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Video Evolution: Brace Yourself For Impact

Video traffic is rapidly changing as trends like streaming video continue to surge. IT teams should prepare for the onslaught.

In addition to the constant reminders that our networks are carrying more and more video, we’re now faced with changes that are likely to aggravate the situation. Video is evolving in important ways that will bring new maintenance and security issues for IT departments.

Before examining the video evolution, let's classify video into three types. First, videoconferencing involves two or more parties that can act as senders and receivers. Second, streaming video comes from a server and is sent over time to a device; this is often called progressive download. Third, I’ll use the somewhat imprecise term of "conventional video" for what might otherwise be called broadcast video. This video, from CBS, NBC, Fox and other TV networks, is sent to all devices without the receiver requesting it.

Now, consider the changes.

• Conventional video and streamed video are converging. The success of Netflix stunned carriers, TV networks and DVD rental companies by providing huge amounts of content at a low cost. The company did this by using HTTP transport, thereby avoiding issues with firewalls and enhancing caching capability. As a result, more entertainment, news and sports programs are being streamed rather than broadcast.

• Video endpoints are more often wireless devices: Smartphones and tablets have become prized endpoints. The last link to the device may be G3/G4 cellular or Wi-Fi, but the user watches anywhere and anytime.

• Consumer and enterprise needs are converging: At Enterprise Connect earlier this year, Derek Burney, VP of Microsoft Lync engineering, made it clear that his company is working from this assumption. Silverlight, Adobe HDS, and Apple's HLS--types of adaptive streaming that are conventionally used for entertainment--are creeping into the corporation in the form of marketing messages, training and as replacements for elevator music.

• The distinction between TVs, digital signage and computer monitors is evaporating. A report from DisplaySearch says that 47% of all televisions sold in 2015 will be Internet-capable. That’s 500 million TVs. Now, instead of switching devices to watch a YouTube video, all that will be needed is a few clicks. When an alert that you have a call appears on the screen, you’ll be able to video or audio conference through the TV. We will also be entering a new realm for customer interaction.

• Videoconferencing is being more often offered as cloud service. Even when it isn’t offered that way, the codecs, gateways and portals are generally software-based rather than hardware devices. This is true for both desktop and room versions of conferencing.

What does this mean to the IT department? First, more traffic on the network will be multimedia. Much of that will be real time but not necessarily UDP. In fact, it will likely be HTTP. Consequently, separating it for prioritization will be more difficult than it was for voice. Naturally, with new forms of traffic will come new forms of threats and new liabilities. It will be difficult, if not nearly impossible, to separate this traffic from conventional browser traffic for the purposes of protecting the company.

And, at the rapid pace in which the traffic types are changing, little thought has been given to the maintenance and troubleshooting aspects of the new forms. Companies that have been on the forefront of providing monitoring and testing equipment for the data industry have barely begun to think about how they are going to deal with streaming video or videoconferencing that uses scalable coding.

Hang on -- it could be an interesting ride.

Phil Hippensteel is an assistant professor of information systems at Penn State and an industry consultant.

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