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Preparing the Network for High-Quality Video Streaming – By: Rich Hillebrecht

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Author: Rich Hillebrecht, CIO at Riverbed Technology

Gone are the days when the only bandwidth headaches for network administrators coming from having video on the network are an employee covertly watching cat videos on YouTube or another streaming the NCAA March Madness basketball tournament. Today, network administrators expect video traffic to be part of the daily traffic because video streaming has become an indispensable business tool, particularly as users grow more mobile and work remotely. The challenge for IT is to provide a lag-free experience, quality face-to-face video, and lag-free streaming, while still ensuring the high performance and availability of other business applications. As video traffic promises to keep growing, it’s important to prepare your network in anticipation of the increasing demand your users will surely place on it in 2016. If you’re not already struggling to manage this burden, you will be soon – unless your preparations begin immediately. Make it one of your New Year’s resolutions and this is why:

  • The 10thannual Cisco®Visual Networking Index™ (VNI) Forecast predicts that annual Internet Protocol (IP) traffic will triple between 2014 and 2019 when it reaches a record 2 zettabytes. One of the chief factors: the adoption of advanced video services.  They are estimating an increase of 144 million users to a whopping 220 million in that same time frame with desktop and personal video conferencing as the fastest growing business Internet service.
  • Another driver is the rising adoption rate of mobile devices. Users increasingly watch videos on their smartphones and tablets with high-resolution screens. Cisco expects 24 billion networked devices/connections will be online by 2019, compared with 14 billion last year. My son alone consumes upwards of 56GB a month on his mobile device including being on the Wi-Fi at work.
  • Your network must also serve the demands of the many users who work in branch offices and other remote locations. Riverbed, earlier this year, conducted a study of roughly 300 senior IT professionals for its Datacenter and Branch Office Resiliency Survey Report and found that almost 50 percent of all employees work in branch offices, and those branch offices represent roughly 50 percent of IT’s budget. This is in keeping with Forrester’s recent conclusion that organizations spend more than $4 billion every year on remote-office IT.

No limits

Caution – imposing limitations on employees’ use of video streaming can be counter-productive as video has simply become a must-have tool for so many of the business units whether it be interacting with customers, suppliers or employees. Video streaming powers virtual tours, product demonstrations, face-to-face customer center interactions in real-time, HR’s walk-throughs on how to select benefits packages, and meetings with colleagues in different locations, just to name a few. In other words, it is an integral element of office productivity, collaboration and learning.

In fact, Learning Management Systems (LMS) is one of the fastest growing areas in online video demand.  They provide instructional videos for an organization’s employees, partners and customers, and power the online course offerings of colleges and universities. According to research conducted by the eLearning Industry, the online corporate market is expected to grow by 13 percent a year until 2018. Already, 77 percent of U.S. companies offer online corporate training to improve the professional development of their employees. The LMS market is expected to be worth approximately $4 billion by the end of this year, and over $7 billion in 2018.

Do your homework

Are you ready if your company decides to make an investment in LMS? Can the network handle the swell in demand, and do so 24/7? Users will likely want to view the video courses at their desks, at home or on their smartphones while traveling to work – and there’s nothing more frustrating than a stuttering video stream. Is there a risk that your employees will quickly abandon this resource? Will your company have wasted its money? Will the blame fall on your shoulders? If success of the initiatives is driving creation of adoption/training material, can failure to deliver it across the network really be an option?

Making preparations for supporting LMS is a challenge I’m familiar with first-hand. We are in the process of unifying use of LMS across multiple business units – by consolidating from four solutions to one “enterprise platform” for internal and external partners and customers.  With that comes more accountability for IT.

We’re are also migrating all of our employees from Microsoft Office desktop to more current versions hosted on MS Office 365.  We have a series of instructional videos available to all employees, giving everybody access to a great library of content. As we leverage video training for internal employees and external communities we had to ensure that we didn’t place too heavy a burden on our technical support team or the internal network by designing for and implementing the right sets of solutions.

Recommendations

There are three key steps you can take to prepare for and manage this inevitable increase in high-quality video streaming across your network:

  • Assess: Develop an understanding of your network capacity, including the effects of the currently installed base of devices and what they are capable of handling. Also, determine whether there are any tipping points – where spikes in traffic patterns will not be absorbed.
  • Ensure Quality of Service (QoS): Ensure that user experience matches user expectations. Having complete end-to-end visibility of what’s happening across your entire network will be key. Keep in mind that not all applications are of equal importance. Identify over-provisioned bandwidth to non-critical applications, and re-allocate it to business-critical video streaming applications. This includes your WAN and branch architecture in a unified manner.
  • Prevent the Shock: Be proactive with monitoring and not the just the usual NOC metrics. Look at capacity, latency and total performance of the net and video apps. In cases where a performance issue does arise, evaluate what happened and learn from it to prevent it from recurring. This too points to the need for real-time visibility across your entire network.

On a side note there is an additional and critically important benefit to making these preparations – the capability of monitoring the network and seeing (a) connections (physical or virtual), (b) what they should be doing, and (c) what other devices and applications they’re permitted to ‘talk’ to, establishes a baseline of network activity that will help you identify anomalies, including cyber attacks. You will be better able to quickly identify and thwart malware, a denial-of-service attack or other external threats, thereby significantly improving your security posture.

Ready for 2016

As video continues to integrate itself into the daily work of your organization and its employees, boosting productivity, quality of work, learning and collaboration, take a fresh new look at your infrastructure and its readiness. Your ideal solutions should provide granular visibility and fast troubleshooting, isolating complex layers of infrastructure, some in your premises and others in the cloud. Done right, this is the source of not just greater productivity, but also innovation and competitive advantage.

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Rich Hillebrecht

About Rich Hillebrecht

Rich Hillebrecht is Vice President and Chief Information Officer at Riverbed Technology, responsible for leading Riverbed’s enterprise IT operations and strategy. He is focused on identifying and delivering strategies that bring value for Riverbed customers, partners and shareholders.