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WAN optimization vendors improve WAN video delivery with eCDN features

Networking pros struggling to improve WAN video delivery can reap the benefits of enterprise CDNs with equipment they may already have: WAN optimization controllers.

Content delivery networks (CDNs) traditionally help big media companies and other content providers serve up rich media content to consumers over the Internet. Enterprise content delivery networks (eCDNs) can help enterprises deliver their own enterprise WAN video traffic to employees, but many IT organizations still lack the budget and resources to build an eCDN from scratch. However, networking pros can reap the benefits of eCDNs with equipment they may already have: WAN optimization controllers.

In Gartner Inc.'s latest Magic Quadrant for WAN optimization controllers (WOCs), analysts note that WAN optimization vendors are increasingly building eCDN features into their products, causing the once separate markets to merge.

"[If] you already have the WAN optimization controller sitting out there, it's easy to add more value to it, so why not?" said Joe Skorupa, research vice president at Gartner, who co-authored the Magic Quadrant. "Over time, I expect tighter integration and richer features as WOC vendors add content management, workflow [and] governance, as well as enterprise YouTube and other capabilities to their portfolios."

CDNs improve the download speeds and performance of rich media content by caching the content closer to users in server farms placed in high-usage geographic areas. Rather than having every user stream a video from media servers in one data center, a media company can reduce the load on its central data center and reduce latency by distributing its content throughout the CDN. Enterprise content delivery networks follow the same logic but usually rely on the WAN more than the Internet.

WAN optimization vendors have been building key eCDN features -- caching, prepositioning content and stream-splitting -- into their appliances natively or through partnerships to optimize WAN video content delivery, such as on-demand training videos or live corporate webcasts, Skorupa said.

Without these features, WAN optimization controllers could do little to improve WAN video performance directly. Live streams cannot be cached, and stored video files are often as compressed as much as they can be. Until WOC vendors added these features, their appliances could only compress other data traffic to squeeze more room into the pipe for video.

Supporting WAN video content delivery in the branch with eCDN features

John Riley doesn't think of his ProxySG appliances from Blue Coat Systems as WAN optimization or proxy devices. He calls them CDN appliances.

"It provides acceleration and proxy, but at the end of the day, it's a content delivery network appliance," said Riley, senior network architect at TNT N.V., a Dutch postal service and express delivery provider that operates in more than 200 countries.

Riley considered building an enterprise content delivery network years ago -- ever since deploying a relatively new technology from Cisco Systems, Internet Protocol television (IPTV), in the early 2000s. But the business case wasn't compelling yet and video adoption was still low among the company's 150,000 global users, he said.

You couldn't provide [WAN video content delivery] any other way without putting dedicated servers into every location, which is unreasonable.

John Riley
Senior Network Architect, TNT N.V.

A recent and rapid uptick of enterprise video usage forced Riley to assemble a new WAN video strategy, especially as he discovered that a few rogue branches had deployed their own local media servers to store video content locally and bypass the WAN, he said.

Deployed in about 90 of TNT's branch offices, the ProxySGs support caching on-demand video, stream-splitting simultaneous broadcasts and prepositioning stored video content that is scheduled for mass distribution. The ProxySGs replaced TNT's legacy NetCache appliances, a product that Blue Coat acquired from Network Appliance (NetApp).

Riley mostly uses the caching and stream-splitting capabilities of the ProxySG, but he plans to build a simple self-service portal that will allow business users to preposition WAN video content.  

"We're a networking team, and we do not really want to be responsible for pushing content out on the network. We provide the architecture," he said. "If we advertise that we can [use] that capability, the network team would probably be inundated with jobs to move content around the network."

Over the past six months, Riley and his team have been studying his branches' bandwidth limits, user requirements and legal restrictions for WAN video distribution around the globe, hoping to build a more efficient eCDN. He is also evaluating video content delivery vendors such as Qumu, VBrick Systems and Kontiki, whose products he would integrate into Blue Coat's management platform.

"[We're] trying to find a product in the marketplace that could be used to provide one portal for TNT content, rather than having little pockets [of support] all over the world," Riley said. "[Our eCDN] is there, but we don't use it to its full potential."

Making eCDN features part of a WAN optimization and proxy appliance ensures that branch users get the best possible WAN performance while relieving IT of having to build out complex CDN nodes around the globe, Riley said.

"Some countries might have a megabit [WAN link] and some might have 10," he said. "Obviously, you couldn't provide this any other way without putting dedicated servers into every location, which is unreasonable, especially because [enterprises have embraced server] centralization."

Pairing WAN optimization, eCDN and video content management 

Blue Coat, Riverbed Technology and Cisco all have native support for the key eCDN features for on-demand and live WAN video traffic -- caching, prepositioning and stream-splitting for Windows Media, Adobe Flash and (in Riverbed's case) Microsoft Silverlight files. 

Riverbed differentiates itself through its partnership with video content delivery vendors Qumu, Polycom, Adobe and Accordent, whose applications can be installed on its Riverbed Services Platform (RSP) as virtual applications on Steelhead appliances. That coupling enables tighter integration between the Steelhead's native capabilities and the content delivery platforms' features, according to Rick Holden, director of technology alliances at Riverbed.

"[A user] can either by location or group type … check off the type of content you want prepositioned," Holden said.  

Cisco introduced more protocol optimizations last year for streaming Windows Media content on its Wide Area Application Services (WAAS) appliance, but like Riverbed, Cisco emphasized the back-end benefit of using WAAS in conjunction with its proprietary video portal and digital media management systems.

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Jessica Scarpati, News Writer.

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