CDN.”

On the Way to the Cloud

For all the talk about multicasting and its replacement, though, cloud vendors argue that it’s merely a question of when enterprise movement to the cloud will reach critical mass.

A conversation with Stuart Patterson, COO of RAMP, shed some light on the thinking driving vendors to offer cloud-only or hybrid cloud solution.

“We think a key trend is toward cloud infrastructure,” Patterson says, “and not just in video. Across the enterprise we’ve seen cloud-based solutions transforming other application areas such as enterprise resource planning (ERP) and customer relationship management (CRM). The reason this is occurring is that cloudbased solutions are quick to start up, and can be quickly and securely integrated across the entire enterprise.”

When discussing overlay networks, Patterson points back to a technology he’d been involved with before becoming the COO of Ramp: automated speech recognition.

“Video has historically been separated off on its own hardware and software architecture,” Patterson says, “not unlike the speech-to-text world, which started as isolated islands of dedicated hardware, software, and algorithms. Once they reach the tipping point, though, and become a core part of business processes, these islands are abandoned in favor of general-purpose hardware and standards-based software.”

And once the technology reaches that point, the logic goes, there’s a much easier opportunity to integrate these media technologies into specific business applications, with a goal of becoming easy to use and, eventually, ubiquitous.

This trend toward applications, or groups of applications for some enterprise business units, also drives the desire to have a generalized video solution, rather than just a cool technology.

“We’re seeing companies that have a specific purpose in mind for video,” Patterson says, “which I think is a very recent phenomena and is healthy for the online video industry as a whole because it means adoption is rapidly trending upward.”

The Skype and SharePoint Conundrums

One can’t adequately cover the state of enterprise video without mentioning a major shift from Microsoft’s standpoint in late 2014: the demise of Lync and the ascendance of Skype.

In November 2014, Microsoft announced that Skype would be integrated into its business offerings, including connections with SharePoint, as a replacement for the Lync video solutions. The move was somewhat unexpected, in part due to the fact that Skype is seen as a consumer-focused product while Lync and SharePoint were designed as business-focused solutions.

SharePoint itself won’t be affected by the advent of Skype for Business, meaning that online enterprise video platforms that had chosen to integrate in the past with the SharePoint server can still use the built-in content management features.

In addition, native integrations in the SharePoint stack offer an integrated search capability and an ability to leverage Active Directory, Microsoft’s authentication and role-based permissions solution.

Patterson mentioned that Ramp’s ability to integrate video on demand with SharePoint, and its recent rollout of live streaming integrated with the SharePoint server, means that a strategic decision to integrate Active Directory several years ago is now paying off.

“Our solutions leverage both native and extended Active Directory-based security and authorization methods of the existing systems of record, such as SharePoint,” Patterson says. “This makes it easier for enterprises to get their video solutions up and running quickly and significantly more secure than alternatives based on proprietary portals or stand-alone user directories.”

Beyond search and integration of what Microsoft has referred to as SharePoint portals, the company has also added additional video capabilities to SharePoint, in the form of Office 365 video integration. In a late November 2014 blog post, Microsoft said that “going forward, Office 365 will serve as a platform for us to deliver new destinations–NextGen Portals.”

These portals, by the nature of the integration of video into SharePoint, will make video hosting, discovery, and viewing in SharePoint much more straightforward.

Travis Petershagen, a frequent panelist at Streaming Media conferences and the team manager for the Digital Media Team at Microsoft Production Studios, cites Active Directory and SharePoint as examples of the types of key Microsoft building blocks being used for Microsoft’s own internal enterprise video platform.

“We use rich portal features, including live HD streaming/on-demand delivery, Yammer integration, and federated search across our video and other enterprise portals,” Petershagen says. “We also offer share and embed for videos we upload to our portal, using Active Directory authentication, so that our users can not only access content channels, but share their own favorites via authenticated access on and off the corporate network.”

With Microsoft advancing steadily in to the Platform as a Service (PaaS) with Windows Azure, Petershagen says the extensibility of the corporate network via the cloud gives Microsoft employees a chance to view content anywhere.

“We are all about the cloud, so our portal is built in the SharePoint Online environment,” Petershagen says. “Users can access live or on-demand content from anywhere, so long as they can authenticate with corporate network credentials.”

The current road map also includes live content originating from encoders—potentially as a single RTMP stream—and pushed into an Azure Media Services Origin. At the origin, content will be transmuxed into Smooth Streaming, and likely DASH in the short term. Encryption is added to the content, and since mobile content will be served in an application rather than the browser, Petershagen says that the team is working hard to “ensure accessibility and security, which are challenging to do simply in a mobile browser experience at the moment.”

Embracing Change, Slowly

As in other areas of the streaming industry on the move, adaptive bitrate technologies and mobile delivery are key areas of interest for the enterprise market in the near future; several companies say they’re interested in updating their enterprise video platforms to accommodate the one-two punch of secure, live mobile video delivery. As we’ve seen in the past, though, enterprise customers will move slowly toward that goal only after the technologies have proven themselves, and perhaps only after cloud-only solutions have counterbalanced back toward a hybrid model of on- and off-premise transcoding, packaging, and delivery.

The coming year should bring several advances on that front, but it remains to be seen if the need for overall security can be addressed with cloud-only offerings. Keep an ear to the ground as we head into Streaming Media East, to see whether more enterprise video platforms embrace Active Directory and other “systems of record” that are already firmly entrenched in the enterprise.

[This article appears in the 2015 Streaming Media Industry Sourcebook.]

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