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Cisco brings video to the enterprise

With the success of YouTube and other consumer on-demand video offerings, Cisco plans to bring on-demand video to the enterprise.

Maybe Gil Scott-Heron was wrong. Maybe the revolution will be televised.

And if Cisco has its druthers, that revolution will be flickering on screens in every major enterprise in just a few short years. Cisco recently released its Digital Media System, taking the popularity of consumer-based video-on-demand like that on YouTube.com and iPods and giving it an enterprise spin.

The latest release gives companies high-quality video and audio to connect employees, partners, students or customers pretty much anywhere, anytime.

According to Thomas Wyatt, general manager in the digital media management business unit, real-time, on-demand broadcasting will let enterprises put a human face on their business.

"The video train has really left the station," he said. "The first stop was the consumers, the next stop is business."

The Digital Media System, which is part of a phased approach by Cisco to introduce video to the enterprise, lets users create, manage and deliver live and on-demand digital media in various formats to multiple wired or wireless devices. The system uses an IP network as its platform, similar to VoIP.

"While the digital media explosion has taken off in the consumer world, businesses are just beginning to realize the potential of video," said Marthin De Beer, vice president of Cisco's emerging markets technology group. He later added that using Cisco's Digital Media System over an IP network "allows organizations to move to a business environment where compelling interaction and experiences are created and shared."

The Web-based system works on Cisco's Service-Oriented Network Architecture (SONA), an architectural framework that enterprises use to evolve existing infrastructure into an Intelligent Information Network (IIN) that supports new IP strategies, including service-oriented architecture (SOA), Web services and virtualization.

The Cisco Digital Media System consists of three parts: Digital Media Encoders, Digital Media Manager, and Video Portal. The encoders, which come as studio-level and portable, link to a camera to encode and digitize video. The Media Manager manages and publishes digital media and gives users tools to add and archive media, assign metadata and keywords, preview content, schedule deployments, and manage work flow. And the Video Portal is a Web-based portal that allows users to browse, search and view content. It is customizable and searchable.

The portal, Wyatt said, can support roughly 500 simultaneous users, and the Digital Media Manager can support most video viewing applications, such as Windows Media, RealPlayer and Flash. Later this year, support for QuickTime and MPEG4 will roll out. The Media Manager also works with existing application networking services such as the networking giant's Application and Content Networking System.

Matthias Machowinski, directing analyst of enterprise voice and data at Campbell, Calif.-based Infonetics Research, likened the new offering to "corporate YouTube." He said companies have been eyeing IP video for years, but so far there hasn't been much traction within the enterprise.

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"It's one of those applications that has been talked about for a long time," he said. "Video is generally one of those applications that is less deployed but has a big interest."

Machowinski said video deployments have been held up mostly by cultural issues, but it is proving itself as an important piece of the IP puzzle.

"A lot of communication relies on visual cues," he said. "From that perspective, it's a very important piece."

In the past year, Machowinski said, video has seen a sharp rise on the open Internet, and it's certainly seeing some traction in the enterprise.

"It definitely sounds like neat technology," he said. "I think it sounds very promising."

The system, Wyatt said, will be only a minor burden to IT, which will be responsible for integrating it. The software ships on appliances, he said, and can be up and running within an hour.

Wyatt said the Digital Media System can be used in financial services, retail, government, education, healthcare, and safety and security. Say, for example, a financial services firm wants to broadcast an interview with a financial analyst. The encoder is plugged into the video camera and the interview is captured and digitized. It can be streamed live or broadcast later. From there, someone logs into the Digital Media Manager to set up the video deployment, schedule publication and push it out to the Web portal. From there, viewers can log into the Web portal and watch. Other uses can include broadcasting executive speeches and keynotes, and training remote workers.

In retail, Wyatt said, potential customers could be directed to the Web video portal to interface and clear up any questions. "This really puts a human face on communication."

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