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Enterprise video platforms: how to answer the build vs. buy question.

Enterprise video continues to advance, both in features and functionality, at a pace almost even with consumer-focused media and entertainment streaming media. Whether it's the "YouTube for the Enterprise" trend we saw a few years ago, or the need to move away from Silverlight and Flash, enterprise video has come a long way since the Windows Media days.

As noted in the "State of Enterprise Video" article (page 36), the move toward app- or browser-based playback has reached a critical point for enterprise-focused video, about 6 months behind the same trend that's occurred in consumer-focused video.

Essentially, either approach yields the same effect, as most native apps on Android or iOS use their respective native browser. The upside of using an app-based approach is containment, whether it be an ability to sandbox content or to force user authentication on a per-use basis.

Cloud, On-Prem, or Hybrid

Before a decision about apps versus browser-only video playback can be determined, the question of which enterprise video platform (EVP) approach to use needs to be assessed.

In terms of actual EVP deployments, the decisions now emerging have as much to do with maintaining the same feature set of earlier home-grown solutions, including authentication and encryption as they do with initial price point--capital expenditures, or capex--versus the ongoing operating expenses.

As is the case with most information technology (IT) decisions on rolling out an enterprisewide solution, the question of build versus buy comes into play. In years past, the assumption would center on capex and opex for an on-prem solution.

However, today's decision isn't just limited to those two choices, as myriad EVP solutions in the marketplace offer hybrid options that connect the benefits of the cloud--including content delivery network (CDN) functionality, off-site backup, and lesser reliance on internal development--with the continuing security and disaster recovery requirements of having at least a copy of mission-critical content on-site at a corporate location.

Speaking IT's Language

For this section of the Buyers' Guide, we're going to use the example of a corporate communications group that wants to set up an EVP solution that handles both raw assets--still images, raw video content, and acquisition metadata--as well as the transcoding and streaming delivery functionality.

In order to make a proper decision about build versus buy and on-prem versus cloud-only solutions, consider the following questions.

WILL YOUR VIDEO ASSETS TRANSIT THE INTERNAL NETWORK?

In other words, if one part of your corporate communication team acquires raw video content in Las Colinas but needs to get it to a team member in Los Angeles for post-production work, will that content be moved across the internal corporate network or via an external-facing network (e.g., the internet)?

In some instances, the IT department forbids use of its internal network not just for raw content transfer but also for finished-product delivery via streaming on the network. While it might no longer be justified, since most app- and browser-based video-on-demand content (VOD) is delivered from HTTP servers that are common on today's modern IT networks, the collective memory of IT recalls a time when the term "streaming" connoted a set of specialized protocols that they feared would overwhelm the corporate network and impede mission-critical content delivery.

DOES THE IT TEAM ALREADY HAVE A CLOUD-BASED STORAGE SOLUTION IN PLACE?

One thing you'll find in pricing various cloud-based EVP solutions is that overall they're pretty expensive on a per-terabyte-per-month basis.

The reasoning behind this seems to stem from one of the two major philosophical approaches to software-as-a-service (SaaS) EVP pricing: charge a premium for either the necessary roles or the needed storage. Many EVPs that offer low-cost role-based user accounts will counter those lower prices with higher online storage prices.

If, however, your IT department already has an arrangement with an online storage provider--such as Amazon, Box, Dropbox, Egnyte, Google, or Microsoft--then there may be room for negotiation with an EVP around the amount of online storage needed to house both your raw assets and finished video projects.

Some EVPs have announced integration with one or more of the online storage vendors, and they are willing to negotiate a middle ground that balances user role pricing versus online storage pricing.

In short, do your homework about what your IT team has already negotiated. If you find that there's already an online storage agreement in place for a set number of cloud-based terabytes of storage, request permission to bump up the cloud-based storage size to a level that accommodates enterprise video's hefty storage requirements, and then use that much less expensive cloud-based storage in negotiations with an EVP solution provider.

ARE IN-HOUSE IT RESOURCES AVAILABLE TO EXPAND FUNCTIONALITY OF APPS VIA PROGRAMMING INTERFACES?

One area where enterprise video platforms continue to advance is extensibility, meaning they have the application programming interfaces (APIs or "hooks") to more easily tie functionality into a third-party app or even a desktop application.

But the question of whether internal resources can integrate via APIs remains an uncertainty for other departments within an enterprise.

This is a critical question, based on the way that most EVPs now mimic their more expensive siblings on paper, but in reality have a "some assembly required" approach to the marketed functionality.

In the past, the idea was to build every feature into an EVP, but that often meant prioritizing features and functionality, both by overall customer need and competitive advantage. These days, though, while EVPs continue to add key components for core functionality, they often do so as "lite" versions of their more robust media and entertainment platform siblings. Features tend to take a bit longer to implement, waiting for in-platform integration until after the media and entertainment platform has rolled out an updated set of features.

To allow early adopter enterprise customers to access the core functionality, though, today's EVP offers APIs for more rapid integration into existing enterprise apps and applications. But the IT resources at your disposal must be comfortable with integrating API hooks in order to benefit from all of the marketed EVP functionality.

SINGLE VENDOR VERSUS MULTIPLE VENDORS?

We've already touched on this, from an online storage perspective, but there's more to an EVP solution than just storage and user roles.

A single vendor approach is most like the external-only solution, in that it will be a higher per-month cost but allow an organization to implement its EVP needs more quickly. Limiting costs would require limiting the number of users as well as the amount of online storage.

A multivendor "build" solution may take significantly more time to implement, but it could potentially drop both capex and opex. It also allows for greater customization, although perhaps not as much as a fully home-grown build approach.

Even if your organization is considering an external EVP, if it's not a single-vendor solution, then we highly recommend the use of a consultant and a systems integrator. Those two roles are sometimes accomplished by the same design-build (or architect-build) firm, but more often they are separated. Some consultants will over-project management services, whether it be managing the request for proposal (RFP) or overseeing the systems integration and commissioning of your EVP.

Roles and Workflows

Using a variety of media creation tools, each contribution team--whether in-house communications resources or external contract vendors--has their own tried-and-true production and streaming delivery workflow. Sometimes these resources use different nonlinear editing (NLE) tools, but, by and large, the delivery workflows overlap in key areas.

To best approach EVP solution providers, it pays to understand at least three user types, both as a way to limit the overall cost of a holistic EVP solution--especially those that charge a premium on a per-user basis--as well as a way to identify which roles your organization needs.

CONTRIBUTOR

This user type will upload content, add extra metadata, edit content, and prepare it for distribution (via transcoding and moving content to the final delivery point).

MANAGER (ADMINISTRATOR)

This user type is geared toward managing access to the EVP, having authorization to assign various licenses, including contributor and consumer (view-only) on a global basis. One way to limit the overall number of administrative users, who often come at a higher cost than contributors or viewers, is to assign one administrator per business unit or geographic region. That is a less-secure approach than requiring every single person administrating the EVP to authenticate on a discrete user account, but it may be acceptable for non-mission-critical content being delivered on the EVP solution.

CONSUMER (VIEWER OR APPROVER)

This user type can consume (view) content, participate in an approval process, and (optionally) add comments to raw footage in the form of a "paper edit" similar to the process that an instructional designer (ID) might already provide for logging key shots from a long continuous interview.

The consumer role can also be split into two separate roles, such as Client and Consumer. In this case, the approval falls to the "client" role, but many EVPs don't make that distinction in the functionality of user roles.

Conclusion

While most EVP solutions focus their marketing on the ease of delivery to mobile devices and overall universal distribution, that part of the EVP ecosystem is becoming more and more commoditized, so enterprises will need to look at other factors when choosing a platform.

As we've seen throughout this Buyers' Guide, there are workflow and cost considerations beyond delivery that will affect both capex and opex budgets. Knowing what cloud-based resources your IT department already subscribes to, as well as understanding both the internal API programming capabilities and enterprisewide restrictions on raw and finished video content transiting the internal network, will put your media team in a much better position when it comes to negotiating and implementing a world-class EVP solution.

By Tim Siglin

Tim Siglin is a streaming industry veteran and longtime contributing editor to Streaming Media magazine.

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Title Annotation:Buyers Guides
Author:Siglin, Tim
Publication:Streaming Media
Date:Mar 1, 2017
Words:1651
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