Clearing the Traffic Jam on the Information Superhighway

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With so much talk about video and DAM we thought we ought to deliver a couple of blogs on the subject and who better than to provide us with some great info than Widen Enterprises. Back in April Matthew Gonnering the CEO of Widen Enterprises wrote this article on the benefits of using a DAM system for the storage and aggregation of video content. They have given us permission to republish this for our readers benefits as a starting point for the Video & DAM blogs.

This will be the first of three provided by Widen Enterprises and we are very proud to be able to share them with our crowd of visitors that follow the Tunicca blog.

Clearing the Traffic Jam on the Information Superhighway

A little more than a decade ago, the Internet was dubbed the Information Superhighway. It was seen as a way to distribute information faster and more efficiently than ever before.

While that’s still true in principle, in practice the term “superhighway” turned out to be more prophetic than most realized. Because just like the roads and highways in most urban areas, where urban planners never anticipated the volume of traffic those roads must now support, the high speeds and easy cruises on the Internet have given way to massive traffic jams that can bring operations to a grinding halt at certain times of day.

The primary driver of this traffic jam is the explosion of video on the Internet. Its exponentially larger file sizes and bandwidth requirements are straining every artery of the infrastructure, challenging organizations to meet the ever-growing demand. And more is being added every day at a rate of 33 minutes of video per second.

Complicating the situation, however, are issues surrounding how video is managed. Having multiple copies of the same file in multiple locations, whether the video is for internal or external consumption, uses up even more storage — the equivalent of taking every car on the road and duplicating it multiple times. It also makes version control nearly impossible as someone has to remember the location of each file and update it when a new one becomes available or remove it when it expires. Backing up multiple copies of the same file further adds to storage and version problems.

To understand how we arrived at this point — and more importantly what to do about it — it helps to look at the underlying factors that led up to it.

The game changer
During the tech bubble, conventional wisdom was that bandwidth was abundant, and there was more unused than used capacity. What changed all that? Quite simply, it is the explosive use of video.

According to the U.S. Internet Industry Association, video currently consumes nearly 80 percent of all bandwidth. And that number is expected to expand for the foreseeable future as marketing and creative teams do more to take advantage of the nuances and emotional connection that written words on static Web sites simply can’t match.

There is no escaping our physical heritage. As mammals we react instinctively to sight, sound, music and motion. It captures our attention quickly and engages us more thoroughly, evoking a response that comes not from conscious thought but from our cores. That’s what makes it so powerful, which is why motion rides at amusement parks and other attractions have become so popular.

The downside is video files are exponentially larger than written documents. Even a graphics-intensive word processing document is unlikely to be more than five (5) MB. A 90-second video shot with a consumer-grade video camera, however, can easily take up 150 MB of storage as well as 13.3 Mbps of bandwidth. The drive toward better-looking and better-sounding high definition video shot with commercial-grade equipment will push that number up even more. Add in the problems associated with multiple copies in multiple locations, multiple versions, multiple backups, etc. and it’s easy to see there is a crisis brewing.

Consider that a recent IDC Research study estimated that the world’s total digital content currently stands at nearly 500 billion GB. They say that, if that content were converted to books, then the pile of tomes would stretch from the Earth to Pluto 10 times. As video with its larger file sizes grows more popular, that amount will increase at light speed. When you consider that even now more video is being created than there is bandwidth accessible to carry it and storage available to contain it, we’re headed for an Internet traffic jam that will make Manhattan at high noon look like a drive through the countryside.

Bringing traffic to a halt
The more video becomes available, the more consumers want it. This increased demand creates four issues that require more efficiency in how we manage video content:

  • Not enough bandwidth to meet demand. Every video file that is opened by a consumer places a demand on bandwidth. For example, at the moment of consumption, a 150 MB, 90 second video requires that there be enough bandwidth not only to push 150 MB through, but do it within 90 seconds. If not, the viewer will experience pauses and stuttered playback. Delivering 150 MB in 90 seconds equates to a bit rate of 13.3 If 10 viewers want to watch that same file simultaneously, you now need an Internet pipe that can handle 133 Mbps.
  • Difficulty moving video files from one user to another. Most e-mail mailboxes and other file-sharing systems have limits on the size of files they can move or store. They are simply not set up for the size of even simple videos, making it difficult for users to share and/or upload files — particularly those with higher production values such as HD video.
  • Multiple copies in multiple locations. As marketers try to make video available to customers on the Web or internal sales staff for presentations, each copy increases the amount of storage required. It also makes it difficult to assure that all copies of the video reflect the latest version.
  • Lack of searchability. Video files are often stored in folders on a network using office document-based filing systems — often with a separation between video intended for internal network traffic versus external consumption. It’s a system that may work now, while the number of videos available is limited. But in the future, the proliferation of video will require a metadata-based search function that doesn’t exist in the current system.

Relieving the gridlock through digital asset management
What’s needed is a “public transit system” for these massive video files that helps reduce the congestion on the Information Superhighway, while lowering the already burgeoning storage requirements. That system is now available in the form of digital asset management (DAM).

DAM is a method of facilitating the creation, management and distribution of digital assets, including images, graphics, logos, presentations, pages, documents, animations, and, of course, audio and video clips. DAM is much more than simple file management, however. Digital files or “content” become assets of value through the attachment of metadata (information about the content). Metadata elevates video content into assets because now it can be indexed, versioned, secured, stored and assigned a lifecycle state, a unique ID and an owner.

When metadata is applied to video files, DAM provides several benefits, including:

  • All users watch the same file from the same source. Rather than creating separate files for each location on the Web, all consumers of that content watch it from the same source, even though it may be viewed through thousands of different Web pages. Embedding code in the page, rather than having to transfer the actual file and provide it from a server, greatly reduces storage requirements and makes it easier to update the video since multiple locations “point” to one file rather than uploading a copy to each individual location.
  • Easier distribution. One of the challenges with video, as it is currently being used, is getting the enormous file from the source server to the other locations. That is not an issue with DAM. Since you’re sending all viewers to one location to view the file rather than sending the entire video file, the code required to post the video pointer can easily travel through email or be downloaded quickly on the Internet. This distribution system also assures new files can be posted much more quickly.
  • Greater control over what is being viewed. One of marketing’s ongoing challenges with any material it produces is version control. With printed materials, creating one master control point is relatively easy because materials are usually stored at the source and then reviewed before being “served” to the consumer, making it easier to prevent expired materials or past-dated promotions from going out. Video, however, is normally loaded on a site first and then served on-demand; sometimes well past its expiration. DAM creates a master control point for video, assuring that whenever an update occurs (such as in an instructional video) that all users are viewing the most current content since only the source file is changed, not the embedded code.
  • Simpler, more effective organization. Rather than storing a random group of individual files the way a parking lot stores cars, DAM creates an organizational system around all the files. Each file has data and metadata around it describing the contents, available formats and other information, so you always know where to go to find a particular file, format, or version. In addition, because DAM sits above the various distribution formats, when a new file format is introduced it can easily be added as another way of using the file. And, all the data provides an effective means to search for files and distinguish between the various assets the organization is accumulating. Now, you don’t have to depend on a few experts knowing where a given file is; anyone easily can find it.
  • Simplifies backup. As with any digital asset, video requires backup and safe storage. Yet, if each core video file is available in several formats, each of those formats requires its own backup, greatly increasing storage needs. With DAM, you can backup a single file, then use that file to create and deliver all the other formats. For active video users, it can reduce storage requirements by an order of magnitude — an important consideration in the current economy.

Author: Matthew Gonnering is CEO of Widen Enterprises (www.widen.com), a Madison,WI-based provider of digital asset management software and services.

Poster: Gary George

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.

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