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Will Flash Fly In The Enterprise?

flashAt this year’s Streaming Media West show, Nick Hippe from Adobe presented “Video in the Enterprise“. His presentation included sections on “Enterprise Trends and IT Concerns”, “Requirements for Enterprise Video”, and the ”Adobe Technology Offering”.

Nick sees the enterprise trends as “consumerization”, “more with less”, “mash-ups”, and “new platforms”. “Consumerization” refers to the influence of social media web sites like Facebook, consumer video portals like YouTube, and consumer-media tools like iTunes on the way that enterprise workers want to consume their information behind the firewall as well as new ways that these workers wish to communicate. “More with less” just means saving money. By “Mash ups”, Nick describes a “breaking down of silos” and “horizontal process integrations” where applications and systems are closely linked with each other. “Unified Communications” might be the less “consumerized” way to describe what he is referring to in the enterprise. Finally, by “new platforms”, he is referring to new consumer devices that IT is supporting in the enterprise, like smart phones.

Clearly Adobe’s Flash has been a dominant technology component behind the video, interactivity, and advertising display that is ubiquitous in the consumer and social media tools on the Internet. Most of the video viewed on the Internet, like YouTube, is Flash-based and served from web servers. Many companies use embedded Flash videos on their public web sites for product reviews and executive messages. Flash is widely used for “mash up” applications that combine video, images, chat, and other immersive user interactions. One application that might gain traction in the enterprise but that was not mentioned in Nick’s presentation is Adobe’s Acrobat Connect, which is a Flash-based web conferencing platform with live video. But will Flash become a contender for a unified communications framework for the enterprise and compete with the UC offerings of Microsoft, Cisco, Google, IBM, or Oracle? Will Flash be widely deployed behind-the-firewall as a live streaming video platform?

Nick does a good job of calling out enterprise IT concerns, like user authentication integration (AD/LDAP), scalability, and low maintenance and support costs. He details the Adobe software that enterprise IT can deploy including Flash, AIR, Reader, LiveCycle server, Flash Media Server, and Cold Fusion as well as a rich set of authoring and development tools. He calls out dramatic scalability improvements in the latest version of the Flash Media Server and steps through some deployment options that have enabled organizations to scale the delivery of Flash video. The successful deployments of Flash by the leading content delivery networks is a great testament to this capability. He also charts the rapid adoption of the Flash software on the desktop. Adobe now claims that 73% of enterprise desktops have the current Flash player version 10 while 98% have some version of the Flash player.

Still, Flash may not win the battle for the unified communications platform in the enterprise. Microsoft will lead with Silverlight and thick Office-based applications, Google will push web-based applications with dynamic HTML and AJAX, and Java will be the foundation of the UC offerings from IBM and Oracle. Adobe Acrobat Connect may do well in schools where IT allows students with any laptop to join their network but wont displace the larger UC vendors in the enterprise.

Flash video will continue to dominate the Internet for some time but may not dominate in the enterprise. By the time that they release the features that make them more competitive in the enterprise today including multicast streaming, H264 support, UDP delivery, and high-performance servers, companies will be embracing video distribution to “three screens” including TV displays and smart phones that do not support the Flash format. Google, Apple, and Microsoft may choose to attack Flash’s distribution dominance together by supporting the standard playback of H264 in the browser via the HTML 5.0 video tag.

In my opinion, the strongest reasons why IT will embrace standards-based H264 video streaming in the enterprise will be a requirement to reach all “three screens” (PC, TV display, and smart phones) and a need to interoperate with one of the five big UC vendor platforms. Microsoft, Cisco, Google, IBM, and Oracle will all eventually embrace H264 as the standard for interoperability for unified video conferencing, webcasting, and digital signage display. Only a standards-based delivery approach will efficiently reach all of the platforms and devices that tomorrow’s enterprise IT must support. Flash may be on every desktop but enterprises are now planning for video to be displayed on the smart phone, set top box, video conferencing end point, or a digital signage terminal.

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