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Video Age Arrives

From health care to security surveillance and beyond, it is reshaping how organizations operate and how cabling and ultimately networks are designed, implemented and managed.


July 1, 2011  


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In recent months, video has hit mainstream in a big way. From the ubiquitous use of Skype and YouTube on the consumer front, to the meteoric rise in telepresence and IP-based surveillance applications, video has put a whole new perspective on how to design, implement and manage networks.

Video may have been on the backburner for years, but it has definitely experienced a surge in the last year or two, says Dr. Ed Brown, CEO of the Ontario Telehealth Network (OTN) in Toronto. “It is interesting because back in the 1960s with the introduction of the first video telephone, they thought it would take over. The world was not ready. But now it is, and everybody gets it.”

Brown believes a number of factors had accelerated video adoption, including the release of the iPad and the smart phone revolution. “The development of manageable PC-based videoconferencing and mobile solutions has also been an important breakthrough over the last year or two in terms of manageability, security and reliability. And everything offers encryption now.”

Video has reached an important transition point, agrees Jeff Seifert, chief technology officer for Cisco Systems Canada Co. in Toronto. “We now use the term pervasive video because it is driving huge changes in terms of where, when and how much is being used. It’s showing tremendous potential on the public internet as well as in corporate and public sector environments.”

He says that telepresence is showing phenomenal growth as a means to improve collaboration and reduce costs. Cisco itself has invested $850 million on its own telepresence deployment activities.

Sam Farraj, assistant vice president of digital media solutions with AT&T, says businesses and organizations look to ‘content delivery network’ (CDN) services to deliver content to their end-users efficiently and cost-effectively.

“This includes everything from live video presentations to shopping cart data,” he says.  “Depending on the nature of the content, a CDN will use either caching or acceleration services to ensure business can deliver a high quality viewing experience to their customers.”

Security online: A major breakthrough has been the transition of video-based technologies to IP, especially in the security and surveillance world, Seiffert says. “Video is transitioning to IP at a very rapid pace and moving away from coax cabling, which has interesting implications on networks. Clearly you need a cable plant that can drive a lot more speed.”

Added to that are huge back end storage requirements that come with the need to store more and more video content in data centres. “That is why we’re seeing a lot more fiber channels, and a lot more 10-Gig to support those storage needs.”

Brian Donovan, national market manager, technology and security solutions for Graybar Canada in Sydney, N.S., says he is getting a lot of calls about high definition, IP-based surveillance. “It is a big change from analogue running on coax. Now you are running video on the same Cat 5e or 6 Ethernet cabling you use for your computer system.”

An interesting challenge that comes with this transition is the fact that coax cabling professionals may not be up to speed on Ethernet and vice versa, he adds.

This is reminiscent of the early days of VoIP, which drove a need for technicians to transition traditional telecom skill sets to the internet. “I’m not sure how it will play out in terms of who will look after the surveillance network,” Donovan says.

He also confirms that 10-Gig is becoming the backbone standard in many enterprises to accommodate the many applications traversing the networks these days. “Carriers have to be beyond that for the amount of traffic they handle. I am seeing them moving to 40-Gig if they’re not there already. Some are now looking at 100-Gig for the backbone. We are also seeing more software-as-a-service applications for centrally hosting video feeds or access control systems.”

The packet sizes and bandwidth needed for recording and transmitting video definitely demand a bigger pipe, he adds. “There are things you can do to reduce frame rates while maintaining image quality. For the most part in-building applications are not a problem anymore. There are still challenges though when it comes to WANs.”

New directions: As video surveillance is a major driver behind back end capacity and performance enhancements, Seiffert says he is also seeing a lot of deployment of digital signage in schools, financial institutions and corporations. “With the lower cost and high quality of visual media players, it is easy to manage thousands of digital signs or surveillance feeds. It is all coming on to one network versus parallel network; and it is all based on Ethernet going forward. We are also starting to see 40 and 100-Gig in large campus research environments and/or data centres with huge storage requirements.”

Sieffert cites a number of innovations in video applications for specific sectors, such as expert advisors who can speak to walk-in customers over a high definition video feed at the Bank of Montreal. “Healthcare and education are also doing some interesting things. The OTN is doing a phenomenal amount of work with video that will bring the cost of healthcare down within and outside the hospital. Sheridan College is doing awesome work with video and changing the way it is being used to deliver education.”

The biggest picture: Specific applications aside, Kim Perdikou, executive vice president, for Juniper Networks in Sunnyvale, Calif. says video is just one part of a much bigger trend in terms of what’s happening with today’s networks. “I think overall the world has to look at their networks in a different way. Before service providers and enterprise customers built networks for specific types of traffic, access and service. But when you actually look at what is happening in terms of the applications that are now running on devices and the information that creates, they are really mash-ups of data, video and voice.”

Rather than zeroing in on individual portions like video, you need to consider the entire picture, says Perdikou. “Video just happens to be top of mind because of the way legacy networks have been built. What’s really going to matter is the ability to dynamically assign capacity in real time for the plication being used, whatever that may be. The real question now is how to build a flexible, open and simpler network that can serve as a platform to mix and match anything running on it.

“The market used to be measured in three ways: multi-service, broadband and mobile edge, with each having its own algorithm. But with end devices changing so dramatically, we’re no longer sure what’s coming into the network. It could be mobile, mobile video, mobile to cloud, VoIP – you need to have a platform that can dynamically recognize the device, location and what it requires and start allocating the network resources.”

Cost savings are also a top consideration. Perdikou reports there has been a lot of discussion around the need to converge optical and IP to drive down the cost per bit. Juniper for example has launched a packet optical switching platform to reduce the cost of core network transport by reducing the number of elements in the network. She estimates this approach could deliver capital expense savings in the range of 40-60%. “Innovations like that will deliver real savings.”

Cisco for its part has developed a new category of “medianet-enabled” products that provide dynamic format conversations to enable video consumption on any device, analyze video content for tagging, and provide embedded intelligent that automatically recognizes endpoints when deployed. As Seiffert explains, “There are all kinds of video feeds coming onto the network. You have to be able to differentiate each type and prioritize them.”

As far as what the future will bring in video, Steve Lampen, multimedia technology manager for Belden says there is a lot more to come. “The relentless march for higher and higher resolution and bandwidth is not ending anytime soon. Things are moving beyond HD. Camera technology is improving dramatically. Yes, you can continue to use copper or fiber for all of this, but remember that each has advantages and potholes as well. As you go to higher speeds, copper won’t go as far as fiber, but it’s a lot easier to install and cheaper. Whatever the choice, the most important thing is consistency.”

Farraj, meanwhile, says consumers are becoming less tolerant of poorly performing Web content and this is not just restricted to video.

“We also see the continued growth in consumption of online video and richer online content, which will continue to push demand for CDN services. We expect to see this trend continue over the next several years, especially in vertical industries as online competitiveness heats up and a tremendous increase in customer expectation of site performance increases,” he says. “The growth in content consumption on mobile devices will also spur demand for expertise in cross platform delivery.”

CNS

Denise Deveau is a Toronto-based freelance writer.
She can be reached via e-mail at denise@denised.com.