Carleton University offers video on demand

Video streaming has been used for distance learning for some time, but recently staff at Ottawa-based Carleton University say most students registering for its video on demand service are local.

“Initially we thought of it as a distance learning delivery method,” said Jeff Cohen, manager of Carleton University Television. “It’s clear now that the vast majority of (video on demand) subscribers are local people.

Of the university’s 23,000 students, 4,550 signed up for courses offered through Carleton University Television, which videotapes lectures and broadcasts them both over local television and the Internet. Of those, 2,800 have also signed up for the video on demand service, Cohen said.

Carleton University Television has been operating since 1978. Its services include podcasts and DVD rentals.

Students who want the video on demand service must pay an extra $50 per course per half credit, though a trial version is available at this link.

Cohen said some students who attend courses in person also fork over the extra $50 for video on demand so they can review lectures or watch lectures they missed.

Last year, Cohen said, Carleton University changed the way it delivered video on demand, replacing its service provider and software.

Carleton University Television currently delivers streaming video using Adobe Systems Inc.’s Flash technology. Before last year, it used RealNetworks Inc. software, but decided to change because university staff were getting too many calls from students asking for help with RealPlayer.

“RealPlayer had a bunch of different settings,” Cohen said. “We had a lot of support questions and weird issues that cropped up.”

A RealNetworks spokesperson declined to comment for this article.

In September, 2009, the university decided to install a system that supports Adobe Flash and the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) H.264 standard for encoding video, said Janusz Bialy, Carleton University’s online media and IT analyst.

“With Youtube, it became a Flash world out there, Cohen said. “ We wanted to give that a try.”

The university also inked a contract with Internap Network Services Corp., an Atlanta-based managed data centre provider that hosts servers with co-location facilities in 19 U.S. cities, eight in Europe and Asia plus Toronto.

Cohen would not say which firm provided the network service before Internap, but did say it was based in Ottawa.

“There were reliability issues,” he said of the service provider Carleton used before Internap took over. “We had failures during the busiest times, which was exam time. If they had problems at 8 pm Friday it wouldn’t get resolved until Monday.”

Internap connects to a variety of carriers and monitors 300,000 end points worldwide, using its Managed Internet Route Optimizer (MIRO) technology, for problems such as latency, jitter, congestion and packet loss, said Peter Evans, Internap’s senior vice-president of marketing.

“We will always select the most optimal path,” Evans said. “You will not see degradation because we are picking the fastest highway.”

Evans added Internap keeps statistics on Internet traffic routes and no carrier has ever provided the best route all the time.

“Every carrier will be the worst route at least eight to 10 per cent of the time,” Evans said.

Carleton University is using Internap’s Content Delivery Network (CDN) to stream video to students watching the courses online.

Despite the capabilities of MIRO, Cohen said Internap provides one basic advantage over the previous service provider.

“We wanted a system that was being monitored by the suppliers so they knew they had a problem within minutes of it happening not within minutes of us telling them,” he said.

Bialy said the university was actually looking for a content deliver network provider with a point of presence in Ottawa but it was difficult to find one. So Internap was selected due to its Toronto presence and ability to provide international service.

“We wanted to have the option to reach anyone anywhere in the world,” Bialy said.

Another factor, Cohen added, was Internap’s support for Flash player.

Although fewer students use Carleton University Television’s video on demand during the summer, there are still 1,225 registrations in total, 923 of them for video on demand, Cohen added.

Bialy said Intenap’s authentication system lets Carleton University Television integrate the video on demand with its student registration systems.

In order to sign up or view course videos in which they are registered, students go to the Carleton University Television Web site, click on a link to video on demand and are presented with a login dialogue box.

Once they type in their student credentials, Bialy said, the system checks the campus server to verify the account information, and then informs the Internap system the account is authenticated, so the user is entitled to access certain files.

Cohen said Carleton University pays about $33,000 per year for Internap’s Content Delivery Network service – a price that is based in part on usage and storage.

“It turned out to be considerably less than what we were paying previously,” he said, adding the online service cost reduction was about 50 per cent.

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