CEDPA Logo DataBus Header

DataBus Index
More Info

Issue Index

   DataBus - Vol 41 No. 1: December, 2000-January, 2001
Selecting a Content-Delivery Solution

This paper reviews the growing demand for streaming media and rich content for online learning and corporate communications and examines the difficulties organizations encounter when they try to distribute messages that include streaming media and other high-bandwidth content. It introduces the Cisco Enterprise Content Delivery Solution and pinpoints the business benefits and results organizations are achieving through the efficient delivery of rich content.
Creating Impact: The Power of Rich Content
No one can deny the power of TV to deliver a message with impact to a targeted audience. The combination of images, motion, and sound give messages far greater power than simple text or static images alone. For companies that want their communications to have greater impact, TV provides a great model, and with more and more people doing business over the Internet, the time to move this media to the Web is now.
Companies have been slow to fully capitalize on streaming media and other rich content in their communications, even though a recent survey by Perey Research found over half of the Fortune 500 corporate managers interviewed felt their messages were not getting out as effectively as possible. The survey respondents cited lack of infrastructure, human factors, information overload, and the inherent limitations of the existing communications technologies as the source of the problems. To boost the effectiveness of their employee, customer, partner, and student communications, organizations increasingly want to take advantage of the power of the Web. In particular, they want to use various rich content, multimedia, and streaming media to improve the impact and efficiency of their training programs, marketing initiatives, and even their internal communications. Everything from the collaborative development of advertisements to the dissemination of important company information to the work force can be enhanced through the use of streaming media over the corporate network. Online learning is another high-payback application of streaming media, and can help organizations cut the cost of learning by as much as 60 percent. Using the Web for delivery, organizations can offer employees, partners, or customers self-paced curricula on existing intranets or extranets. End users simply log on from their desktops for J-I-T training, 24 hours a day, whether they need to see how a certain procedure is performed or to receive a refresher in the basics of good customer service. With so many cost and learning benefits, it is no wonder that International Data Corp. (IDC), Framingham, Mass., projects corporate online learning and training alone to exceed $7 billion by 2002.
The Challenge: Distributing Rich Media Today
Although organizations recognize the value of delivering streaming media across the network, it has not been easy to do. Corporate networks are rapidly becoming saturated with all kinds of traffic. Streaming media must compete for bandwidth on the network with exploding volumes of e-mail, data-intensive applications, and the movement of massive amounts of data. With streaming media itself consuming large chunks of bandwidth, typically 1.5 Mbps, managers have been discouraged from using streaming media as often as they would like. And the problem isn't only with streaming media. Managers wanting to distribute any rich content--PowerPoint presentations, graphics, compound documents--run into similar constraints. The Perey study captures frustration with the use of rich content. According to the study, 80 percent of corporate managers would use more video (streaming media) if they had an effective, cost-efficient way to deliver it over the corporate local or wide-area network.
Unfortunately, the conventional distribution options are quite limited. These include:
  • Satellite delivery--costly to use and difficult to set up
  • Physical media (shipping video cassettes and CD-ROMs via overnight delivery services)--costly and slow to deliver
  • Internet/Web (IP)--highly congested, lower quality, difficult to scale
None of the above options can be effectively used on a large scale. Some are highly labor intensive. Most are costly and slow. All are difficult to scale. Although it may be practical to set up satellite delivery to one site or to ship out a videocassette to one remote office, it becomes quite impractical when hundreds of offices are involved. The handling of videocassettes and CD-ROMs is a labor-intensive and costly chore that can be scaled only by throwing more people and money at the task. Organizations need a better way to disseminate content throughout the enterprise. The requirements for such a solution can be summarized as follow:
  • Efficient--Minimal effort and personnel should be required to set up and administer the program. The solution should take advantage of existing data networks and Web resources without requiring additional bandwidth.
  • Low cost--The solution should be both inexpensive to set up and cost very little for each media message delivered; ongoing maintenance and administration costs should be minimal.
  • Easy to use--Employees or students should be able to access and view streaming-media messages through an intuitive, point-and-click interface as easily as they can access e-mail.
  • Easy to administer--Administrators should be able to set up and manage the entire distribution of messages from a single location. They must also be able to automate much of the process quickly and easily.
  • Flexible--Different communications can be distributed to different locations at different times, according to different schedules. Users should be able to access the particular communications they need when they want to access them.
  • Scalable--The system should be able to distribute large volumes of messages to large numbers of sites quickly and efficiently.
  • Manageable--The system should provide information to assist managers with assessing the effectiveness of the communication and its delivery. This includes information about when messages were delivered and when people viewed particular messages. Administrators need to be alerted to problems and delays in message delivery.
None of the common options noted above meet these criteria. What is required is a different approach that takes advantage of the existing network infrastructure without swamping it with rich streaming-media files.
Without such a solution, the delivery of rich, high-quality messages to an increasingly TV-raised generation of viewers will remain highly problematic. And the benefits of delivering information in the form of rich content--greater impact, higher retention, faster absorption, increased productivity, and reduced costs--will be difficult to realize.
To help organizations break the bandwidth barrier and use their existing networks to deliver rich media, Cisco offers a breakthrough approach to moving content and information throughout the enterprise in a tightly controlled environment using all standard Web tools. For distributed applications, the Cisco Enterprise Content Delivery Networks (CDNs) transport content over the Internet at low bandwidth and enable it to be accessed locally, thereby avoiding the bottlenecks and breakdowns that occur when trying to access rich content over the wide area network. In the process, the system makes it possible for enterprises to take advantage of the investment they have already made in their Cisco powered infrastructure and Web sites, while eliminating the need to handle and ship videocassettes or CD-ROMs to remote locations.
With Cisco, enterprises can automate the distribution of rich multimedia and streaming media from a central location--the content distribution manager--to dozens, hundreds, even thousands of sites. There the rich media content is served up locally, played, and replayed as often as needed.
Architected for Speed, Flexibility, Scalability
Cisco uses its patented, Self-Organizing Distributed Architecture (SODA) to achieve fast, scalable, flexible content delivery that takes advantage of the existing network and Web infrastructure without degrading network performance. A low-cost, centrally managed zero-administration "appliance," or content engine, at each site receives content over the network from the content distribution manager and plays it locally. The content engines, based on open standards, automatically organize themselves into a single cooperating system that can be expanded simply by plugging in more content engines. Since the content engines are self-organizing, they can tolerate local failures, automatically reconfiguring themselves as needed.
Operating behind the corporate firewall, the content engine can stream the content to users live or store it for playback on-demand. For fast, reliable delivery, content is intelligently routed through the network, rippling out from the content distribution manager, the central control point. The content can be replicated from content engine to content engine in an efficient mesh-like network topology. The Cisco content-delivery system handles any standard file format, including Motion Picture Experts Group (MPEG), MP3, RealVideo, Windows Media, QuickTime, HTML, GIF, JPEG, Adobe Acrobat, PowerPoint, and Macromedia Shockwave. It also supports standard binary files for applications such as CAD/CAM and telemedicine. Content Distribution Manager's easy-to-use graphical interface allows an administrator to easily set up, automate, and manage the distribution across the network of any amount of rich media content to large numbers of sites. Similarly, the graphical interface makes it simple for viewers to access and play the content locally. Management tools track the distribution of the content and monitor its usage. The Cisco Content Delivery Solution is completely integrated with the Web, allowing users to click on content for viewing from a central intranet or extranet site but receive the content locally from the content engine, eliminating the need for rich content to repeatedly traverse the network. The result: more efficient use of bandwidth, faster delivery of information, no new software to learn, and continued use of the familiar Web browser and media players.
Low Cost of Ownership/Scalability
Total cost of ownership for the content-delivery solution is low. Content engines are zero-administration devices, inexpensive to acquire, set up, and maintain. Someone at the site only needs to open the box and plug the content engine into power and the network. The content engine is self-configuring and remotely managed from the content distribution manager, which runs on a low-cost device running Linux or on other UNIX servers. Through centralized management, an administrator can handle the content-delivery process for the whole enterprise. There are no videotapes or CD-ROMs to ship, no satellite receiving systems to set up and maintain at each location, no congested networks. By moving content across the network WAN at nonpeak hours or by specifying maximum bandwidth consumption, enterprises can avoid network congestion and ensure that information is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The Cisco Content Delivery Solution also provides comprehensive security and manageability. Administrators can define groups of users and program channels for special purposes, replicating those channels to select distribution lists. There may be a channel for the sales force and resellers and another for the marketing group or customer service personnel. Managers can review the viewing history to see when users viewed certain content. This is particularly valuable when delivering e-learning materials.
Benefits of Enterprise Content Delivery
Unlike the common content approaches in use today, the Cisco solution meets all the requirements for an effective enterprise content-delivery solution: efficiency, low cost, ease of use, ease of administration, flexibility, scalability, and manageability. Along the way, it delivers valuable business benefits:
  • Fast, assured delivery of content--Managers know the content is delivered in the most timely way and they know when the content has been received and viewed.
  • Easy information sharing--This feature enables collaborative work involving rich content, speeding business processes, and increasing productivity.
  • Low total cost of ownership--This feature is possible because of low acquisition costs, zero-maintenance local content engines, and low administrative overhead.
  • High productivity--Productivity is high because of on-demand content delivery, specialized channels, ease of use, timely access to content, and online learning.
  • Efficient caching--This enables you to improve bandwidth performance and minimize costs.
But the biggest benefit may be the overall increased impact of the organization's communications and learning capabilities. With Cisco, organizations for the first time have an efficient, effective, easy-to-use means to quickly distribute rich media, including streaming media. This means they can put the power of rich content behind their communications and online learning and give their messages the impact of TV.

Sue Mangiapane is an Account Manager for Cisco Systems, Inc. Sue can be reached by phone at 949-789-5006, by Fax at 949-789-5005, or by e-mail at .