Streaming Media Trickles into the Enterprise

Streaming media deployments are hardly for the faint of heart. Like it or not, though, video Webcasts are trickling their way toward your organization. Jacqueline Emigh reports on the streaming media scene and offers tips to help ensure all your bases are covered and that your network is ready when a streaming media project rears its head.
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Only a few years back, corporations like Cisco and Procter & Gamble painstakingly put together elaborate streaming media systems for their own use. In stark contrast, during the current era of company budget-slashing, multimedia isn't exactly a mission-critical IT priority for most organizations. At the same time, though, demands for streaming video and audio are more rampant than ever inside many departments. When a streaming media project rears its head, network managers and other administrators usually get called upon for advice, if not for actual implementation.

Against today's overall backdrop of financial uncertainty, end users' interest in streaming media stands out vividly. During panel discussions at the recent Streaming Media show in New York City, a number of attendees pointed to streaming media deployments at their workplaces, either imminent or already underway.

Speakers outlined streaming media initiatives within the Department of Defense (DoD), NASA, Bank of America, New York University (NYU), Ford Motor Company, Phillips Medical Systems, Columbia University, and the National Institute of Health (NIH), to name a few.

The DoD, for example, is now launching a streaming video application among 20,000 military health care pros, including medical directors and clinical consultants. The application will supply 35 hours of training about smallpox vaccinations, according to Jeff McCormack, Ph.D., chief knowledge officer at DigiScript.

On the government side, streaming media is being driven partly by the Federal Streaming Alliance, a new initiative for sharing streaming content among federal agencies.

Corporate Training and Distance Learning

One attendee at the Streaming Media conference, who works for New York State's higher education arm, said his organization is thinking about streaming media for distance learning. Others went to New York City to explore corporate training or marketing apps.

"We don't even know where to start, though," noted a showgoer from a large corporation, echoing a widespread concern.

Full-scale enterprise deployments of streaming video require expertise across a range of disciplines, including video production, storage, caching, digital asset management, signal distribution, and encoding, which is a process for converting audio or video into small, digitized packets for network transmission.

"Most of today's implementations, however, are small pilots or departmental applications," according to Michael Hoch, research director for Internet Infastructure at the Aberdeen Group. "Typically, departments are paying for the deployments out of LOB (line of business) budgets. IT, though, is the one that's making the buying decisions," the analyst adds.

Network managers, for instance, might consult the CIO and departmental staff on bandwidth issues, or about which hardware or software codecs to buy.

Hoch sees departmental projects as corporate investments that can be leveraged by IT in the future, when budgets loosen up enough for wider streaming deployments.

Streaming implementations are changing in another way, too. "More companies are deciding to outsource some aspects of streaming media. Still, they are doing some of the work themselves," says Dan Rayburn of Streaming Media.Inc.

At the same time, more options are becoming available to organizations on both the product and services sides.

Yet what pieces of a project are outsourced -- and which are done inhouse -- varies considerably from one implementation to the next. According to Rayburn, many organizations are turning to specialized systems integrators for help in making these choices.

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