Is interactive video an important business tool for your organisation? If yes, then read on.
Medianet is an architecture that Cisco often talks about and it seems like it’s been around for ages (well 5 years to be exact), but its true value is often obscured by complex diagrams and techno speak that Cisco engineers (like myself) love. So what exactly is the benefit of EX90 TE6 MSI firmware delivering Medianet metadata to an Access Layer Catalyst 4500? How does the combination of MSI, metadata, perfmon and Mediatrace save you time and money? Unless you have a degree in Cisco acronyms this might be hard to answer!
What I’m going to attempt in this short blog is to try and translate the Medianet architectural jargon into the potential cost savings that Medianet offers customers who deploy our video endpoints and applications over a Cisco switch and router network. As nothing in life is free, I’ll also list out the main costs associated with deploying Medianet.
In simple terms, a Medianet aware application or end point will advertise itself to a Cisco network even if it is natively encrypted or tunnelled in HTTP/S. This gives the network complete visibility of any composite audio, video and data flows that resultantly traverse the infrastructure from the endpoint or application.
Ignoring all the engineering behind the scenes this results in savings for an organization:
Medianet reduces operational support costs
A common challenge with large scale video deployments is the day 2 support. It’s often the case that the operations team has to deal with intermittent quality issues on video calls and are left with the difficult task of troubleshooting. Historically, the approach has been for the video team to gather stats from the end-points with the network team doing likewise from the infrastructure. Then someone has to sit down in a quiet room to try and work out what is happening. This process can take many hours if not longer; so what happens if there are multiple incidents reported simultaneously in different parts of the organisation. Are these linked or separate issues? All of this can lead to the operational team being overwhelmed and may force drastic remedial actions such “throwing bandwidth” at the problems, which is an unplanned cost. Or worst case may result in the removal of the video service completely, which then wastes the original capital investment.
The benefit of Medianet is that it connects Cisco video applications and Cisco infrastructure to a management platform to simplify the task of end to end troubleshooting. Support staff can now trace video quality issues from a centralised console to generate a graphical report which will show them exactly where in the network packet loss is occurring, where the Jitter is too high or where the QoS mapping is misconfigured. No more manually collecting statistics and reading through command line logs looking for errors! Thus the automation of the video troubleshooting process saves a huge amount of support staff time, which is a tangible cost saving and also allows IT to effectively resolve issues.
Medianet can control video bandwidth costs
Isn’t the cost of bandwidth falling? The issue is that the demand for bandwidth, driven by interactive video, is increasing at a faster rate, so in real terms the cost of bandwidth is rapidly increasing regardless of any reduction in tariffs.
The ability to effectively troubleshoot a large scale video deployment can mitigate the need to mask intermittent video issues by bandwidth oversubscription, which is a cost saving in its own right. But the real way to be able to control bandwidth costs associated with video is to make the video traffic easily identifiable so that IT departments can determine which video flows are mission critical and which ones are not. Medianet does this by providing granular differentiation between such applications as Jabber, WebEx and Telepresence. This then allows an organisation to make an informed decision as to whether the cost of a bandwidth upgrade is justified. Such an approach allows the network to be “Right Sized” based upon business priorities rather than “Over Sized” to cater for all video types.
Medianet can utilize redundant paths for less critical business video
When an IT department “Right Sizes” their network there may be some types of video traffic (such as Jabber video) that are not deemed business critical “enough” to justify large scale bandwidth upgrades. Without Medianet this would probably mean that these lower value services could not be offered. Medianet provides an Enterprise with additional options. For example, a Jabber client can inform the network which of its packets are video and which are audio. This allows the infrastructure to mark the video so that it only receives best effort quality of service. Or more interestingly, it is actually possible to break out the Jabber video traffic and use policy routing to send it via an alternative path through the infrastructure. One scenario might be for a branch office where Jabber video traffic could now be forwarded across a low cost redundant link such as a VPN broadband connection; while data, Jabber voice and mission critical video (such as Telepresence) would be routed across the site’s primary, QoS enabled connection into the corporate network.
Even if the benefits of a Medianet enabled network look interesting an organization will need to understand the deployment costs before it can make any informed decisions on whether to enable this technology. The potential costs associated with Medianet are:
Equipment Upgrades – Hardware and Software
The first thing the network team needs to do is to ascertain if their current infrastructure is Medianet ready or whether Hardware and/or Software upgrades are required. The good news is that Medianet does not need to be turned on across the entire network overnight. It can actually be applied to “hot spots” in the infrastructure where issues regularly occur (such as WAN routers), or where improved traffic visibility will provide the most return for the investment in terms of improved bandwidth planning. Over time Medianet can be rolled out across the network as part of planned software upgrades or hardware refreshes.
Network Management Application Deployment
It is actually possible to use Medianet’s tool set from the network’s CLI but it’s more practical to use a network management application such as Cisco Prime Collaboration. There are also a number of third party vendors who support Medianet. The question to ask is whether your existing operational management platform is Medianet aware and if not how much it will cost to enable it, either via a software upgrade or by the addition of a new management application?
Resources required for Medianet implementation
To roll out Medianet onto the Network will require engineering effort to perform any necessary upgrades and also to develop and test the configurations for the different types of switches and routers that are deployed in the infrastructure. Once this has been done most organisations will use some form of automated deployment tool or script to push the configurations to the individual devices. Thereafter engineers will need to run through a test plan to ensure the new Medianet configuration has been deployed successfully.
Budget should also be set aside for training staff (depending on their job role) on the implementation and support of a Medianet enabled network.
The ability to troubleshoot intermittent service impacting issues, coupled with the ability to conduct accurate bandwidth planning and the means to simply provision QoS based upon metadata will result in a stable video service that provides a consistent quality of experience to the end user community. This should result in soft benefits such as good service adoption and the desired improvement in productivity the video solution was deployed to enable.
For most organisations calculating the costs of implementing Medianet will be relatively straight forward but what’s the cost of not being able to effectively troubleshoot or capacity plan an evolving video deployment? Any organisation that is looking to roll out either dedicated video endpoints or video enabled desktops needs to have a clear strategy on how they will fix incidents in a timely manner and also keep a close watch on their bandwidth utilisation in order to control costs. Medianet is Cisco’s preferred option for this; what are the alternatives?