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Videoconferencing meets streaming--finally: it's taken almost 20 years, but enterprise video solutions are finally integrating with videoconferencing tools, and everybody wins.

For years, people have talked about the value of integrating existing videoconferencing into live events being held in corporate auditoriums as a way to bring in remote subject matter experts (SMEs) for presentations and live question-and-answer sessions. But the integration of videoconferencing and streaming has lagged, stuck in the world of analog decodes and re-encodes.

So we thought it was high time to find out whether the integration of videoconferencing and streaming had progressed into the 21st century or was still stuck somewhere in the analog past.

For those who might not be familiar with the pieces and parts of a videoconferencing unit, the basic input parts are an audio input/microphone, integrated camera or video input connector, and an encoder. On the output side, a decoder separates audio and video signals, sending them to an integrated screen or to video and audio output ports.

Videoconferencing units can either connect directly to one another in a point-to-point configuration--not unlike a FaceTime call between iPhones--or multiple videoconferencing endpoints can all call into a multipoint control unit (MCU, also referred to as a bridge) so that all callers can see one another in a four- or nine-image tiled view. The tiled view, as we'll explore later in this article, is sometimes just too simplistic for the sophisticated, high-quality content that corporate communications departments are creating for their internal audiences.

The integration issue lies in the fact that most videoconferencing endpoints are designed to work well in point-to-point with like-type endpoints, or in multipoint MCU calls, but are not really designed as a simple broadcasting or publishing point like those we're familiar with in the streaming world.

Even the idea of recording videoconferences was such a foreign concept in the early days that my question to a vendor at a 1995 videoconferencing trade show about ways to do so was met with the question, "Why would anyone want to record a videoconference?"

The Integration Challenge

Fortunately, today we not only have the ability to record content, including the HD-quality telepresence videoconferencing that's of great interest to corporations, but we also have the ability to integrate videoconferencing feeds directly into streaming platforms.

Erik Herz, director of business development at MediaPlatform, says that his company is working to integrate with Cisco's TelePresence Content Server (TCS).

"We are piloting an integration with the Cisco TCS with a few customers and prospects now," says Herz. "Some have been using Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) to backhaul video from a remote endpoint to their studio where they now output analog video and route this back into a capture card for re-encoding to our streaming servers."

Herz says the pilot projects are with Fortune 500 companies, each of which produce more than 100 events per year.

"With the Cisco TCS integration," he added, "they can stay digital, encode once, and become a source to our webcasts. We are also transcoding some lower bitrate streams to create a mobile-ready ABR stream."

Polycom is also making progress into HD collaboration videoconferencing, via its RealPresence line of collaboration servers. In fact, its most recent MCU, the Polycom RealPresence Collaboration Server 800s, is billed as a cost-saving unit that incorporates streaming technologies.

"The Polycom RealPresence Collaboration Server 800s is the industry's first multi-proto col, integrated software MCU that runs on industry-standard servers," Polycom states in a recent press release, adding that the open standards-based concept uses the scalable video coding (SVC) protocol to connect "with video systems using other protocols, such as AVC, to the same meeting without expensive gateways, extra licenses, or hidden costs."

Polycom is gearing the 800s toward midsize enterprises or branch offices of large organizations and promises this MCU is "uniquely interoperable with the existing 2M+ video conferencing systems in the market today."

Qumu's senior vice president of Products and Technology, Claude Dupuis, says that one of the biggest challenges his company addresses is full integration of streaming and videoconferencing, including both live and recorded content.

"One challenge can be finding a solution that has a complete integration to include both live streaming and automated archiving of recording for on-demand playback," says Dupuis. "On the live-streaming side, the solution needs to include [an] automated start of the videoconferencing equipment."

Dupuis says that the parity between live and on-demand is growing within enterprise, where even just a few years ago it skewed heavily toward a preference for on-demand viewing. But he says challenges remain in educating enterprises on the use of their existing videoconferencing gear.

"Not all organizations are aware this [integration] capability is available," says Dupuis, "so that is where some education comes in. Other enterprises with large videoconferencing deployments are already looking for ways to leverage their infrastructure and integrate it with video-management solutions, so the need and awareness is already there."

"Typically newer videoconferencing solutions will have a streaming component," says Dupuis. "This is where video-management platforms, such as Qumu's Video Control Center (VCC), will interface with the component to acquire the stream, then manage and distribute it through the enterprise's network via an internal content-distribution network."

Dupuis noted that Qumu's VCC has full-featured integrations with Polycom and Cisco videoconferencing units, but for videoconferencing solutions without integrated streaming functionality, the fallback is to the videoconferencing standards H.323 and SIP, which can be used to connect to the videoconferencing bridge and acquire the stream.

Tying directly into the videoconferencing bridge via H.323/SIP allows streaming solutions to take advantage of the fact that videoconferencing has used the H.264 codec for well over a decade, and that streaming is now inherently compatible with videoconferencing.

What Do Enterprise Employees Want?

Qumu published the results of a study a few months ago, asking participants how their companies would benefit most if their enterprise portal or intranet had the ability for a "YouTube-like" video experience. Approximately 500 survey respondents prioritized a series of nine options.

What they prioritized far and away beyond other options was video training for office workers. That response, at 64%, was 20% higher than the next highest priority response, which was improved human resources and benefits communications. In other words, workers really do want training and have a strong preference to receive this training via video.

Survey respondents also responded strongly to the idea of live video streaming, with 58% saying they would like to see support for live video streaming. The social media aspect was also strong, with 28% saying they'd like to be able to collaborate with others while watching a video. We asked a number of vendors whether there are particular challenges with integrating the concepts of streaming and videoconferencing.

Dupuis says there's still an ongoing challenge in terms of live events, even those that integrate videoconferencing and streaming. The issue, he says, is the discovery of self-started events, which can then be streamed to the rest of the organization live or archived for on-demand viewing later.

MediaPlatform's Herz says that the next step is to integrate with desktop video chat applications.

"I have heard the need to bring in SME desktops via Lync or Jabber," says Herz. "Our solution will support Jabber now and we are also investigating Lync as a live source for webcasting. This has been tricky, as Lync uses the RT Video proprietary codec while Jabber uses standard H.264."

Herz also says that a specialized product such as Cisco's TCS isn't in as widespread use as videoconferencing units, or even the multipoint control units--also known as bridges-that allow multiple videoconferencing units to be part of a single conference. To address the lack of TCS units in the field, MediaPlatform is offering a cloud-based TCS approach.

"Most folks that have videoconferencing and MCUs rarely have the TCS, so our cloud TCS approach might be more viable in the short term," he says. "I am hoping to get more customers and prospects to buy their own Cisco TCS units."

Skype is another option that's being integrated into larger workflows. Telestream's WireCast 4.2 now supports a number of "virtual camera and microphone" outputs, which can then be used as video or microphone sources for programs such as Google Hangouts and Skype sources, allowing WireCast to add graphics and additional production values that are streamed to Skype as part of a larger video workflow.

Herz emphasized the point that streaming videoconferencing video is just the start.

"I am learning that simply streaming the videoconferencing unit video may not be enough," says Herz. "Folks are pushing back by saying that they want to use the videoconferencing video as another feed that they add to their local video mixer. At the mixer they will mix in other videos, add graphics, and then push a program feed to our MediaPlatform solution."

He reiterated, though, that what is technically possible needs to be "trumped by the demands of making sure that high profile executive messages are not compromised in quality."

Case in Point: Lockheed Martin

That message of quality and enhanced executive messages brings us back around to Lockheed Martin, a company that has been the subject of Streaming Media magazine articles for more than a decade.

In a 2009 article (go2sm.com/lockheed), we assessed Lockheed's streaming solution, noting that each unit is able to decide what solution to use. In 2013, though, the majority of Lockheed business units are on MultiVision, the Sonic Foundry Mediasite solution custom tailored for Lockheed.

Thomas Aquilone, Lockheed Martin's enterprise technology programs manager for its IS&GS (information systems and global solutions) Media Services, and Sean Brown, vice president at Sonic Foundry, described the solution during a recent webcast. Titled "7 Ways To Leverage Video for Your Corporate Communications," the webcast covers unified messaging and budget concepts. The webcast can be seen in its entirety at go2sm. com/sf7, but here are a few important takeaways.

"We have the desire to reach employees in our large geographically dispersed workforce with critical unified messages," says Aquilone, "getting rid of the 'whisper down the lane' effect that happens from person to person. We want to build stronger teams and boost efficiency."

"Tom's team has organized thousands of webcasts to hundreds of thousands of participants since 2004," says Brown, "and is one of the earliest users and key advisers for Mediasite, as well as many other technologies that they use."

"We want our presenters to engage and speak directly to employees," says Aquilone. "High resolution synchronized slides need to be available, and once we were able to evaluate a series of products, the MultiVision system was created. It's a rebranding of the Media-site system inside our enterprise. Now we can get critical and time sensitive messages out."

Aquilone acknowledges that, while live is key and the best overall approach, some employees may need to watch an on-demand version of a live event and that the investment in streaming and videoconferencing gear is worth the effort.

"There's no question that when one leader, one presenter, can get the message out to thousands of people you're doing a great job," says Aquilone. "You are saving money and making that person's time much more effective."

"The ROI is many people get one message," he added. "They're all on the same team. Nobody has to be inconvenienced. They can time shift and look at it any time they want."

Lockheed has also made significant progress on its multicast environment, with Sonic Foundry's Brown stating that he'd never seen as large a multicast-enabled footprint as he had at Lockheed Martin.

Aquilone concurs with the research study respondents who stated that training was of key interest for enterprise streaming video use.

"Video for training boosts efficiency," says Aquilone. "If you can see it, if you can hear it, if you can practice it, you learn it much better."

Still, Aquilone says that live delivery by the executive team is by far the best way to address the overall organization.

"Go live," he says. "When you can go live and have a successful meeting, that really helps the executives get their message across."

Tim Siglin (writer@braintrustdigital.com) writes and consults on digital media business models and "go-to market" strategies. He is chairman of Braintrust Digital, a digital media production company, and co-founder of consulting firm Transitions, Inc. Comments? Email us at letters@streamingmedia.com, or check the masthead for other ways to contact us.
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Author:Siglin, Tim
Publication:Streaming Media
Date:Oct 1, 2013
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