Cloud Management as a Video Networking Strategy
Network
A cloud-based video management system can help shrink a huge project.
By Steve Sechrist

In the good old days of static data, that is pre-video and social Internet, IT managers were overcome by the prospect of video support (usually in the form of teleconferencing) and having to migrate and manage the network towards Quality of Service (QoS) and the massive data streams required for full-motion video support, and later HD. Cisco whitepapers included 12-page tomes on “Implementing QoS Solutions for H.323 Video Conferencing over IP” that cover issues like variable packet rates, capacity planning and per-call bandwidth consumption for ISDN support. 

But fortunately, today the technology behind video has made evolutionary leaps over the past five years — particularly moving into the realm of content management systems that makes video an almost turnkey decision of buy, or build, host in-house or in the cloud. 

The Yankee Group notes the evolution of video over the past five years, includes:

  • Video’s move to IP in what the group calls “IP Enablement making video scalable and dynamic
  • The growing affordability and resulting ubiquitous nature of Video, (sharing) particularly when combined with the rise of social networking and improved user interface that streamlined the upload process to a simple, shoot and upload
  • Vast improvements in telepresence systems to one-click connect video calling
  • The advent of mobile video via tablets and smartphones
  • The democratization of video through pervasive technologies like Skype
  • Efficient distribution networks targeting live, on-demand streaming
  • Smarter networks (e.g., Cisco’s Medianet) with auto-end-point provisioning media awareness monitoring

Since the technology has been adopted almost by fiat — video is a requirement for doing business and collaboration, not just in telecommunications but in virtually all aspects of the enterprise, it requires IT support, including communication, collaboration and commerce according to Yankee Group. A more pervasive use of video now makes deployment and hosting decisions for the enterprise more complex, but as the complexity of video engagement has grown well beyond the teleconferencing days, the good news is, so too have the tools grown vastly more powerful, and even turnkey, making the AV-IT support role that much more important and impactful in the process. 

Yankee Group Graphic

The Cloud and Video Services Best Practices

While there is little doubt that video services are moving to the cloud, there still remain specific challenges. San Francisco-based cloud-based media management company Fordela Corp. published a recent whitepaper on the topic of cloud-based media management (and monetization) that reviews best practices. The company is particularly familiar with the use of video content as the founding partners started as video content professionals at LucasArts, developing media management solutions for George Lucas and his iconic content brands. 

Most importantly, the group believes in a cloud-based solution. They said, “A completely cloud-based media management platform successfully resolves an important dilemma for business: how to exploit the obvious advantages without falling victim to the loss of security and control inherent in public platforms.” 

To get there, Fordela recommends best practices that include compatibility with existing networking systems using tools that can streamline workflows. Fordela means to leverage the overwhelming advantages of using the cloud and balance out the downside to public video platforms like YouTube, Vimeo and the rest. These are some of the multiple free, user-generated content sites, and even include Facebook.

This approach offloads the encoding and player creation duties to public sites, and offers some key advantages like expanding the potential viewers of your content well beyond the scope of your own site, into …well millions of viewers (…if yours happens to go viral like the Day Made of Glass video by Corning that is now at plus 17 million views and counting). But to illustrate the challenges, a Google search also returned dozens of parody videos that Corning has absolutely no control over.

Once in the public domain, any user can pirate, post content and change the context —and content producers are powerless to stop it. Beyond that, feedback and analytics are limited. There is no way drilling into the statistics of just who is viewing the video. 

The Web is now rife with companies looking to sell video services as Software as a Service, or SaaS, as they have become known. Solutions now range from build-your-own, self-hosted video, with the help of such video service companies like ProVDN out of Silver Spring, MD. This group offers services that include upload and encode of video, embed code, analytics, video watermarks (for ID and tracking) and a global content delivery network.
SaaS Video Encoding and Hosting

For example, on the entry-level side of the isle, online video company ProVDN has developed its suite of video encoding and hosting services for companies looking to add a bit more security and flexibility than YouTube provides.  The company specializes in professionally encoded, hosted and deployed Internet video with a range of prices to fit the size and frequency of specific video content.

They feature device specific files for uploading and encoding that the company claims can be done in “three clicks.”  From there, seven versions of video are ready for web deployment including HD, large, medium, and small file formats, plus mobile, (iDevice, etc.) WebM and 3GP.

On the distribution side, the company offers adaptive bit rate streaming, as the system automatically detects the viewing bandwidth and accommodates the proper video delivery accordingly.

Users of the system simply have to embed and stream the data from its content delivery network. The group also offers a way to monitor viewer statistics via a Google Analytics account.

Turnkey Systems (Kaiser Permanente Health Care Training)

One company has turned to SaaS for its video needs. At Kaiser Permanente a group of physical therapists develop advanced training videos with an eye toward hosting and distribution flexibility to any platform including the mobile domain.

Kaiser Permanente’s physical therapy group had training videos that it streamed to employees, customers and students. They ranged from 3 to 30 minutes, and were being accessed by a broader range of devices beyond the desktop, including mobile tablets and even smartphones.  All the videos were encoded in Flash and didn’t support popular mobile devices such as the iPhone or iPad. The number of requests for this service was growing.

On top of that, as these same devices became more powerful on the video capture side. Content generated from smartphones and other hand-held devices became more popular in creating ad hoc videos of physical therapy sessions the group created to embed in the training guides. This led technologist Linda Green, to look for a service broad enough to go beyond traditional content formats on both the receiving and distribution sides.

“The ProVDN service was a perfect fit for us because it auto-encoded various formats for various devices,” Green said.  ProVDN re-encoding this video content into H.264 and the new WebM format, offering secure playback on over 90 percent of all Internet-enabled devices.

Now the company is storing and streaming thousands of hours of video each month.

When asked why Green didn’t simply upload the video’s to YouTube, she told us Kaiser Permanente wanted the security of a private site with limited public access and a bit shielded from a standard browser search.  “Our training videos won’t show up on a standard Google search, giving us more privacy,” she told us.

Remember Pricing is Negotiable

Users should also remember they don’t have to accept the sticker prices for these kinds of services. At ProVND, some advanced services cost less than $20 per month (with view limits) and scale up with prices based on service offering needs like 24/7 support. But Green told us that her group’s specific needs didn’t really fit the standard pricing model set up by the company.  Their Good, Better, Best plans weren’t cost efficient for the storage heavy, bandwidth light needs of the physical therapy group, which now has over 100 videos hosted and distributed by ProVDN. 

Green said, “The company was able to negotiate special pricing that better reflected our true costs, creating a win-win with the SaaS company.  So while the online prices look set in stone, Green told us she learned to ask for the discount when the canned model doesn’t quite fit your needs.

 



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