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January 27, 2012

Video to define business in 2012; networks won’t handle the strain

Video, especially live video conferencing, will become the defining challenge for business networks in 2012.

By Vinod

More companies need to be looking at the choke points in their network infrastructure, as enterprise video applications become more and more sophisticated.

Daniel Weisbeck, vice president of marketing EMEA for voice communications specialist Polycom, says that video is rapidly becoming ‘the preferred method of communication’ in the modern technology market.

Weisbeck was speaking at an analyst roundtable ‘Factors Driving Next Generation Change to Corporate Networks’, alongside Mark Urban, senior director of WAN Optimisation Solutions at Bluecoat, and Daniel Rendell, enterprises services leader at IBM Global Technology Services.

Video conferencing has moved on from its laggy, unreliable past and companies are rapidly looking at HD video options, interactive options, and the possibility of corporate mobility options, such as via Android or Apple’s tablet and smartphone devices.

Speaking at the roundtable, Weisbeck added that companies need to be focused on preparing for the era of mass video communication as a native technology built into every facet of the business – and the added burdens it places on networks.

Weisbeck noted that 92% of Fortune 500 companies are now testing tablets in their enterprise set-ups.

Urban agreed, noting that amongst the clients he has been advising, "Video is the number one influence on networking builds today." He added that the technology will also add pressure to the network through two-way and multi-directional interactive feeds (i.e. four offices simultaneously video conferencing; also users introducing slides and comparing notes). This job becomes exponentially more complicated when integrating Software as a Service (SaaS) clients, who may have most of their business in the cloud.

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Urban used a current day example to illustrate the change, especially when consumerisation introduces external devices to the network: "For example, imagine 20 employees using Apple iPhones when Apple releases a software update – that’s 20 users downloading 800MB updates simultaneously. That would crunch most current networks, let alone video on that scale."

Rendell believes that more businesses are looking to pull back from using third party vendors to provide high level networking solutions, and are increasingly integrating core network functionality directly into every facet of the business to meet their specific needs. This is a direct reversal from the 90’s and early 2000’s when companies increasingly saw IT as a ‘separate pillar’ of the company, and were happy to let contractors manage it.

This is particularly important when it comes to video applications, where poor quality and lost connections due to lag remains a huge problem.

"Video is a very unforgiving app when it goes wrong. One bad experience can cause users to give up on it completely," said Rendell. "For too many companies the solution is to simply buy more routers, for example. More companies need to be looking at their overall network architecture.".

Polycom has worked at video conferencing applications using the h.264 video codec, which halves the size of video streams – Weisberg boasts 0.5mbps feeds, which he believes is possible over a 3G network.

The key component in the future will not just be boosting quality to 1080P (which he says the company has achieved), but ensuring the scalability within the system, adjusting resolutions and quality to suit the devices in use. An iPhone for example has no use for 1920×1080 screen resolutions.

This will become particularly important once 4G launches, and all mobile devices have access to current fixed line broadband speeds. This technology is being driven by the consumer, but all three panel members agreed that it will be impossible to foresee what this technology will do to the corporate landscape.

The problem will be the ‘anywhere, anytime’ nature of video in the coming years, users will be expecting a world where every single device (from mobiles, to Facebook web pages, to in car systems) operate in a hierarchical structure – video chat, if this is unavailable (i.e. out of reception), voice chat and finally text (SMS, online chat).

Urban believes the networks also need to look at their optimisation – the ability to determine the kinds of data being transferred over the network and organising them accordingly. Video, for example, could be given a higher priority than email or Facebook (which uses considerably less bandwidth) and the network organised accordingly. They key problem is the identification stage, which requires a well organised network – a certainly not a left over 90’s data centre using archaic technology. Efficient networks also help companies reduce their carbon footprint.

"Companies really need to start focusing now on aligning their networks to their business, rather than the other way round," said Urban.

Consumerisation and BYOD (bring your own device) means the same principles mentioned earlier for video are shared by the app market. Companies are still divided on whether to integrate HTML5 into their in-house systems, or look at dedicated apps. Again, like video, all panellists agreed that the ‘one bad experience’ can put a user off any new app: "The workplace is increasingly being defined by the end user, the younger generation in particular isn’t will to change their habits to suit business systems, they’ve used Apple, they’ve seen how good it can be, and they expect that at work," Urban said.

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