Making corporate video free

In the days before cable, satellite and digital television services, the beauty of over-the-air broadcast television was that it was infinitely scalable. One broadcast from one transmitter could serve an entire metropolitan area, whether it was a small city of 100,000 or a large one of several million. Population growth of ten percent? No problem. The broadcast scales “for free” to meet the new demand.

As video rapidly moves to the Internet and to corporate networks, companies and providers struggle with an opposite situation: each viewer adds additional load on the network. The two places under the greatest strain are the company’s connection point to the Internet and the links to its branch offices. To date, the solution has largely been one of adding more bandwidth.

While expensive, the remedy works for a relatively short amount of time until the network starts to sink under its increasing load. The other approach companies have tried is to limit the use of video by banning such things as YouTube and news sites with live video. Neither of these solutions is sustainable.

Comprehensively banning or blocking video is not only difficult to fully accomplish, but it is often counterproductive to the organization. Most companies use YouTube or other content sites to host their own video, and many even have established their own branded channels and post video content on a regular basis. In addition, it is often difficult to make a judgment call over what is productive and what is purely recreational. Just because video is coming from the Web does not necessarily mean that it lacks business value.

Companies know that their ranks are increasingly being filled by workers from the “YouTube generation.” Employees are used to watching short videos for information, entertainment and even motivation. Often, it may be easier to create a video than to write a sufficiently detailed document. Most companies are now actively using video for training, communication, morale building and other uses.

Companies host their own on-demand material internally and also use external sites for the content. The expectation for corporate use of video continues to grow, and many firms are trying to develop plans to enable more use of video. Further intensifying the issue is the desire to use more live videocasts for company events and executive broadcasts.

Currently more than half of the bandwidth of the Internet is now consumed by video. Most estimates have this going up to 90 percent over the next several years. Often, individuals turn to video from a website as their first source of information for breaking news and coverage of major sporting events, indicating a profound shift in behaviour over previous generations who would go straight to a TV. Despite the massive amount of video viewing on the Web, it still only represents a small percent of overall viewing. This number will increase dramatically.

The point is that network-delivered video will grow tremendously, and corporate networks will come under intense pressure. Companies are caught between the need to expand and facilitate the use of internal corporate video and manage the tidal wave of video from the Web that can flood their critical network links without warning.

One of the best strategies for companies is to pursue a plan for mitigating the impact of video from internal and external sources. This goes back to the citation of over-the-air broadcast television—a system of near infinite scale without compromise. By removing or lessening the “cost” or “penalty” of Web video, companies can avoid making difficult and, perhaps, counterproductive judgment calls on what can be allowed and what cannot.

Technologies for mitigating the impact of video include video caching for on-demand video and stream-splitting for live video. Both work by way of a “send once, serve many” approach that can revolutionize the way video runs on corporate networks. You should expect such technology integrated with a WAN optimization solution, such as the one from our company, or with an Internet gateway solution for Web security.

Another recommendation is to not fight or underestimate the power of video. Video is a medium that is here and now. Its use in the workplace is only growing in value and importance. If “a picture paints a thousand words,” video will deliver ten thousand or more. Use video to engage employees, partners and even customers.

At the same time, video does not obliterate the value of the printed word. There are still many situations—most, really—where clear, concise writing is more appropriate and effective than video. Make sure to foster an environment where both video and written communication exist.

Finally, encourage responsible employee behaviour. Let the employee decide if watching a particular Web video is for business or personal benefit. If it is strictly personal, train your employees to wait until after peak hours.

Web video expands and accelerates communications processes in substantial ways. Work out how to embrace it wisely and let it scale across your organization, so that it can be better utilized as a tool and platform for collaboration and understanding.

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Nigel Hawthorn started working in the computing industry in 1980 and helped to introduce Omninet, a 1Mbps Local Area Network in 1982. He has since co-written a number of books and articles on high-speed networking, network security and Internet performance and presents regularly at industry forums. Nigel's experience includes product marketing, business development, consultancy and technical support. He spent two years working in California for 3Com, spearheading the introduction of the stackable hubs and switches, now the most common type of networking building blocks. He has also worked for other network manufacturers including 3Com and distributors in pan-European roles. Based in the UK, Nigel is in charge of the marketing and channel elements of Blue Coat’s activities in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, as well as Central and Latin America.