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AV and IT: The dawn of the Zettabyte Era

Cisco’s Visual Networking Index offers an insight into how online video will dominate AV’s future, says Bob Snyder in his second column in our new series

Cisco’s Visual Networking Index offers an insight into how online video will dominate AV’s future, says Bob Snyder

If the world’s online video viewers stood today in one place, they’d constitute the world’s third-largest country by population (behind China and India). In total, this population will spend well over half a million years watching online video in 2012.

Internet video will generate almost 10 exabytes per month in 2012. (One less-than-measly exabyte is 1018 bytes – so if you have a 1GB USB key in your computer, then think 1 billion times that amount of storage.) That’s just one statistic that pops out from Cisco’s Visual Networking Index (VNI), an annual study of the impact of video networking applications.

As video usage increases, the average monthly IP traffic in 2014 will be equivalent to 32 million people streaming Avatar in 3D continuously for an entire month.

That makes Cisco conclude that we’re racing into the next era up the evolutionary IT ladder: we’re approaching the Zettabyte Era. (A zettabyte trumps an exabyte; it equals 1021 bytes of computer storage.)

Which is one way of saying that video, once the exclusive realm of video specialists, is going mainstream. That changes more than just the rules of the game; it changes the game itself. Video is becoming synonymous with IP and a part of nearly every major IT networking experience.

It is worth looking at these conclusions from Cisco’s VNI:
– Video is now so often used concurrently with other applications (even with other video applications), as it becomes a persistent backdrop that remains ‘on’ even while the user is engaged elsewhere.
– By 2014, the sum of all forms of video will continue to exceed 91% of global consumer internet traffic.
– Video communications traffic (video via IM, video calling) will increase seven times over between 2009 and 2014, as face-to-face talking becomes an expected communications component… on multiple screens.
– Video-on-demand traffic will double every 2.5 years, through 2014.
– Bandwidth-hungry HD and 3D video will comprise 46% of internet video traffic by 2014; 3D alone is forecast to account for 4% of all internet video traffic.

Profit erosion
How does this explosion of video affect the AV systems integrator? The explosion of video doesn’t blow up your profit margin in a giant ka-boom. But the AV industry margin will continue to drop in a steady erosion caused by the friction of the two industries rubbing up against each other.

You could call this second coming of video, the ‘commoditisation’ of video. The more video is everywhere, the more it attracts IT resellers and distributors who are well practised in selling volumes with low margins. (Want to know what average profit is for an IT distributor? Try less than 8% for the best of the lot and closer to 3% for the multitude. And that’s the successful ones.)

More important than the invigorated IT versus AV competition for customers is the customer itself, so you have to ask this question first: How does this explosion of video affect the customers of AV systems integrators?

Listening to Marthin De Beer, senior VP of Cisco’s Emerging Technologies Group, who delivered the keynote at InfoComm 2010, it’s easy to believe that by 2014 you won’t be reading this anymore. You’ll be watching it instead…

De Beer – who likens video to chocolate: once you try it, you can’t stop enjoying it – says video is, in essence, taking over the (online) world. His keynote was a variation on a speech he gives so often that it’s jokingly referred to as his ‘It’s the End of the Word’ speech.

His main point is “Video and collaboration and, in particular, telepresence are at the heart of how the future of work, the future of connected life, and the future of computing will change over time”.

Future collaborations
De Beer took the opportunity on stage to show off some Cisco collaborative technologies: real-time speech-to-text capabilities within telepresence settings, real-time indexing of speech for subsequent search, platform-neutral content (including iPhone and iPad) and more. In fact, more than anything else it is collaboration that Cisco sees as the reason your customers will take up the next wave of video in record time.

De Beer thinks we are not far away from audio translation of spoken communications, where a person speaks Korean, for example, but the listener hears the words in English as translation is in real time. “I believe it’s just the beginning. We’re going to see an exciting world unfold in front of us,” De Beer told InfoComm delegates.

Cisco doesn’t even want to call this the internet anymore, preferring the term ‘medianet’ to reflect the dominance of video pouring over all types of IP networks.

The coming of the Zettabyte Era is just as inevitable as Cisco buying into AV (Tandberg), driving deep into digital signage, and scooping up video camera companies like Flip.

For AV integrators, it’s not as much about the zetta as it is about the bite that IT will take from the growing business that drives the next waves of video networking. The battle lines remain around the customer: whoever can satisfy the customer in a delicate balance between prices and service will win.

Previous feature in this series: Cloud computing
Next feature in this series: Dealing with IT invaders