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Today’s Content Delivery Networks: Not Your Grandmother’s CDN

By now it should be clear that the worlds of video and IP are gathering like the wind and the wet of a storm. No matter where you look, or whose numbers you like, video is quickly becoming the major component of all Internet traffic.

From vendors, and service and content providers, we see sustained waves of news. From Cisco is our recent CRS-3 router announcement – a super-sized router, optimized for video services.  And you will be hearing us talk more about our Content Delivery System (or Cisco CDS) – our platform for personalized video services delivery – and how it now integrates critical technologies like dynamic service routing with proximity.

Why is video delivery getting so much attention? Because video isn’t easy. It has very strict requirements, from creation to playback. Add to that the meteoric growth of video content that is taking place, and the new ways people are interacting with video, such as watching content at more places, and on more screens. We can understand why delivering video services effectively is becoming ever more complex.

Cisco CDS wins Best Internet TV Technology/Solution at IPTV World Forum

So we now find service providers constantly searching for new ways to distribute content efficiently. A key way to make that happen is by combining network intelligence with business-based rules. For example, it makes sense to have the closest content server assigned to provide content to a subscriber- but only if the connection is reliable, the cost of connectivity reasonable, and the server isn’t over-subscribed. Otherwise, a server farther way might be a better option for the most efficient delivery, and for the highest quality of experience to the customer.

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Cisco NGN Virtual Summit – Understanding the Convergence of Transport and Packet

Cisco NGN VIrtual Summit - Understanding the Convergence of Transport and Packet

Attend and Win a Free Pass to Cisco Live (Networkers) or a Free ebook

It’s an exciting time to be in the rapidly changing telecommunications industry. The growth in video, mobile, and cloud services represent compelling industry trends that will shape the market in Transport and Routing for decades. Winners and losers in the business might be determined based on the architectural choices made in the near future. However, as a busy executive or analyst we know that you don’t have the time to spend two days out of the office learning how we believe the network will evolve and what your colleagues in the industry are doing in the face of change. Therefore, we’re pleased to bring the expertise directly to your desktop. At Cisco’s NGN Virtual Summit – we’re looking to cover the dual transformational aspects of NGN: transport and IP services evolutions.

If you are responsible for network services, you face multiple challenges:

  • Video over IP: In a few years, the volume of video traffic will dwarf any other type of traffic on the network. Video head ends are becoming more like data centers which will create a large scale one-to-many distribution network.
  • Mobility: Smart phones have enjoyed rapid adoption in the marketplace. They are bringing the power of Internet to a huge user base, anytime, anywhere. Is your mobile infrastructure ready for this transformation?
  • Cloud Computing: IT departments seek to host applications in the service provider or cloud provider facilities. This trend is motivated by a clear cost benefit to IT departments. This also means that remote data centers will attract more traffic from the subscriber base and virtualization of machines will dramatically increase the DC-to-DC communications requirements.

Joe Weinman, Randy Nicklas, Michael HowardThe above will pressure the transport network and that’s what we will explore at the Cisco NGN Virtual Summit. For example:

  • The TDM infrastructure is under stress because it’s not optimized for data. There is a steady appetite for larger and higher capacity L2VPNs and Private Lines. A tsunami of data traffic is forming and the existing SONET/SDH infrastructure can’t cope. The transport infrastructure must evolve and adapt to these new demands.
  • The need to support yet increase the profitability of transport services such as basic WAN connectivity during the transition period to all IP over Ethernet.

Cisco recognizes that the challenges for the Next Generation Networks won’t be met by a single technology or group of people. Multiple organizations and people will be involved to pursue the same goal, using complementary technologies in different areas of the network. Network transformation has to be looked at different layers, from the application down to the photonic. How do we optimize video distribution, how do we prepare for DC interconnect, how optical and packets meet, how do we make the best use of the fiber infrastructure we have in the ground? These questions are related.

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NAB 2010: Brian Morris on IP Contribution & Distribution & 3DTV

As digital media – video content, in particular – continues to morph into different “flavors,” for different display types, so does the importance of an underlying IP contribution and distribution foundation.

Consider: From now on, just about every video title created, whether for episodic television, advertising, theatrical, home theater, or short-form Internet viewing, needs to be formatted in multiple ways, so as to suit the requirements of the native viewing environment. Watching an episode of “Lost,” for instance, or any other TV show, plays differently on a handheld, than it does on a big-screen TV.

These multi-formatting requirements also extend to the looming 3DTV viewing environments. Watching Avatar in the theater, for instance, carries different resolution and distribution requirements than watching it on home TV. Plus, 3DTV adds some spin to the challenge because of the extra bandwidth associated with what’s essentially a two-camera/two-eye content creation methodology.

That’s why we at Cisco are so focused on what we call the “IP contribution and distribution” part of the video life-cycle. It’s all about making it easy for content owners and service providers to compress, process and distribute their video products, in formats that can be consumed on lots of different viewing surfaces.

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NAB 2010: Tim Jackson & Azita Kia on the Launch of IntelsatONE & Moving to an All IP Network

Not that long ago, the notion of sending “contribution-grade” video over an IP network was considered unlikely, at best. Packet sizes were too big and unwieldy, people thought, not to mention the “special needs” of video, relative to other data types.

“Contribution-grade” is a broadcast video engineering term meaning “highest possible quality” – not unlike a digital master. When content owners prepare video shows and events for distribution, for instance, they want at the onset the cleanest, highest-grade product because it inevitably gets manipulated and re-processed along the way.

Because contribution-grade video typically connotes an uncompressed, lossless stream, it wasn’t immediately obvious that an IP network could handle it.

That’s all changing, now. In large part, it’s because contemporary media distribution involves carriage of multiple file formats, sizes, and resolutions, all of which are in a constant state of change. IP allows media distributors to deal with multiple content types, so as to provision and dispatch them quickly.

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Why Are Video Packets Special? And What to Do About It

The holding pens for video content entering production facilities for editing are getting pretty full, and this year’s NAB trend lines only add more heft to the scene. More and more HD/3D content, for instance, will add 20 to 30% more bit bulk, per title; high definition streams alone can run as high as 4 Gbps.

Plus, there’s the core issue of video packets, in general. People often talk about how video has “special requirements,” relative to other standard IP applications, like email, voice, and related broadband Internet fare.

It’s true. Video does have more rigorous needs than other types of IP traffic.

Why? One contributor is simply packet size – video packets can be as large as 4 Megabytes – compared to packet sizes measured in mere kilobytes. As George Tupy, Digital Media Solutions Manager for Cisco, describes in the video below, it’s like the difference between cars and trains, attempting to merge on a highway.

In this sense, the cars are “regular” IT data packets, the trains are the video packets, and the highway is the IP backbone.  Obviously, merging cars on a highway is one thing, and not a big deal. Merging trains on the same size highway requires one or more to wait (or crash.)

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