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Managing a Video Network

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Video quality for external users, such as visitors to your Web site, is usually out of your control. And these users won't likely call you when they can't receive a video feed, nor will they come knocking on your office door asking for a better frame rate. You can control video only up to the point it leaves your network; beyond that, you're at the mercy of the service providers that transport it to the user.

The type of video carried on your network can be varied and unpredictable. It can travel all at once as heavy traffic, or it can come in bits and pieces. On your enterprise backbone, video likely will be streamed for corporate news or training. This can be either scheduled broadcasts or VoD (video on demand). The advantage of scheduling video is that you know when it's coming, so you can prepare for the increased traffic by designing the broadcast so your network can accommodate it.

VoD, however, can kill your network. Most video is streamed in multicast (one-to-many), but VoD is almost always one-to-one. If one person occasionally streams video across your network, it's no big deal. But if 500 users suddenly hop on the network to watch a training video, your data and other traffic--including some of the video streams--can come to a standstill under the heavy load. Such traffic can put a lot of stress on your servers, which have to pull data for each feed from the drives and push it over the network interface.

Videoconferencing, meanwhile, has grown from its premium-priced ISDN service days to riding over the public Internet for little or no cost. It's typically a one-to-one or one-to-few internal application. Videoconferencing equipment has been limited to the enterprise market because of high cost and lack of wide acceptance, but that's changing. Today, any size organization can conduct videoconferences, thanks to outsourced services such as GlowPoint, one of the first networks designed to make videoconferences as high-quality and reliable as long-distance voice calls.

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