Adopting and Securing Digital Media: More than a Substitute for Paper

by George Walsh


Introduction

As businesses continue to adopt electronic storage and presentation for all manner of information, benefits continue to emerge for them and for developers alike.

Sitting in her hotel room, Janet boots up her laptop and connects to the wireless network just before the scheduled video conference begins. She downloads the latest project data, including a streaming video file of the proposed site that she will present to her client later in the day, and adjusts her Webcam to be in focus.

At 2:00 pm, with her presentation and media elements loaded and ready to share, she joins her next video conference and after some brief introductions begins her presentation. Her voice, video image, digital pictures, PowerPoint* slides, audio minutes from an earlier meeting, and a streaming video file are shared with everyone online.

Geographical and proximity barriers are virtually eliminated as she delivers her media-rich presentation to colleagues and clients. She closes the deal later that day, and the contracts are signed and delivered in just a few hours. This scene is not a glimpse into the future; it happened last week in Seattle.

Electronic data streamlines internal business while improving customer service. Anyone who has archived electronic documents knows how much more convenient it is than storing paper files. While document storage is certainly a boon to streamlining business, however, internal and external data access can provide even more benefits.

In addition to allowing employees access to archives of information created in the course of running an enterprise, digital media can also be used to allow customers access to select data and services. Adding capabilities such as customer relationship management (CRM) and multimedia resources can make digital media even more valuable to the enterprise.


The Corporate Database Grows Up

An amazingly short period of time passed between the corporate world’s acceptance of computers and the expansion of their use from local area networks to assigning a key role to Internet and extranet resources. Expanding digital data access beyond the walls of corporate headquarters while determining the level of security given to different types of data has not only provided for the decentralization of information, but the assurance that everyone is accessing the same version of a given document or file.

In fact, version control is among the most important productivity tools for companies where a number of people are working on the same project. By controlling access to data and who has the rights to check it in and out, companies involved in fields ranging from computer-aided design to software development can keep employees from making costly mistakes by working with the wrong version of a file. Extending the intranet to allow users in different locations to participate in the design process has been made possible by the worldwide adoption of both the Internet and security software that keeps unwanted users out of systems.

Hardware technology like the Pentium® 4 processor and Intel® Xeon® processor, as well as the software and operating systems that run on them, has expanded the multimedia capabilities of computers tremendously in the past five years. Along with those advances, the corporate use of multimedia has also grown. Business now uses the Internet in conjunction with corporate intranets and access controls to allow employees and others access to media such as slide shows and digital-video presentations, audio and video conferencing, and online training.

The adoption of multimedia by the corporate world is taking place on a massive scale, particularly among large companies with globally distributed workforces and customer bases. Major uses of streaming media include internal employee training, internal Webcasts, corporate messaging, and as a marketing and sales tool.

It falls to developers to make the applications on which this media depends run efficiently. Invaluable resources in this regard are available free of charge from the Intel® Developer Services Digital Home and Media. The Digital Media Developer Center features a collection of articles and other resources that specifically target threading digital media applications.

The idea that employees can now participate in meetings, watch Web-based seminars, or view online learning materials from virtually anywhere in the world has provided a feasible alternative to incurring the travel expenses of flying employees to training sessions and meetings.


Added Value for Customers

The value of digital media extends well beyond the internal workings of the enterprise. Posting information needed by current and potential customers can free up human resources to provide better customer service at lower cost. In addition to posting static data such as pricing information, support tools and training materials are available to those outside an organization. Just as streaming training videos and conferencing capabilities can extend the reach of a company’s infrastructure, similar tools can provide customers with extended resources.

Real-time chat and video conferencing capabilities can be used to provide customer support, as can streaming audio and video files. New CRM capabilities can help identify customers who need personal help and can even provide features that include letting customer service representatives take control of a user’s browser and clicking them through to an appropriate URL.

Users can then either read the information conventionally or take advantage of other digital media resources that serve their needs. The evolution of Internet services for customers augments tried and true capabilities such as electronic ordering, payment, and access to catalogues. Using streaming media, customers can see demonstrations of how certain products operate in place of viewing a digital photograph, text description, and price.


Intel® Resources for Developers

Software vendors stand to gain tremendously by satisfying the growing demand for enterprise digital-media applications. At the same time, many of the capabilities of digital media in the enterprise are best unle ashed using applications that are either created or customized by in-house IT departments. Developers in either category should integrate Intel® Software Development Tools into their development environments. Strategies and tips for tuning media applications using Intel tools are introduced in the article "Tuning Strategies for World-Class Consumer Media Applications.”

Intel® Integrated Performance Primitives (Intel® IPP)provides a library of functions to carry out common multimedia and other tasks. Those functions are pre-optimized for a variety of Intel® architecture platforms, allowing developers to focus on the core business requirements of their applications, rather than recreating work that has already been accomplished during the development of Intel IPP.

Moreover, Intel® software engineers update the functions for each new generation of processor technology, removing a key software-maintenance task from the ISV's consideration going forward. An example of integrating Intel IPP into a media application is covered in the article "Generating Thumbnails with Intel® Integrated Performance Primitives.”

Intel® Developer Zone - Media Client Solutions contains a wealth of information that specifically targets the use of Intel® Software Development Tools in digital media development. These tools represent a low-cost, highly effective means for developers to optimize the performance of their applications.

Finally, developers should avail themselves of the threading techniques with Intel software development tools that are covered in the article Developing Multithreaded Applications: A Platform Consistent Approach.


Fatter Pipes and Better Hardware

Today’s end-user hardware allows businesses to take full advantage of multimedia services targeted at employees. With processors such as the Pentium® 4 processor with Hyper-Threading Technology in desktop machines, users can take advantage of the kind of processing power that used to be available only using high-end workstations.

In fact, the processing power of other devices has increased to allow users to connect to the corporate network using PDAs, cell phones, and multifunction devices. Meanwhile, breakthroughs such as Intel® Centrino® mobile technology and 802.11 wireless networks are breaking corporate end users free of the tethers of cables. In addition, digital compression technologies like MPEG have reduced the size of media files to make them travel more quickly.

The expansion of worldwide data networks is a key enabler in broadening the use of corporate digital media for employees, as well as for customers and suppliers. Connecting to a network has not required employees to sit in their offices for some time now, as long as they have access to a computer.

However, even workers who are staying in a hotel on business or working from a home office frequently have access to a broadband connection, whether it is supplied by a DSL line, a cable connection, or a wireless network hotspot in a hotel or conference center. Those same fat data pipes are also expanding into the homes and offices of potential customers, allowing rich multimedia experiences to be delivered to end users around the world from a single corporate location.

In addition to processors, Intel supplies a range of higher-level, interoperable design components that allow designers to select from multiple levels of engineering integration. Solutions for networked storage applications, telecom applications, and modular communications platforms are only a few of the networking product categories Intel currently supports. The threads that make up the World Wide Web are not only getting longer; they are getting wider and more capable, as well.


Encryption: To Protect and Serve

To ensure the security of corporate data, access to information needs to be limited to those who have permission to view it. With modern security software in place, it is possible to allow customers and suppliers to view the types of data they need to see, while allowing employees to see the data that concerns only them.

Securing a network to provide different levels of access involves much more than placing a firewall between the server and the outside world. Enterprise Infrastructure Security Solutions provides assistance in securing your enterprise and applications without unacceptable performance compromises.

A number of software developments have evolved in the era of extranets and e-commerce that make digital media more secure. SSL (Secure Sockets Layer), for example, is a popular protocol for transmitting data that uses public key encryption. Secure HTTP (S-HTTP) creates a secure connection between a client and a server that is often used for secure messaging.

Intel is involved in a number of developments designed to help IT professionals and developers secure systems, building trust while enabling a broader range of access options. The Common Data Security Architecture (CDSA) is a security middleware specification and reference implementation that is open-source, cross-platform, interoperable, and extensible. The Intel research and development network developed CDSA, which provides a set of security building blocks for Independent Software Vendors (ISVs).

Providing an overall infrastructure for data security on PCs, workstations, and servers, it is founded on two fundamental data security premises: digital certificates (a form of electronic identification that enables a hierarchy of trust, dependent on the identity of the user) and portable digital tokens, which store cryptographic keys and perform cryptographic operations.

Internet Protocol Security (IPSec) is a security standard framework defined by the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) to provide end-to-end encryption and authentication over public and private networks. IPSec specifies optional network security services, which IT organizations can mix and match according to their internal securi ty policies. Basing their security solutions upon the IPSec framework can increase an organization’s confidence in the confidentiality, integrity, and authenticity of data sent over the Internet, extranets, WANs, and LANs.

Software security mechanisms must be developed with a great deal of care, not only to provide adequate security, but also to avoid interfering with the performance of primary business applications. Threading is a key means of improving the performance of security applications and components, although if developers implement it poorly, threading can destroy performance rather than enhancing it.

The Intel® Developer Zone Content Library is a valuable resource to developers in resolving challenges related to threading their applications. A Fast Random Number Generator on the Intel® Pentium® 4 Processor" examines the Linear Congruential Generator (LCG), the most commonly used random-number-generation algorithm, in some detail. It also provides optimization techniques for the algorithm on the Pentium 4 processor.

These numbers provide a very robust random source for applications such as cryptography, digital signing, and security protocols. Whether or not you are interested in the specific details of how security implementations work, the idea of a trusted computing framework that provides for varying access levels within and outside an organization is quickly becoming a reality.


Conclusion

Intel actively supports and develops new methods of making corporate digital media more accessible, while making newer implementations such as audio and video streaming feasible for companies interested in putting them to use.

Any technology that improves the productivity of workers while increasing a company’s ability to respond to customers is worth investigating. Technology that helps you adapt to market expectations while saving on costly expenditures such as travel and customer support is worth a thorough evaluation. Digital media meets both these criteria.

Intel provides tools and technical resources that enable developers to make best use of the hardware and software resources that are available to bring the next generation of media applications to market. Business customers have made great strides forward in adopting these technologies, and they are hun gry for more; the developers that provide those solutions will enjoy great success.


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