Cisco Routers Start Watching Video

By year's end, Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) plans to add video monitoring capabilities to its routers and to its video network.

Cisco hasn't announced the features yet, but Light Reading and the European Advanced Networking Test Center AG (EANTC) got an introduction to them while testing Cisco's overall video network, as well as Cisco's point-to-multipoint RSVP-TE implementation. (See Testing Cisco's IP Video Service Delivery Network and Cisco Sends Video RSVP.)

A feature called VidMon, in particular, looks at MPEG headers flitting by and checks for any indications of lowered video quality. EANTC tested it on Cisco's 7606-S routers at data rates up to 40 Gbit/s.

VidMon will be an alternative to the external video probes that dot the entire network. Cisco wanted to integrate some of that functionality into the 7600 and the ASR 9000, and decided the best way was to build it into the linecards, rather than create monitoring modules.

"We don't want to burn slots with modules. We want to use all the slots for forwarding," says Mike Capuano, Cisco's director of marketing for service provider routing and switching.

VidMon would work with Video Assurance Management Solution (VAMS), Cisco's software that gathers trouble alarms from all around the network, creating a report with clues to help isolate which node or span is causing the problem. Because it can work with external video probes, too, VAMS is already being deployed.

VidMon would replace many but not all external video probes. "In general, these video probes have richer functionality, and in some places, you really want to dig down," Capuano says.

Trials of the new linecards could begin in August, Capuano says, with live deployments possibly in December.

Cisco isn't alone in thinking of merging video monitoring with routing. Juniper Networks Inc. (NYSE: JNPR) is similarly adding video monitoring to M- and MX-series routers, via the StreamScope eRM application developed by Triveni Digital Inc. As with VidMon, StreamScope looks beyond IP packets into the MPEG stream itself to catch video problems. (See Juniper Routers Gain Video Powers.)

Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU), meanwhile, believes in an end-to-end approach rather than a node-based one, according to Jim Guillet, the company's senior director of triple-play solutions. That allows for the creation of network-based tools "that operators use to baseline their video networks’ performance, get notified anytime it goes out of spec, and quickly isolate root cause issues and appropriate restoration activities," he writes in an email to Light Reading.

The active ingredients in AlcaLu's approach would be the 5620 Service Aware Manager and integrated 5650 Control Plane Assurance Manager.

Looking ahead
VidMon works by reacting to what's going on in the network. For a more predictive approach, Cisco plans to offer a feature called Live-Live.

Live-Live won't be added to routers, but instead will be integrated into the Cisco Digital Content Manager (DCM), a multiplexing appliance built by Scientific Atlanta .

Live-Live monitors two video streams and forwards the one with the best quality. To put it another way: The DCM watches two streams, and if one encounters a glitch, the DCM would switch to the other stream, preventing any problem from even getting to the users' screens.

Live-Live provides a means of beating the 50-millisecond Fast Reroute recovery that's part of Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS), theoretically making it less likely that any video glitches or outages reach viewers. It's designed with ring networks in mind but can work on a mesh network.

Capuano says early field trials of Live-Live could begin in the next few months, with deployment possible in the fourth quarter.

— Craig Matsumoto, West Coast Editor, Light Reading

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