Cisco adds tools to scale wide-area video

SAN FRANCISCO  — Cisco Systems Inc. continues to build its enterprise video infrastructure with the release of ECDS (Enterprise Content Delivery System), a software-hardware platform to ease video management and make distribution of video to remote locations more efficient.

ECDS is part of Cisco’s overall Medianet architecture, designed to automate many aspects of producing and delivering video for employees, partners and customers. The company has been fleshing out this vision since 2006 with an eye to supporting new work styles and the growing network demands that come with them.

The purpose of ECDS, released Thursday, is to help enterprises distribute both live and on-demand video to large numbers of sites and users. It can be used to support dozens or thousands of users, in thousands of locations, according to Cisco. For example, the system can send live video to a branch office in one stream and then split it at that location into a single stream for each of 10 users there. This removes the need to send 10 streams across an expensive WAN (wide-area network) link, Cisco said.

ECDS consists of software that can be run on one of two new appliances, the Media Delivery Engine 3100 and 1100, or on a virtual blade on a Cisco WAAS (Wide Area Application Services) platform. The MDE 3100 can scale up to 5,000 concurrent users, the MDE 1100 to 500 users, and the MDE 50WVB to 200 users.

Part of the purpose of ECDS is to minimize the impact of video on an enterprise’s network, to tamp down the cost of expanding video use across an organization. It incorporates Cisco’s WAAS application acceleration software and provides caching capability. For example, companies can distribute pre-recorded video during off-peak hours if it doesn’t have to be viewed immediately, Cisco said. ECDS can also provide on-demand caching, which sets aside a local copy of a video the first time it’s viewed at a location, to prevent it having to be downloaded over the WAN on subsequent viewings.

In addition to handling many different video applications from Cisco and other companies, the platform works with multiple formats, including H.264, Flash and Windows Media. It also can be used in distributing video to third-party clients, including tablets and mobile devices.

Many enterprises have several forms of video on disparate systems that they want to consolidate, according to Forrester Research analyst Henry Dewing. For example, they may have an archive of training videos, a videoconferencing system for executives and another set of video offerings for customers. Those may all run on separate systems from different vendors, he said. Cisco’s enterprise video portfolio, the broadest of any vendor, appeals to some of those organizations, Dewing said.

What Cisco still doesn’t have is sophisticated video editing capability and an easy-to-use management interface, Dewing said. Editing capability integrated into the network was part of Cisco’s original vision for Medianet, but what it has provided so far is fairly simple, he said. Given the narrowing of Cisco’s focus to core products, which has already led to the demise of the Flip camcorder, the company may step back from trying to compete in a field already full of editing tools, Dewing said. User interfaces are a longtime issue for Cisco, he added. “They’re getting there, but they’re still no Apple,” Dewing said.

ECDS pricing starts at US$4,395 for a virtual WAAS blade and US$10,595 for an MDE appliance.

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