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Should you allow video traffic over your enterprise WAN?

Decide whether you should support video traffic across your enterprise WAN (wide area network) using these recommendations.

What types of video should you allow across your enterprise WAN? How is the WAN affected by video traffic and how much bandwidth is needed to support it? With the proliferation of consumer devices that support video and the growth of valid use cases for video in the enterprise, is it really reasonable to block video traffic?

Due to Blue Coat System’s intersection between WAN optimization and video content, turned to the vendor’s senior director of product marketing, Mark Urban, to answer these questions and consider whether enabling video over WAN is the best choice for your enterprise.

What types of video traffic affect the enterprise WAN? Of those types, which are being used most?

Mark Urban: In general, there are three types of video traffic:

Video conferencing, which is highly interactive, has been around for a long time, though now we're seeing a higher definition type [of video]. Recorded video has been the biggest single source of use in the enterprise as well as its use by employees for non-business reasons as well. That’s the top change we’ve seen over the last several years. Coming up behind it is live-streamed video … for [when companies] want to stream their CEO webcast about earnings to a distributed employee base. You can do that in a much easier way today than a few years ago … [thanks to] consumer technologies like smartphones with embedded video recorders, and video-sharing sites like YouTube that are used both for corporate and ‘fun’ purposes.

How often are organizations allowing video in enterprise WAN environments?

Urban:  When it’s used for … product training and sales training, I think it’s greatly endorsed by enterprises. [As far as] recreational personal video, if we go back four or five years, there was a higher frequency of that type of video just being blocked by Web filtering. But now, there's a gray area between what is business and pleasure. Even if it’s just for personal use, there’s a strong desire to let employees go to Facebook and YouTube and things like that. So it’s tacitly endorsed by most enterprises today, but [they] are challenged by how to control it.

Which verticals or types of enterprises should not allow video traffic to go across their WAN? What organizations should block video altogether?

Urban: From a security or a compliance standpoint, there are some security issues with streaming video, but none that should really hold back the adoption of video. The financial vertical, which tends to be very security- and compliant-conscious, is probably the biggest adopter of video.

If you have really low bandwidth links with business-critical applications and you don’t have an optimization strategy or a control strategy, you probably want to block video just to maintain the operations of your core business applications.

If you want to be able to at least control video and potentially optimize it … in those low bandwidth situations, WAN optimization can create bandwidth and make a lot of [other] applications faster. If you layer a video delivery capability on top of that, you can provide an alternative to just shutting off video.

Is there any way to block video coming from particular sites and determine what video traffic to avoid?

Urban:  URL blocking is easy, and there are lots of solutions out there for that.

If you want to block something like Facebook video, then you’ve suddenly gotten much more granular. Your standard router infrastructure isn’t capable [of this], so you do need a smarter infrastructure. You can do policy if you have something that’s smart enough to say, ‘Hey, this is YouTube; this is ESPN; this is Facebook video. Let’s identify that and contain it to about 10% of the network. Or if there’s contention for that resource, let’s knock it down.’ Those types of tools are very rare, but Blue Coat Systems is one of the few companies that does that today.

Can you give an example of how video traffic can impact the enterprise WAN?

Urban: In the US, a 1.5 megabits per second T1 link, which sounds small, is still probably the most common link size out there for an enterprise. If you think about one person watching a 720 p, which is one of the higher resolution YouTube videos, that can take about 500 kilobits per second, which is one-third of a T-1 link. So if 20 people at a branch office access files and SAP on the company intranet, one person watching a silly cat video can have a very disruptive impact. A lot of it depends on what’s happening on the link at that time, but if you think of two people doing that in a relatively short time, suddenly two-thirds of the link is taken up, and there is a pretty big chance you’re disrupting significant productivity right there.  Especially when there’s a celebrity event … suddenly you get one or two people doing these things simultaneously and it can be pretty catastrophic to the rest of the business operations, or to the network and therefore the business operations that rely on the network.  

Is there some sort of model an enterprise can use to figure out how much bandwidth is needed to support video traffic across its WAN?

Urban: There’s some capacity planning that can be done, but more often than not, if you do a capacity plan, it’s going to say that you need five to 10 times the bandwidth you have, which typically bumps it out of the realm of possibility -- so it’s a different calculation than a normal application rollout. You have to look at a combination of capacity planning and WAN optimization [to support video].

What types of solutions exist to optimize video over the WAN?

Urban: There are very video-specific solutions out there, various caching devices or specialized video delivery devices that focus on video signage in retail stores. General WAN optimization can maybe save 20 to 30% of the bandwidth. But Blue Coat Systems has combined both general WAN optimization technologies with highly specialized technologies that we’ve licensed from Adobe and from Microsoft and that come from our experience in Web applications. I think that some networking vendors have very specialized video-only type of delivery systems, but Blue Coat is really the only vendor that combines both WAN optimization and video into a single solution.

How are Blue Coat solutions specialized to optimize video traffic?

Urban: We have been focused and very strong in Web-based application [optimization]. Over the years we’ve invested a lot in HTTP optimization technology. Over the last several years, we’ve partnered and licensed technology from Microsoft and from Adobe to integrate into our products, and that’s what gives us [the ability to optimize] HTTP, RTMP and RTSP. We’ve worked very closely with early video adopter companies that helped point us in that direction -- so all of those optimization technologies have been part of our focus and business for the last 10 years. Our ability to have bandwidth management control  [over] video came from our acquisition of Packeteer back in 2008. That packet shaper product is so smart at being able to identify traffic, and we’ve increased its smarts by tying it in with our Web categorization technology that’s now a key part of that bandwidth management policy for managing video. … [Blue Coat System's WAN optimization is capable of] seeing applications and seeing content and being able to set QoS policies on them.

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