Q&A with Thomas Wyatt, Cisco Systems
With more than 3,000 digital signage deployments to date, Cisco Systems must be on an AV pro's radar. Now the company is building a media infrastructure to help ease the setup of new video networks.
Thomas Wyatt, Cisco Systems
THOMAS WYATT, CISCO SYSTEMS: You've heard of CobraNet? Cisco Systems is planning something similar for networked video. As the AV industry cautiously eyes the IT giant and wonders how to partner or compete, Cisco has been looking for ways to make things such as digital signage and streaming media easier to set up and operate. The company's newest digital signage player includes Medianet, and we asked Cisco's vice president of digital media systems what exactly that is.
PRO AV: It's been a while since we interviewed you for Pro AV. What in the market has changed?
WYATT: The evolution in pervasive video, which is a market transition we've seen happening for a number of years, has really become more apparent. It's like when e-commerce began to take hold and there was a lot of thinking about how that would impact the business process. We're seeing that kind of transition now as people try to figure out how to use video as the central way of communicating, collaborating, training, or advertising.
PRO AV: And how is Medianet part of that thinking?
WYATT: We started with a Medianet reference architecture a couple years ago. We needed to figure out how to tie disparate video applications together to enable any content to play back on any device with the right experience, quality of service, and auto-provisioning of devices. The silo approach that most of the industry takes, saying "I'm in the digital signage market," or "I'm in the webcasting market," is interesting but it doesn't tie those two systems together. So now all the routing and switching hardware we sell has Medianet-ready capability built in. And our next-generation Digital Media Player 4310 is the first endpoint with Medianet, which is a small software client that allows the device to be auto-provisioned and auto-configured the minute it's plugged into the network. Were also going to put Medianet in physical security cameras, for example, so when you plug in a camera the same behavior occurs. And we're adding it to Flip cameras and other endpoints.
PRO AV: Is Medianet some kind of proprietary technology?
WYATT: No, Medianet is not proprietary to Cisco. It's designed to run any type of video regardless of whether you're using Cisco products or not. We get asked a lot about videoconferencing interoperability. Medianet allows you to take something like our Media Experience Engine and connect Polycom to Tandberg to Cisco to any other potential endpoint. We know we're not going to build every endpoint or sell every piece of software that's used for video, so we want to make it open. First we add intelligence to the network itself, so [that] as video is uploaded, network devices can do transcoding and transrating to put the content in the right format. Then we open up a Medianet-enabled software client to third parties to port to their hardware for advanced functionality. For pure interoperability, we should be able to do that in the network without people having to do anything else.
PRO AV: So, for big video deployments, something like Medianet would ease integration.
WYATT: Absolutely. We're seeing a big increase in 1,000-plus-unit deployments around the world. For them, something like Medianet is great because it makes their lives easier than manually configuring all the devices.
PRO AV: We know, for instance, that the New Meadowlands Stadium has about 2,200 Digital Media Player 4310s, but AV pros didn't do that part of the install. What is Cisco's position on the pro AV industry?
WYATT: The AV community has been a really important set of partners for us. What Cisco has in its business plan is essentially a five-by-five-by-five strategy in all our channels worldwide, which is essentially that we want the top five AV, IT, and app development partners in every region and then build and nurture those relationships. What we're finding is that many of the AV partners are more effective in delivering video services than the traditional IT partners Cisco has used for routing and switching, security, and voice. So we think AV is cricital. Our focus has been on the larger AV partners to start, but we're seeing great pockets in different parts of the world where AV has been driving most of the signage opportunity.
When it comes to a stadium, it's a little different given the complexity of all the different technologies. Cisco did the signage [at New Meadowlands Stadium], but we also did the voice, security, and wireless. So it does require an IT partner at the table. But we also have 3,000 digital signage customers and a big chunk of those are driven through the AV channel.