A Campus-wide IP Video Network for a State University, Part 1
Jun 8, 2010 12:00 PM
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The traditional coax based video network at North Carolina State University had reached capacity, and when they decided to upgrade to a campus-wide video-over-IP system, they called Haivision for a solution. Peter Maag is here to give us the lowdown on how the system was set up and how it all works.
Peter, thanks very much for being with me here on the Networked AV podcast all the way from Montreal. You’re with Haivision—and I’m sure everybody’s heard of Haivision, but just in case—what does Haivision do and how long has it been around?
Peter Maag:Well thank you very much, Bennett; it’s certainly nice to be invited to your podcast. Haivision is based in Montreal and in Chicago. We’ve been around for about five and a half years now, going on six years, and we were formed out of, actually, an acquisition of a codec position of a company called Miranda here in Montreal. So we’ve had quite a long history now, and we’ve kind of developed from kind of an encoder centric company to a IP video system company. And that was certainly stimulated through what was kind of a dramatic merger in our industry last year when Haivision merged with the Chicago company called Video Furnace—and since that time, the products have integrated, the teams have integrated. I’ve been through quite a number of mergers and acquisitions, and this has been a absolutely beautiful marriage of software-based technology out of Video Furnace and hardware encoding technology from the Haivision heritage. So that’s really where we stand today: We deliver specialized encoders for telepresence, I would say, or church remote venues as well as IP video systems for a number of different markets including hire ads and medical and the military and those type of markets. [Timestamp: 2:24]
Well, that’s certainly where the action is; I mean, you see a lot of that everywhere now, and video over IP is an industry that’s really shifting into high gear now. Now you had a particular installation at North Carolina State University; they had a cable TV system that looked like it was at capacity and they called on Haivision. Why did they particularly call you guys? Did you have a relationship with NC State already, or how did that happen?
Well, they’ve had a feed system there for a little while but they really—like you said, they were at capacity and looking to make a change as many people are. The savings over coax plants going to IP video are abundantly clear for the standard TV distribution infrastructure, but in addition to being able to replace that by going to IP video, they enabled themselves with so much more creative power in the way the content is delivered around the campus. So like you said, they were looking to replace the cable plant, and they actually went to a number of different vendors to see who could offer the best solution, let’s say, for them. And yeah, we’re quite pleased with our relationships that we carry forward in higher ed and see a few a certainly being great relationships that we have, but we cover a lot of the university market. And that comes primarily from the Video Furnace heritage, and that technology was designed specifically for delivering television around university campuses. [Timestamp: 4:09]
And it looks like it’s fairly well developed. Now, I don’t know how many people listening maybe know all the ins and outs of Video Furnace, but I know that it delivers video to both computers and set-top boxes for things like displays that you might have around a college campus. So exactly how does Video Furnace work?
Well, I think you got it pretty well. And I think that the magic is that for the specific challenge it equally delivers media to set-top boxes or to the desktop. When Joe Gaucher, the CTO and founder of Video Furnace, was examining the problems that higher ed have and exactly what they need to do, he noticed a number of trends and a number of requirements that the university community has. And the first trend is, “OK, we need to get rid of the coax distribution,” but he also identified that students going forward are going to be as likely, if not more likely, to watch TV on their laptops or PCs as they are on the TV deployed into their dorm room, right? And the universities are kitting up to face this challenge, right? But in doing so, they needed a system that not only showed a dramatic amount of equivalency between the TV and the PC, let’s call it, laptop experience, but also had to satisfy a number of demands or a number of challenges that the IT departments had. And that led to the development within the Video Furnace architecture that’s known as the InStream player. I don’t think the Video Furnace people picked up on it, or picked up. I know they always knew it was great, but I really fell in love with this player, and I call it “The Magic of InStream.” And this magic is really the fulfillment of the requirements or the needs of the IT departments at universities, and it really focuses on two very important things. The first thing is that it works on any PC, any laptop—Linux, Mac, Windows, whatever they have—without any need for installation, so the IT departments don’t have to have lengthy configurations of the system requirements, which is great. And the second thing is that it doesn’t need any installation, so they don’t need to download any player. Anytime that a student wants to watch to TV, he just clicks on the web link and the player comes to his computer and is installed in memory space. So those two aspects of nothing to install and working across all platforms is something that’s kind of revolutionary to that environment, so it’s very very IT-friendly. [Timestamp: 7:10]
A Campus-wide IP Video Network for a State University, Part 1
Jun 8, 2010 12:00 PM
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.