Cisco on Cisco

Streaming Video Case Study: How Cisco Uses Streaming Video for Worldwide Corporate Events and Training


Streaming video lowers costs and improves timeliness and availability of corporate communications.
BACKGROUND

Cisco Systems® experienced high growth in the mid-1990s. As a result, every Cisco® team had to explore creative ways to rapidly and affordably manage:

  • Increased demands for training and cross-team communications (with training and travel budgets that did not keep pace)
  • Growing skill requirements
  • A global shortage of skilled IT workers
  • Rapid technological development
  • Globalization pressures
  • Hundreds of training content sources

The rapid change paralleled an increasing need to disseminate information and knowledge throughout the enterprise. Traditional classroom training and communications channels were not scaling to accommodate the required throughput, and Cisco management recognized the need for a solution that would strengthen the company’s competitive edge. In particular, IT was charged with gathering the company’s communications-related business requirements, deploying a solution, and driving adoption within the geographically dispersed employee base. The goal included enhancing productivity, which entailed:

  • Timely and direct executive communications
  • Access to and completion of regulatory and standards compliance training
  • Keeping the sales force (direct and distribution partners) up to date on new products and technologies
  • Enabling frequent product announcements, updates, and training

Cisco’s global stakeholders—employees, partners, and customers—understood the advantages and power of communications technology for meeting these goals. The result was a strong enterprise wide demand for multimedia business communications solutions.

CHALLENGE

The Cisco media network was developed in response to an immediate need for wide scale learning. In just one instance, the company required the ability to deliver technical training to 5000 sales account managers and 7000 systems engineers. In addition, Cisco had to provide much of the same training to approximately 35,000 employees, and to 25,000 channel distribution channel partners with more than 400,000 employees located around the world. A large, increasingly complex product portfolio and aggressive schedules further complicated the scope of the training. It was clear that traditional classroom-based training, requiring thousands of students to travel, was not only cost-prohibitive but also impossible with the current resources and time allotted.

SOLUTION

To meet these challenges, a rich media solution capable of delivering a wide variety of content, including graphics, animations, audio, video, and virtual lab access, was provisioned, and content access Web portals were developed. The focus on multimedia reflected broadly accepted patterns for learning: people typically retain 10 percent of what they read, 20 percent of what they hear, and 50 percent of what they see and hear. The new media solution provided content authors and subject matter experts with a platform for creating multimedia content and making it available for easy, secure, anywhere-in-the world access by Cisco employees and channel partners.

A central part of the initial multimedia strategy involved streaming video for live events and on-demand content. Coupled with Cisco’s content networking products, the video strategy provided unparalleled scalability for deploying training to global audiences.

As the IT team continued to gather business requirements, the project broadened beyond the scope of e-learning to embrace the entire spectrum of business communications. The company’s evolution to a converged data, voice, and video IP network was vital to enabling the streaming video solutions designed to address the complete, expanded set of business communications requirements. The eventual solution was defined in terms of several critical elements:

  • Network delivery: The Cisco Application and Content Networking System (ACNS) infrastructure, to enable network-efficient delivery of live and on-demand content.
  • Content authoring and management: An integrated platform for creating, managing, and deploying live and video-on-demand (VoD) content.
  • Audio/video capture: Design, implementation, and deployment guidelines for facilities.
  • Web portal: Integrated capability, including the tools, integration guides, and process information for viewing, creating, and producing live events and videos on demand.
  • Cisco Unified MeetingPlace® solution: An integrated rich-media conferencing solution, including voice and Web conferencing capabilities.
  • Cisco IP/TV® solution: A network video streaming system that delivers TV-quality, live video programming to desktop PCs, classrooms, and meeting rooms.
  • Cisco IP/VC IP telephony solution: A reliable, easy-to-manage, cost-effective network infrastructure for telephony and videoconferencing applications deployment.

Within the multimedia environment, Cisco IT deployed several rich-media solutions. These solutions started out primarily as off-network services; today, these deployments are transitioning to on-network solutions. Video streaming continues to play a vital role, as evidenced in videoconferencing, video telephony, Web conferencing, and live and on-demand video broadcasts solutions employed throughout Cisco.

Videoconferencing

Since 2003, the number of virtual meetings has exceeded the number of in-person meetings at Cisco. Currently, videoconferences exceed 9000 hours per year (2200 meetings). Users cite saved time, efficiency, reduced travel expenses, and increased productivity as the benefits derived from videoconferencing and the reasons for its widespread use.

Figure 1. Enterprise-class IP telephony and video is delivered over a single Cisco Unified Communications infrastructure

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Videoconferencing over a converged IP network (Figure 1) gives Cisco users added benefits. Smooth integration of voice, video, and Web components provides an enriched conference environment and simplifies integration of the conferencing systems with complementary collaborative applications such as instant messaging and calendaring systems.

IP Video Telephony

The Cisco IP telephony deployment supports video-enhanced communications. The converged infrastructure results in video service comparable to voice in terms of ease of use, ease of deployment, ease of management, and cost-effectiveness.

Web Conferencing

Cisco Unified MeetingPlace software provides universal access to Web conferencing from standards-based platforms. Users can control voice, video, and Web conference functions from a single interface. Being able to see who is in the meeting, see the person talking, record and play back meetings, use a “whiteboard”, and conduct polls helps enhance user productivity. Conference users can control their own interfaces (for example, mute their audio if necessary), and the conference host can control individual attendee sessions (for example, if one user has a noisy connection). The convergence of voice, video, and Web foundations allows Web conference attendees to take advantage of common e-mail and scheduling applications, as well as directory services.

Within all of Cisco, Web conferences exceed 16,000 hours per year (12,000 meetings).

Live Broadcasting and Video on Demand

Today, an increasing amount of all Cisco communications is done using streaming video. The Cisco media network can support both unicast and multicast streaming for efficient use of bandwidth (Figure 2).

Figure 2. IP Unicast and multicast for bandwidth-efficient broadcasts

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Unicast streams provide point-to-point content transmission from a single source to a single destination. This method serves remote Cisco employees accessing the Cisco intranet using virtual private networks (VPNs), and external partners and customers accessing content on the Cisco.com public Website.

In contrast to unicast, a multicast transmission involves a single high-quality stream to many users. Multicast provides the ability to reach a large audience without overloading the network. Multicast transmissions are used to broadcast over the Cisco intranet to Cisco employees located on numerous campuses worldwide. Cisco IP/TV Software is used for multicast broadcasts. For each live event broadcast, the Cisco broadcast solution provides a choice of standard encoded streams (Figure 3):

  • 900 kbps for satellite distribution to areas where the terrestrial WAN has insufficient bandwidth.
  • 500 and 100 kbps are accessible via terrestrial WAN.
  • Unicast streams serve remote employees, partners, and customers.

Figure 3. Live broadcast architecture

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For partners and customers connecting over the Internet, Cisco optionally serves other streams, including:

  • 14-kbps Windows audio streams
  • 56-, 100-, and 300-kbps Windows video streams
  • 28-kbps RealAudio 8 streams
  • 56, 100, and 300-kbps RealVideo 8 streams

These encoded streams are delivered to global Internet service providers that provide nearest-proximity streaming to partners and customers.

To serve remote VPN employees, Cisco uses its VoD content delivery network to split unicast streams in a cascading daisy chain manner. The content delivery network supports 14 kbps audio and 56 kbps or 100 kbps video streams. Cisco VoD content comes from many sources. Live events, offsite events, studio-created content, or any other video content created at any location can be stored and made available over the content delivery network for viewing by Cisco employees, partners, and customers. Once created, every Cisco VoD is uploaded, meta-tagged, and pushed to production over the Cisco ACNS. The content is pre-positioned on content engines. Viewer requests are served from the closest logical VoD server.

Production Studios and Broadcast Volume

40 to 50 live video broadcasts are produced each month, with approximately 250 viewers per broadcast. 400 to 500 VoD modules are created either from these broadcasts or separately, with an average audience of 70,000 internal Cisco viewers and 50,000 partner viewers per month.

Multiple video studios deliver video-based content over the Cisco IP network from locations in San Jose, California; Raleigh, North Carolina; and London, England. Numerous ubiquitous, self-serve VoD authoring systems are used throughout the world for additional content development that does not require a studio.

RESULTS

Industry analysts and experts consider video an extremely cost-effective tool for clarifying and improving business communications:

  • Increased learning: A University of Wisconsin study determined that attendees learn 200 percent more in video classes and meetings, compared to audio-only experiences.
  • Improved rate of absorption: According to a Wharton School of Business study, attendees absorb video information up to 40 percent faster than audio.
  • Augmented content retention: Harvard University and Columbia University found that attendees in face-to-face meetings retain 38 percent more information than attendees in audio-only meetings.
  • Enhanced persuasiveness: A study done by 3M found that face-to-face meetings are 43 percent more persuasive than audio-only meetings.
  • Improved impact of communications: UCLA determined that 55 percent of the impact of communications comes from facial expressions and body language, versus 38 percent from vocal inflection.
  • Within Cisco, the IT streaming video projects have been evaluated and found to deliver benefits in terms of:
  • Productivity enhancements: Cisco streaming video solutions allow the company to deliver information faster than the competition.
  • Increased information availability and convenient access: Content can be provided to all Cisco employees, partners, and customers, as appropriate, and is more conveniently accessed when made available online.
  • Cost avoidance: Delivering information over the Cisco IP network is inexpensive and results in multimillion dollar savings per year
Table 1. Initial Cost Savings Related to Video Communications (FY2003)
Video Event or Content Savings (in $Millions)
Live video events $18.1M
On-demand video $25.0M
Online meetings $6.4M
Collaborative workspace $13.2M
Instant message $9.0M
Total $71.7M

Live and on-demand broadcasts, in particular, have resulted in several significant benefits (Table 2).

Table 2. Seven Benefits of Video Streaming
Abilities Enabled by Video Events Business Benefits
Faster product launches Accelerate time to market through rapid dissemination of products at the front line
Rapid dissemination of best practices Enable peer-to-peer dissemination of best practices (e.g., sales role plays and tips)
High-impact knowledge delivery Quickly deliver mission-critical knowledge on business rules, regulations, and policies
High-impact corporate communications Enable senior leaders to communicate strategy, results, and directions in real time
External collaboration Enable collaborative on/off-shore outsourcing partnerships
Enhanced store experiences Differentiate store experiences with digital signage; virtualize subject matter experts
Business Benefit for Cisco: Cisco ISO Company Audit

Annually, Cisco must renew its ISO 9001 (process) and 14001 (environmental) certifications. The recertification process involves training approximately 20,000 employees at nine sites. For 2005, recertification costs using traditional training methods were estimated at $1.4M over nine months. Instead, Cisco created video- and audio-on-demand classes (with associated white papers), and accomplished the employee and auditor training in only three months for a total cost of only $32,000. The video training was so effective that Cisco not only passed the audit and identified areas for improvement of processes, but was rated #2 out of 500 companies recertified that year, with only seven minor infractions identified.

The video approach provided an additional unexpected benefit. The resulting library of VoD content has proven to be helpful for other initiatives involving the improvement of ongoing processes.

Benefit for Cisco: Emergency Process Implementation

Cisco’s technical support organization must provide rapid response to discovered software bugs. Disseminating bug information and directions for software fixes often requires training the network of 430 support engineers worldwide. In one particular case, a 25-minute VoD was created to detail the directions for an emergency bug fix. The effects were dramatic—the support team was trained within 48 hours after the corporate team developed the fix. The cost of developing the VoD (done locally) was minimal.

LESSONS LEARNED

Video communications make teams and extended teams more successful in their jobs, which translates into a more productive and competitive organization. Other high-level lesson Cisco learned included the following:

  • Business problems drive communications solutions.
  • Most forms of communications can be effectively converged on an IP-based foundation (IP telephony, video streaming, Web conferencing, audio conferencing).
  • Results must be measured in terms of time to competence and productivity gains.
  • Access is the key to success.
REFERENCE DOCUMENTS

"Streaming Video for High-Impact Business Communications Best Practices"
(http://www.cisco.com/web/about/ciscoitatwork/unified_comm/enterprise_streaming_video.html)

Cisco customers and prospects often ask, “How did you do it?” or perhaps more importantly, “How can we do it?” This white paper answers these questions and assists anyone interested in integrating IP video as a network-based communications solution. It describes the processes that Cisco has in place to effectively use its internal media network architecture to create live and on-demand video content, publish and manage media assets, and globally deliver video-based content for multiple business communications and learning needs over the Cisco intranet. This white paper also outlines existing Cisco business and technical support systems that help ensure the successful creation and broad use of video content across the enterprise. It concludes with a look at what is next in this rapidly evolving medium.

Cisco Business Communications Solutions: Live and On-Demand Streaming Video Guide (http://www.cisco.com/en/US/products/ps6902/products_implementation_design_guides_list.html)

This document consists of four main sections. Section I provides a high-level overview of the Cisco Business Communications Solution. Section II provides details necessary for business managers who will implement a Cisco Business Communications Solution for streaming video within their organization. Section III contains essential information for operations managers and members of the audio/visual team who will support operations and planning for the streaming solution. Section IV provides facilities managers and staff with essential information, detailed equipment lists, and staffing requirements for a variety of usage scenarios. Appendices offer essential information on the following topics:

  • Equipment vendors and service providers
  • VoD video vendor instructions
  • Using production vendors
  • Live broadcast and VoD slide creation guidelines
  • Documentation and support