Is Your Network Really Ready for Video? 10 Tips

Brought to you by The Cisco Innovators Program

Are you on track as a video jockey?

Each day, more businesses are using video applications to communicate faster, collaborate and train more effectively, and reduce cycle times and travel expenses.

You're probably already riding video streams on your network from YouTube, Skype, or surveillance cameras. Maybe you´re also handling videoconferencing.

How's the ride? Like voice, video over IP can present performance and quality issues.

"It only takes one bad video call for your executives to lose confidence in your technology, and they may never trust you again," says Jarrod Phelps, senior systems engineer at Milestone Technologies. Milestone, a Cisco Premier Certified Partner, is an IT consultant and reseller partner that specializes in IT projects for LAN, WAN, data center, and videoconferencing.

Prepare yourself for victory. Any small or medium-sized business can support more video traffic and user endpoints, give users a high-quality video experience, and concurrently ensure the availability of other business applications. Following are some tips for doing it, from experts that do it every day.

Routing

Provision bandwidth. "The most common mistake we´re seeing is IT throwing more bandwidth onto the network, thinking that's what video needs," says Brian K'Meyer, senior solutions consultant at Cisco Gold Certified Partner MCPc. "But that can be a waste of money."

"The fact is, how much bandwidth you need depends on your network architecture, applications and their priority, and business processes and user needs," says Dominic Del Balso, director of engineering at MCPc, which delivers scalable solutions to host, secure, and optimize an anyplace workspace, including helping clients build an infrastructure for collaborative and mobile work environments.

Consider an end-to-end architecture. "Think of the router as a policy implementer," says K'Meyer. An end-to-end IP architecture such as medianet can optimize the deployment and management of video endpoints and applications. And video conferencing services in Cisco® Integrated Services Routers Generation 2 (ISR G2) can reduce bandwidth requirements by up to 30 percent.

LAN Switching

Segment traffic. "Setting up logical segments that feed into a Layer 3 switch can prevent traffic broadcasts from overrunning each other, and help you map out the quality of service," says K'Meyer. He and Phelps say it's also generally a best practice to put video traffic on its own VLANs.

Prioritize video traffic by using switch port capabilities such as:

  • Quality of service (QoS). But don't rely on default configurations. Not all video packets should have the same QoS marker. For example, HD videoconference traffic should be marked differently than traffic from digital signage. "Medianet on the switch can automatically detect the device type connected to the switch and set the video QoS properly," says Phelps. "The QoS can adjust dynamically, ensuring that it's an end-to-end engagement." Medianet capabilities are now available on Cisco Catalyst® 2960 and 2960-S, 3560, 3750-X, and 4500 Series switches.
  • Granular rate limiting. It can guarantee bandwidth based on IP address, MAC address, and/or Layer 4 TCP and UDP information.

Scale up bandwidth. "It's essential to assess your current situation and how you'll scale up over the next two or three years," says Del Balso. Your company may need only a small technology refresh. "For example, a switch with 1 Gigabit uplinks may be fine today, and if it upgrades modularly to 10 Gigabit you won't have to replace it."

Wireless LAN (WLAN) and Wi-Fi

Align access point density. Users may have two or three endpoint devices; each typically needs at least 1.5 Mbps symmetric bandwidth for streaming video. Areas with high video usage--such as classrooms, telepresence rooms, and open-floor-plan workspaces--need high capacity. Instead of a typical 5000-square-foot cell, each access point may need to cover about 1500 square feet. "Access points with Cisco CleanAir® technology automatically detect and adjust for RF interference to optimize performance," says Del Balso.

Convert video traffic from multicast to unicast. To overcome Wi-Fi multicast packet loss rates, unicast technology in a WLAN controller or access point can transmit packets at the optimal speed to each client, whatever its performance rate. Cisco VideoStream software pushes the burden of the unicast conversion and distribution out onto multiple access points such as the Cisco Aironet® 1140, 1260, 3500, and 3600 Series; this conserves WLAN bandwidth and reduces traffic flow on the wired network. "VideoStream can also monitor the access points' capacity and deny a new video request if it would overload them, preventing packet loss and call drops," says K'Meyer.

Management and Security

Apply your security policy and best practices. "Like voice and data, video often needs to be secured," says Phelps. "For example, port-based authentication on-premises is important." Other best practices include encryption and VPNs for remote access, says K'Meyer. Integrated security that is context-aware simplifies and strengthens security, says Del Balso.

Simplify management. Consolidating your wireless, wired, routing, and switching technologies onto one network allows your business to use bandwidth more efficiently, improve video performance, and ensure a quality experience for users. It eases demands on IT staff by simplifying provisioning, troubleshooting, and management. For example, Cisco Unified Communications Manager can implement call admission control, and medianet offers media monitoring.

Consider hosted solutions. You may want to outsource some video services, such as Cisco TelePresence®, from a Cisco Certified Partner. "You can rent or buy the endpoints, and we can host the heartbeat and brains--the TelePresence Video Communication Server and TelePresence Management Suite--as well as provide the firewall transversal," explains Colin Sturtevant, president and CEO at Plus6 Technologies. A Cisco Premier Certified Partner, Plus6 specializes in providing visual communications as on-premises solutions and managed services.

When you want to win with video technology, prepare your network. All Cisco Certified Partners have been proven to successfully deploy, operate, and optimize Cisco solutions--and can become your trusted adviser on a variety of technologies.

Next Steps

  1. Find a local Cisco Certified Partner that can help your small or medium-sized business.
  2. Watch medianet videos and visit the Medianet Knowledge Base.
  3. Join the Cisco Innovators Program to continue receiving articles, videos, and offers for small and medium-sized businesses. Already a member? Refer a friend.

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