Fab Servers to Upgrade the CityU VoD

by Wilson Wong
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CityVoD, first launched in February 1999, allows users to select and view video from an archive over the network. This technology greatly enhances the availability of multimedia information for lecture and leisure, and adds substantial value to the quality of higher education.

Video sessions of lectures, conferences, forums, seminars, demonstrations and course materials etc. can be recorded, encoded and stored on the media server, allowing simultaneous real-time access to the same piece of information at users' own pace.

CityVoD service Upgraded from Time to Time

At the time when CityVoD was first launched, most of our workstations were Pentium PCs, which were not fast enough to decode video streaming. The CityVoD service could therefore be available in some specific locations only, such as Lecture Theatres and Room Neptune inside the Computing Services Centre. With the advancement of technology, the CityVoD is "upgraded" from time to time, and it is now available not only in all workstations within campus, but also workstations at users' home via Citylink Plus or broadband service provided by Internet Service Providers (ISPs).

The first video encoding method we used was MPEG-1 (the encoding method used on VCD), which was the most efficient and provided the highest quality at that time. The emergence of newer encoding methods soon rendered MPEG-1 a less desirable one. After a prudent review, we chose RealMedia G2 as new standard encoding method in early 2001. Later on we continued to upgrade the encoding from RealMedia G2 to RealMedia 8.0 and from version 8.0 to 9.0 in order to provide the highest video quality to users.

Challenges Ahead

Although RealMedia is still one of best encoding methods in the market, as Microsoft Windows Media Video (WMV) becomes more and more popular, we have to prepare our servers for future needs.

Also, as the demand for multimedia information is soaring on the Internet, request for opening CityVoD to public access has increased to a great extent. Last year, the Computing Services Centre (CSC) has partially opened CityVoD to public access. But after that, the loading on our servers was greatly increased. Furthermore, due to some reasons such as copyright issue, some users may not want their information to be viewed by the public, or even not to be accessed by all staff and students of the University.

To meet these challenges, the CSC is glad to introduce our new video servers. The new video servers not only give us a stable environment for high performance, but also provide authentication on videos. Videos that are not presumed to be accessed by the public can be put into a secure folder, and authentication will then be needed before access to the videos is permitted. The servers can also handle all common video streaming methods in the market, such as RealMedia, QuickTime, WMV, MPEG and etc. In short, the new video servers give a high-performance, stable, secure, and flexible environment to all staff and students to enjoy the CityVoD service.

Reminders

At the moment, both the new and the old video servers are running in parallel. Web pages those have hard links to our old servers are still working. Users are reminded to update the hard links of their web pages to our new video servers, so that problems will not be arisen when the old servers are retired. Users are also reminded to submit CSC work requests for putting their videos to the secure folder if they do not want their videos to be accessed by public.

For enquiries, kindly please contact Wilson Wong of the CSC Hard Copy Service.