WR Paper: Web Conferencing, IM, and Streaming Media

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  • 1. Web Conferencing, Instant Messaging & Streaming Media Prepared for the International Communications Industries Association To support Infocomm 2002 By Andy Nilssen & Marc Beattie Senior Analysts and Partners, Wainhouse Research, Brookline, MA, USA Marc F. Beattie has authored public and private reports on product strategies, distribution structures, emerging technologies and industry applications. Marc is a co- author in Wainhouse Research’s Conferencing Markets & Strategies series. He is the principle instructor for the Implementing Streaming Media seminar. Prior to joining Wainhouse Research Marc was an early team member at PictureTel and Polycom – holding his last position at Polycom as Director of Business Development; he has spent 15 years working within the industry. Marc has been an independent analyst for the last three years. Mr. Beattie attended Gordon College where he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Economics. Andrew H. Nilssen is a co-author of Wainhouse Research’s Conferencing Markets & Strategies series, and consults for industry leaders, Fortune 500 companies, and venture capitalists about the multimedia communications industry. Andy has over 20 years of experience in bringing high-technology products to market. Prior to Wainhouse Research, he was Director of Marketing, New Business Development at PictureTel, Inc. where he defined strategies and identified partners to expand business by leveraging broadband and streaming technologies. Andy earned his MBA and BSEE degrees from the University of New Hampshire and holds two ease-of-use related patents. Web conferencing, instant messaging (IM) of the content in a conference call, and the and streaming media are three emerging new reality that there is access to a network- “rich media” communication technologies connected web browser virtually everywhere that have been made possible through the a telephone is located. Web conferencing combination of computer-generated sells itself on providing a way to augment a information and the widespread growth of typical audio conference with powerful the Internet. All three technologies have graphical information exchange. experienced rapid growth due to the impact of their powerful yet inexpensive Most web conferencing systems use client- capabilities. Each has also spawned server architecture to enable simultaneous dedicated companies that offer the exchange of audio and graphical content. As component technology in product form or shown in the figure above, a web conference bundle the products with integrated services typically consists of two parallel to present a turnkey rich-media conferencing conferences – an audio conference using solution for the user. telephones on the PSTN overlaid with a separate data conference using web Web Conferencing browsers on a network for data. The degree Web conferencing is built on the premise of audio integration in a web conference can that graphical data represents a large portion vary greatly, ranging from requiring the user to set up a totally separate audio call, to Copyright Wainhouse Research 2002 page - 1
  • 2. displaying the conference number to call in web conferencing systems will simply to via the web browser, to automatically translate the PowerPoint slides to static calling out to all participants (scheduled or bitmapped GIF or JPEG images, thereby ad-hoc). loosing slide transitions and animations, and also locking the slide resolution into whatever translation is used. More Audio Web sophisticated systems use either a Conferencing Conferencing proprietary object descriptor language or Server Server DHTML to translate PowerPoint slides into graphic objects, and to preserve high resolution and possibly transitions and PSTN intranet or animations as well. Graphical object-based Internet systems also allow slide resolution to scale to take full advantage of the resolution of an individual participant’s browser, and can be more bandwidth efficient. Application sharing and “web tours” have similar considerations – the basic systems just “peel & send” the presenter’s screen, while more sophisticated systems support true multi user Figure 1 - Web Conference Architecture application sharing – some are even built on In a web conference, a presenter can present top of the T.120 (specifically T.128) PowerPoint slides, demonstrate software application sharing engine which is also applications, use an interactive whiteboard, used in products like Microsoft NetMeeting. and take polls to gauge the audience’s reaction. In some specialized customer Web conferencing systems need to get along support applications, the presenter can with firewalls – or more precisely, need to actually take control of a viewer’s PC to get through firewalls reliably. If the web help walk them through a problem. conference involves participants located on different corporate LANs, and the web Every web conferencing system requires the conferencing service is not designed to use of a local software client on the understand a particular firewall, the participant’s PC to add web conferencing audience behind that firewall will not be features to a standard web browser. This able to participate. Penetrating firewalls is usually takes the form of a Java applet, not a trivial issue. The more advanced web which is downloaded “on the fly” and conferencing technologies will actually try usually saved locally in the browser’s cache different mechanisms on the fly to figure out so that it does not need to be downloaded which policy is optimal for getting through a again for subsequent web conferences. The particular firewall. The web browsing size, features, and efficiency of this local protocol, HTTP, uses port 80 – which is Java client are different from one web probably left open by most firewall conferencing service provider to another. administrators, but it is not the most The method for capturing and transferring efficient. More efficient than HTTP is TCP, the graphical image from the presenter to the which is also used for streaming media, file participant’s web browser can vary. In most transfers, and terminal emulators; however, web conferences, uploading a PowerPoint most administrators will use a firewall to presentation to the web conferencing server block ports to unsolicited TCP traffic. is the norm – though some systems (ex. Finally, IP ports, which act like a sub- WebEx) actually process and distribute the address to an IP address, may also be presentation from the client itself. Basic blocked or restricted by the firewall. If a firewall restricts port 80, web browsing will Copyright Wainhouse Research 2002 page - 2
  • 3. be blocked. Because web conferencing and are quickly moving to augment systems involve a local client, a good system basic text-based chat with file will be able to try each successive method to transfer, data sharing, PC remote get through the firewall in the preferred control, and even real-time IP-based order – TCP, HTTP with dynamic ports, and voice and video. HTTP via port 80 – in order to establish the most efficient web conferencing connection As with other forms of conferencing, IM can through a firewall. be implemented by purchasing an IM server or by using an IM service. The big three Two last considerations are the browser commercial IM service providers – itself and standards. Web conferencing AOL/ICQ, Yahoo IM, and Microsoft MSN – vendors spend considerable effort debugging are not compatible, meaning a user on one their clients to run with each new revision service cannot communicate with a user on from major browser vendors to be sure a another. “Commercial-grade” IM software particular web conferencing service works server packages are available for reliably with most popular browsers. For organizations and service providers to most web conferencing implementations, the purchase to host their own IM sessions for vendors’ attitude towards standards is often security or cost reasons (ex Jabber, Bantu, “who cares?” since server communications Microsoft Exchange Server). The presence are web conference specific and the clients features of IM are also beginning to merge are lightweight on-the-fly Java downloads. with web conferencing in products such as Most vendors believe there just isn’t too the Polycom WebOffice and Lotus much investment or interoperability to be Sametime. concerned with. However, this will start becoming a little muddy as IP audio and The introduction of Microsoft Messenger for video become part of a web conference and Windows XP marks a major move by as users start using many different web Microsoft to expand their MSN IM service conferencing services and multiple web into a full conferencing service. Messenger conferencing Java clients accumulate on for XP is IM-based, but features integrated user’s PCs. data conferencing (file transfer, whiteboard, application and desktop sharing), and taunts Instant Messaging users with “Add Voice” and “Add Camera” Instant Messaging (IM) is becoming an icons. Wainhouse Research has found that influential factor in the rich media Messenger for XP’s wide-band audio can be conferencing services space for two reasons: excellent and the software-based video compression using a USB camera is 1) IM systems uniquely use presence adequate for effective desktop to display personal contacts along videoconferencing. Messenger for XP can with their real-time availability rendezvous with presence information only status. Thus the probability of when connected to either Microsoft’s .NET successfully connecting with services (which requires each user to get a someone is known before trying to Microsoft Passport account) or to an make the actual connection. No enterprise-hosted Microsoft Exchange server more telephone tag, no need for – so clearly Microsoft is playing on both the voice mail – IM is bringing a client and the server side. The service also welcome change to the age-old hit- requires the network to support a new and-miss paradigm for calling network protocol called “Universal Plug-and someone. Play”, which may take many years to enable. 2) IM systems are increasingly becoming much more feature rich, Copyright Wainhouse Research 2002 page - 3
  • 4. Streaming Media ! Content Management. This is also Streaming media technology is a relatively known as digital asset management. new vehicle for extending multimedia These products and services make conferences to any user with a network- libraries of digital assets more connected PC and web browser. valuable and more accessible. One of the key elements of this market Streaming technology involves creating, segment is the area of audio and serving, and playing a mix of audio, video, video indexing, which enables and/or presentation data over a network intelligent searching on streaming without having to wait to receive the entire media files. Another major segment multimedia file of the event. Because IP is represented by systems which networks introduce variable delay, enable owners of digital content to streaming requires the receiver to control access, manage libraries, accumulate pieces of data off the network at track usage, and generate detailed the top of a buffer while simultaneously reports and billing statements. emptying the bottom of the buffer for real- time playback of audio and video. Since ! Content Delivery Networks. If a receiving data from the Internet in particular user is delivering streaming media can be unpredictable, the entire streaming on their own LAN, chances are they process can introduce a fair amount of delay, will have ample bandwidth and easily measured in 10’s of seconds; thus control. But if the stream is to be streaming technology is uniquely applicable delivered to far-flung locations, or only to receiving one-way live or stored to sites not on the LAN, or if the presentations, where real-time, two-way event is to be accessed by the public interaction is not a priority. The audio and at large, then some type of delivery video stream can also be accompanied by network or systems architecture synchronized presentation data in the form should be used. A variety of content of still images or Flash-encoded visuals. delivery networking schemes exist; most use the public Internet for part There are many different ways to look at the of their solution, some use satellites, streaming industry. Wainhouse Research some use intelligently placed servers has divided the industry into four segments, to move content closer to the end each of which includes hardware, software, users, thereby minimizing the traffic services and components, each of which that has to move over the Internet represents a distinct application set. Most backbone. vendors operate in just one of these segments, although some of the vendors and ! Client-Server Products. There is no service providers are expanding their recognized standard for streaming offerings to cover multiple pieces of the media today. The major client- puzzle. server choices today include Apple’s Quicktime, Microsoft’s ! Content Creation. Products and Windows Media Technologies, and services in this sector enable Real Network’s RealSystem. Some customers to create content that is client software systems are designed optimized for streaming media to be used as stand-alone player delivery. We include here all the applications; others are designed to steps taken to capture, edit, and reside inside a standard web encode content for streaming browser. Some streaming products delivery. use no client at all; instead a Java applet is loaded automatically when needed to play the streaming file. Copyright Wainhouse Research 2002 page - 4
  • 5. Other important elements in the The streaming hardware and software client-server segment are the data servers available to streaming service compression/decompression engines providers vary according to a wide variety or codecs, which are usually of user needs within these two categories: implemented in software though some codecs use special hardware to ! Number of simultaneous streams increase their speed. Some of the supported – this can range from most popular streaming codecs are single digit numbers to several Sorenson Broadcaster, RealVideo, thousand MPEG-1, MPEG-2, MPEG-4, and ! Number of files available – H.263. Most of the client-server primarily a function of storage space products on the market support ! Bandwidth supported – most of the multiple codecs. consumer/Internet users today are connected at 28.8 kbps, but corporate LAN users are in a Content Manage Delivery position to take advantage of the Create Network much higher data rates possible. & Server Client Encode Higher data rates translate to much higher audio and video quality. ! Security features - authentication features ensure site security or enable pay per view for direct revenue generation. A server Figure 2 The Four Streaming Functional interface may connect to Web-based Blocks backend credit card and transaction processing systems. Figure 2 illustrates how these four functional ! User Accounting – provides the blocks fit together. All streaming hosting service the ability to know applications start with a content creation and who watched what video when. encoding process. Sometimes, the content is ! Interfaces to live video feeds such as indexed, managed, or subject to access news, weather, etc. Since these control, although this is not always the case. feeds are generally NTSC analog All streaming files eventually are placed on video, the server also may contain a streaming server from where they are an encoding solution which digitizes delivered to the users over some type of IP the video and then compresses it to delivery network, corporate LAN, extranet, the streaming format required. The or Internet connection. The content is encoding solution may be software eventually viewed (or heard) with some type residing on the host computer or it of client software that must be compatible may be a codec hardware accessory with the protocols, file formats, and on an add-in board. Industrial- compression techniques that are supported strength streaming applications by the server. often use hardware codecs which enables a single PC to encode Streaming media services fall into two broad multiple streams simultaneously. segments: consumer streaming services, ! Management systems that present to which uses the Internet for delivery, and users an organized list of what is professional corporate streaming services, available for viewing. which uses both private intranets as well as the Internet. For conferencing applications, streaming servers are specifically configured to work with videoconferencing systems and real- Copyright Wainhouse Research 2002 page - 5
  • 6. time input. The first generation streaming training sessions, or recordings of live feeds conferencing servers use the video and audio can be stored on a server, to be reviewed on signals directly from the videoconferencing demand by users from any browser-enabled system as the input to the streaming desktop. Only a single copy of the original subsystem. Future conferencing servers are event is maintained on the server, which likely to have unified user interfaces and simplifies updating, access management, digital trans-coding to make the and distribution control. conferencing to streaming connection seamless. Match the Media to the Message Streaming media clients, which are designed While many of these conferencing to run as both browser plug-ins and stand- technologies are new and often more alone applications, can be quite large and are exciting to work with than a standard audio thus downloaded and installed on the call, Wainhouse Research encourages clients receiver’s PC prior to a streaming media to evaluate the message they are trying relay event. and apply the appropriate medium to match the message. Streaming video can span a wide range of bit rates from 20 kbps up to MPEG1 Figure 3 presents two curves that one should (typically 1.5 Mbps) and occasionally keep in mind while choosing the rich media MPEG2 rates (more than 8 Mbps). conferencing vehicle for a particular event. Determining the optimal bit rate requires a The first curve illustrates the trade-off trade-off between the network bandwidth between Cost and “Connected-ness” – for available versus the fidelity/quality needed. example, if cost is not an object, then why Network bandwidth can be segmented into not use videoconferencing for everything? three categories: Internet/modem speeds (< Videoconferencing provides maximum 56 kbps), ISDN speeds (< 256 kbps), and visual feedback with your audience, which intranet speeds (> 256 kbps). is important if the meeting requires persuasion, selling, or consensus building on Audio- and video-on-demand technology a controversial topic. If this level of enables service providers to complement connected-ness is not required, then a lower real-time streaming offerings with cost conferencing vehicle could be used. conference storage and retrieval. Training The second curve illustrates the trade-off videos, briefings, audio conferences, between Interactivity and Reach, which earnings calls, employee benefits programs, fortunately is consistent with a natural Video Conferencing: Meetings “Connected-ness” Web Conferencing or Streaming: Interactivity Briefings Audio Streaming: IM Broadcasts Cost Reach Figure 3 Match the Media to the Message Copyright Wainhouse Research 2002 page - 6
  • 7. meeting dynamic: the more people involved audio can be delivered at low bandwidth in an event (“reach”), the less interaction using standard streaming platforms such as there tends to be. Hence an interactive Real Networks G2 or Windows Media Meeting should use a real-time conferencing Technologies. Each individual stream will technology, while an informational typically use less than 8kb/sec of network broadcast can use streaming. A briefing bandwidth per user. Audio over 28k modem could use either technology depending on connections was considered little more than the degree of real-time interaction required a toy as few as 24 months ago. Today to cover the content. effective streaming audio can co-exist with graphical data updates and still be delivered It may be that a simple audio conference very well over modem speed connections. If achieves 90% of the intent. If the sharing the network supports multicasting, it can be data is important many easy-to-use web used to minimize network utilization for the conferencing services are available to add to one-way audio stream as well. your audio calls. While streaming can provide impact and reach, knowing what While each of these technologies has its your target audience is capable of receiving independent capabilities, they can also be - PC clients on a modem are not often good used together. By way of example, IM can candidates for streaming - will determine if be used to determine the “presence” and they ever get your message. If the message status of colleagues. If your IM client involves critical persuasion, the added indicates their availability, you can request a “connected-ness” benefit provided by a true web conference to share a document or two-way videoconference may be most object on your PC. While engaged in that effective. web conference participants can IM one another on the subject being discussed while If the web conference is a presentation not disturbing the conversation of the larger where one site is doing the majority of the group – this would be similar to leaning over talking, audio streaming of the presenter’s to someone in a conference room and having voice is becoming a popular option. In this a sidebar conversation. If some team case, audience feedback to the presenter and members were not available for the web to other sites is limited to text chat, polling, conference the meeting could be captured – and “mood” indicators – which, for both the audio and data - and archived for structured presentations, can be quite viewing at a later time via streaming. effective. Very high-quality human voice Copyright Wainhouse Research 2002 page - 7