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A Campus-wide IP Video Network for a State University, Part 1

Jun 8, 2010 12:00 PM

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I work on a university campus myself, my day job, and I know that people are being really stretched in the IT departments now because there's a pressure to pack more students in there. That's what keeps the university going, the revenue, and at the same time, they want to maintain the quality and they're not increasing staff, even in the IT departments. Anything that can be just click-and-work is definitely going to have a home there.
And the fact of the matter is, is that in corporate or large enterprise, medical, or the government, it's very easy for them to mandate certain systems configurations—or, let's say, it's more easy for them to do that—but on the university environment it's the wild wild west. There's no two devices are the same, and it's the most diverse end point environment on the planet really. [Timestamp: 8:06]

Yeah, you've got PCs, Macs, everything you can think of, all over the place. And that always changes, too, I mean semester to semester, that's going to change. The whole layout on that's going to change as new people come in; some of them have their own stuff, some of them are issued computers. So when you talk to the network people about this and you say, "We're going to start sending video out over the network," do they have a tendency to freak out first, or what happens when the concept first comes up?
They understand that they need to do it; they understand what multicast technology is. And for the listeners who don't know, multicast is not a technology that's immediately implemented in every organization; you kind of have to be thinking, "Oh, there's a reason for it. OK, video—we want to ease up on the network resources so let's enable multicast." But the universities are usually very good at that, and they're also very good at bandwidth-planning. That is, if you've had a gigabit backbone, the network traffic caused by the 20 or 30 channels that were launched is not that significant. But what they really really want to do is—like you said, they're resource-strapped—so they want to make sure whatever vendor comes in, whatever system that they adopt, it's not going to cause them pain. And if you talk to some of the Video Furnace clients, it's really amazing the reaction of the IT staff. The only system where you do not have to have a cookbook for every machine that you want to touch; you provide a video link, the students click on the link, the player comes to the screen and does its job, and when they're finished it goes away. It's really quite magical. And there's another benefit to that, too, is that as technologies evolve and the Furnace has gone through the various transitions of MPEG-4 part two standard-def to MPEG-2 standard def to H.264 and then to high def. And what's amazing is that they don't even have to take any action to update any machine to be able to handle this because every time a user requests the video, the player is deposited. So if they want to upgrade all of the players, it's a central upgrade—it's done in a couple of minutes—but as soon as anybody logs on, everybody's upgraded at the same time online in-service. So it's really quite a dream, and we have a lot of feedback that the amount of IT attention paid to the Video Furnace deployment is actually very very minimal. [Timestamp: 10:37]

Of course, they're using this now and it's an ongoing project. Now they're going to start deploying this to the residence halls next?
Yeah, to the residence halls and also freely to people around the campus. And what's also interesting is there is also a number of campuses that are—and I don't think NCSU is doing this—but there is also a number of campuses who are making the Video Furnace available over Wi-Fi. And that's a technology that's real, live, and accessible today—which is very dramatic because it's not only for the initial installations. Many initial installations of the Furnace are to replace the cable plant, so they're driving live TV channels into the set-top boxes, right out to the software so people can watch TV in their dorm areas. But then as they get familiar with the power of the system, they start launching course reserve material and course content. And it's very important that the course content is available in all areas of the university, so with that type of system you can very easily say, "OK, the TV channels are going to the dorm room because that's part of the service of the dormitories," but outside of that, these students, should they have access or whatever, can get their course reserve material, and they're not blocked from that so you can very easily segment areas, content, and user types. [Timestamp: 12:02]

And then, of course, for on the computers they've got the InStream players and for the more conventional communal TV viewing experience, they've got the Stingray set-top boxes. How big are those?
Exactly, well, the Stingray, it's a relatively compact set-top box; we have a new model coming out that's quite compact. What's great about the Stingray is before we merged with Video Furnace, it wasn't called the Stingray, but they had the foresight to have the architecture of the system capable of making a transition to H.264 and high def so all of the deployments that have gone on for years were HD H.264-ready. You're absolutely right. The user experience, whether you're at your laptop or at a central location, is pretty much identical. Now there is a certain technology that exists within the Video Furnace that is very interesting, I would like to talk about, that's called Command & Control. And one of the very unique things about InStream—and InStream is the player on the laptop, but InStream also exists within the Stingray set-top box&#!51;so it's the same architecture, and this is a very unique client server architecture. So the Video Furnace system is cognizant of all of the viewers that are open on the network and can communicate directly with a single viewer or many viewers. And the reason I bring this up in context of the Stingray is that you can deploy Stingray, let's say, to common areas in dorm hall or in the hallways of the school, and you can set it to change channels or to play content from a centralized location so it almost turns into a quasi-controlled signage environment, which is very very compelling for many institutions. [Timestamp: 14:00]

Yeah, especially with all the different types of information that they have to get out, sometimes with very short notice.
Exactly. We also have the ability within all of this technology, whether it's InStream on the desktop or Stingrays behind flatpanels, is with this Command & Control and the ability to communicate between the server and the players—and hopefully I am not getting too deep into the technology. But you can signal from the server to any groups or all players so you can issue messages that will scroll across in front of people and even go so far as to connect that to an emergency alert system. So you can not only satisfy control of the, let's say, flatpanels in the hallways, tune them to a particular channel and push content to them but you can also set up scheduled signalization throughout your campus to all radio viewers whether it's emergency alerts or lunch schedules or class change notifications or whatever. It's a very very powerful system for the administrators. [Timestamp: 15:11]

All right, Peter Maag with Haivision. It's been great having you here for Part 1, Peter, and talking about the NC State installation with Video Furnace. When we get into Part 2, I want to get into some more of the operational details and how it looks to the people actually using it at the control end of it, and we'll talk about Slide Castor and some other things but for now. thanks for being here for Part 1.
Well, thank you very much, Bennett.

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