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Video IP Project Boosts Network's Profile

Cisco's video network is one of the most prolific in the world. Running video atop its IP backbone, the company produces about 400 video-on-demand presentations and 50 live broadcasts each month. Nearly half are purely for corporate communication, such as CEO John Chambers' monthly company briefings, and the other half provide information to Cisco's global sales force. The IP multicast technology is also handy for training the company's far-flung salespeople and more than 300,000 channel partners, so they can keep up with Cisco's frequent announcements on products and upgrades.

"We need to get that new product information to our sales force and channel partners quickly, and video streaming is a cost-effective way to do that," says Michael Mitchell, director of Cisco Media Network and Cisco's Internet learning solutions group. Mitchell notes that Cisco saves about $133 million a year in training costs by using both video and Web-based e-learning.

Cisco Media Network is both the name of the service and the organization that provides video to the company. Users can take advantage of the company's homegrown and third-party commercial video tools to produce their own videos or come to Mitchell's group for help. "I'm not a content cop--anyone can author any content they want," Mitchell says.

Although streaming video has become a popular medium for getting the word out to the company's employees, partners and customers worldwide, the Media Network group is still the black sheep of the family at Cisco. Vestiges of the group's origins as a grassroots effort remain--the division is still part of the human resources organization, not IT. And though Cisco sells video technology and products as a supplier, the Media Network group historically has had to fight for every budget dollar. Mitchell won't reveal his organization's video budget, but he says it hasn't changed much in eight years. "It's still tight," he says. Media Network does have access to technology and skills that would not be available at a non-networking company.

The organization's latest project: integrating videoconferencing with its IP-based video-streaming applications using H.264 video compression. Cisco runs 2,000 videoconference sessions per month, most of which require the company to physically plug the feed from a videoconferencing unit into an encoding server, or to stream the videoconference using H.263, an older video-compression scheme that provides video at low-bandwidth speeds, starting at 128 Kbps. But H.263 is also infamous for delivering lower-quality transmission than proprietary streaming codecs like Windows Media and Real Networks' Media, so Cisco is considering building an H.264 bridge for streaming videoconferences over its backbone.

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