Cisco Wants New QoS for Video

If so much traffic on the network becomes video, then it's inadequate to just say that "video" gets priority, right?

That's the argument Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) is putting forth today as it sets the stage for its Medianet 1.0 features, which are going to include an automated way of prioritizing one type of video traffic over another. Think of it as an extra quality of service (QoS) layer just for video.

It's primarily for the enterprise. So, the CEO's telepresence call would get assured bandwidth, while your surreptitious NCAA basketball tournament viewing wouldn't. (What happens with the CEO's March Madness is up to the IT department.)

The Medianet features will be supported on the bevy of products Cisco announced today, including a new set of fixed-configuration switches and the Integrated Services Router 3900E, the biggest of the ISR G2 family of customer-premises boxes. The new boxes also include security and energy-savings features.

"Medianet" is Cisco's term for an IP network that caters to the needs of video. The new switches and routers are ready for these Medianet capabilities, but the software to make it all happen will be available later, probably within the year, says Marie Hattar, vice president of marketing for Cisco's Borderless Networks unit. (See Cisco's Video Transformation .)

For video prioritization, the key will lie in having the device and the network talk to each other to determine what's being transmitted and what kind of bandwidth is available. On the surface, it sounds a lot like the intelligence Juniper Networks Inc. (NYSE: JNPR) talked about with its Infranet Initiative, which led to the creation of the IPsphere Forum in 2005. (See Juniper's Infranet Takes Baby Steps and Infranet Becomes IPsphere.)

Cisco will also use DPI (Deep Packet Inspection) to see what services are being launched, but the device handshake is a more direct approach that will let Cisco change the behavior of the network. Decisions would be made based on identity and policy information, and the rules set by the IT department.

Hattar also notes that Cisco will pack Medianet with translation know-how, tailoring a video stream for the device it's being viewed on (using lower bandwidth for a mobile device, for instance). "The intent is for all of this to be automatic," she says.

Cisco is adamant that the approach will be based on standards. For example, the switches will reserve bandwidth by using the Resource Reservation Protocol (RSVP), a common feature of Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS).

But of course, the really interesting parts -- the device handshake and the automation of prioritization decisions -- are being developed by Cisco, and the company isn't revealing many details yet about how they work. It's those elements that will probably be taken to standards bodies like the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc. (IEEE) and Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) later, according to Hattar.

Medianet's video prioritization features are targeted at enterprise networks now, but Cisco expects carriers to make use of the technology, too. "Video will traverse the service provider network, so ultimately, this is one of those services that can extend across a service provider network end-to-end," says Hattar.

— Craig Matsumoto, West Coast Editor, Light Reading

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