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IT Infrastructure and Systems

Syracuse University

A prototype video management system, designed to make it easy and cost-effective for Syracuse constituents to publish video content, has gone on to transform video management across the university and at other schools as well.

In 2006, Andy Covell saw a coming tsunami of video capture, editing, and streaming technologies and worried that it would flood his Syracuse University (NY) campus, deluging faculty with overwhelming choices.

So Covell resolved to create an integrated system for managing video that would make it easy for anyone at Syracuse’s Whitman School of Management, where he served as IT director at the time, to publish content to internal and/or external websites. And he was further determined to create a system that—in budget-strapped times—required few resources to manage. Covell wanted a system with distributed content management and sharing capabilities, so that individual departments and users could manage their own video libraries without the intervention of central IT or media services.

Using Microsoft IIS, .NET, and MS-SQL Server applications, Covell created a prototype for a web-based video management system, dubbed Ensemble Video, that within a year enjoyed widespread and cost-effective implementation not only at Whitman, but throughout the university. Today, Ensemble Video is used to manage more than 4,000 videos in 16 organizations and dozens of departments across Syracuse.

Under a license granted by the university, Covell went on to found Symphony Video, a company based on the Ensemble Video technology. Ensemble Video is now deployed at multiple other higher ed institutions, ranging from large campuses such as the University of Illinois and the University of Georgia, to smaller state and private colleges like Colgate University (NY) and Stark State College (OH), and even international campuses such as Singapore Management University.

Vendor & Product Details
Symphony Video:
Wowza Media:

Jeong Han Oh, director of the Office of Technology Transfer at Syracuse, explains why faculty have taken so strongly to Ensemble Video: “It’s easy to use, like a YouTube but with controlled distribution,” Oh observes. “Faculty upload a video using a simple wizard to catalog it and automatically generate thumbnail images and animation previews. Then, with the click of a mouse, they publish the video content to their websites for viewer access. Ensemble Video automates the process across media and web servers and provides a single, unified database.”

Furthermore, says Oh, it does all of the above with little drain on tech support resources. “IT staff installs the program and the rest of the workflow occurs without IT intervention,” he notes.

Innovation has not stopped at the university just because the technology has been licensed to a corporation. Scott Nadzan, now the director of technology at Whitman, has taken over as project lead for Ensemble Video deployment on campus and continues to break new ground. In a development partnership with Symphony Video, Nadzan has integrated a variety of technologies to create a more powerful video-sharing architecture and expanded web 2.0 functionalities. Harmonic’s Rhozet Carbon Coder, a transcoding system, converts media dropped into folders and sends them automatically to Ensemble Video libraries. Nadzan calls this process “drag-and-drop video to the web.” Ensemble Video also supports several media-streaming server technologies. At Syracuse, Wowza is the primary media- streaming server, used for streaming Flash video as well as for streaming video to iPods or iPhones via http. The team also has modified the publishing model to push content automatically to Apple’s iTunes U by generating an RSS feed.

Nadzan explains the relevance of Ensemble Video to today’s resource-challenged IT departments: “You need to get a technology in place that supports the modern IT staff that is not going to have 48 [employees]—it may have just a couple, and you need to have systems that will do a little of the work for you. Ensemble Video does that. With the current resource constraints at universities, it’s another tool that helps us scale so we can focus on other things while the system takes care of some of the old responsibilities that were very manual. So, it took a manual process, made it streamlined, and automated some things for us—which then gave some time back to our staff to do more hands-on consulting on how to make better videos or use other technologies better.”

About the Authors

Meg Lloyd is a Northern California-based freelance writer.

David Raths is a Philadelphia-based freelance writer focused on information technology. He writes regularly for several IT publications, including Healthcare Innovation and Government Technology.

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