How Microsoft Inspires their Partners with Video
What does it take for a company like Microsoft to educate, engage, and inspire their partners? How do you make sure that the leaders of businesses responsible for more than 17 million jobs are getting the information they need about Microsoft products and services to keep their businesses growing?
One of the ways that Microsoft keeps their partners motivated is through their Inspire event—a yearly conference that allows companies to get a closer look at what’s going on at Microsoft.
More importantly, the event’s purpose is to guide those partners towards continued success, be it with a greater understanding of Microsoft’s offerings, or through educational sessions that help partners to better understand the ecosystem they’re doing business in.
With great demand for content at those sessions comes a great responsibility to accommodate all those who wish to get that information. So how do you make sure that the tens of thousands of people who want to learn are able to get the training they need?
Let’s take a look at what the Inspire event is all about, how Microsoft is helping to challenge and energize their partner base, and how they make sure that no matter who or where they are, they’ll be able to get access to the information that they need to be successful. We’ll also get a better understanding of how Microsoft uses video to accomplish all of this.
Why does Microsoft need an event like Inspire?
Inspire is an annual conference held specifically for Microsoft’s Partner Network, made up of more than 640,000 different businesses.
The core purpose of the event is to ensure that Microsoft partners are fully aware of new technology that’s been developed and made available for sale, and to give partners the training that they need to successfully promote and sell those products. It’s also an opportunity to meet other partners, make connections, and expand personal and business connections.
For the event in 2018, there were hundreds of sessions over the course of five days in which industry experts and Microsoft staff from around the world were able to get together to learn from each other and expand their networks.
The focus for Microsoft was on transformation. The goal for Microsoft is to remove focus from their products and concentrate on solutions—to be more “people-centric.”
If you’d attended the event, you would have been able to attend sessions on Microsoft’s end-to-end security story, learn about future digital innovations in government, media and communications, and how Microsoft is helping to reshape the health industry.
It’s a remarkable event with purposeful mandate. As with all events of this size and structure, there are myriad logistical questions to be answered, not the least of which is how to handle increased demand for events where the potential attendees outweigh the capacity of the venue.
The answer, for Microsoft, was to create overflow rooms where partners could view a real-time live feed of the sessions.
The problem of sending all that video to different places is complex. With multiple rooms over four different venues, there are a lot of pieces to the puzzle.
But as with all complex problems, with the right tools, the solution can end up being satisfyingly simple.
How video makes sure everyone gets involved
With 16,000 people attending the Inspire event, it’s extremely likely that many of that people who will want to attend specific sessions might not be able to fit into each of the venues. With so many sessions, the team at Microsoft had to plan for overflow venues where those who didn’t fit into the session spaces would be able to view them.
And further than that, they wanted to make sure that even those who were not attending the event in Vegas would be able to watch online. Here’s how they managed that.
Microsoft placed 40 set-top boxes in overflow rooms throughout each of the venues in order to live stream certain sessions to those rooms. Event operators from Evia managed the live streaming and content capture for the event.
The audio, video, and date feeds in each room were connected to media encoders (equipped with storage as backup) that sent the live streams to a media platform, which allowed operators in the overflow rooms to select the streams they wanted to have on their monitors. A set of media gateways was responsible for disseminating those feeds to the rooms.
For the Evia operators in the overflow rooms, training was simple, and took just a few minutes. All they had to do was select the right feed from the media platform interface, and the video just showed up.
One of the really cool parts of this whole operation was how attendees were able to access audio from the feeds via an app, with the audio in perfect sync with the video. Microsoft also made two monitors in each of the rooms, one of which had the feed with closed captions to make everything accessible to everyone.
The feeds were streamed at the same time from the media platform to Microsoft’s broadcast control facilities in Redmond, WA using Azure Media Services (where the videos are also saved in the cloud). Editors were able to take raw footage, edit it as they saw fit, and then broadcast it over the internet to remote viewers.
With this simple and centralized video production workflow in place, attendees were able to get access to all of the sessions they wanted to see in real time, and even those who were watching remotely got to see everything. The storage of the videos ensured that they could be streamed as recordings once the event was over, and they’re now freely available to anyone who wishes to watch them.
Saving money on network infrastructure
Anyone who has ever been a part of an event at a hotel or conference center will know that networks there can be unreliable. And if you are responsible for streaming massive amounts of video data, you’ll soon find out that your feeds can have some variable quality and a whole lot of latency.
In order to mitigate the effects of unreliable networks, Microsoft equipped each of their feeds with open source Secure Reliable Transport (SRT), a protocol developed by Haivision and now freely available to anyone who wishes to use it.
The protocol is widely being adopted as a replacement for RTMP, which is notoriously unreliable. The SRT protocol was able to account for network variability, and correct jitter and packet loss to make sure that high-quality, secure, low-latency feeds are always being delivered, regardless of any problems that a network might encounter.
To transfer video within the buildings and to other venues in Las Vegas, a managed MPLS network was deployed. For previous events, the team would have had to have deployed a high-speed data network, as well as a separate baseband video network with costs that could exceed $250,000 in dedicated fiber runs for each of their events.
By streaming with the SRT protocol over a managed MPLS network that could be used for data and video, Microsoft was able to reduce costs, while also improving the quality and reliability of the live streams.
What live streaming and recorded video really means to Microsoft and their partners
At the end of the day, what Microsoft really wants is for their partners to have all of the information they need to be successful.
Whether that means providing them with training on new products and systems, giving them access to motivational content, or even content that could help partners reach larger audiences on their own, Microsoft is meeting the needs of their partners and helping them do better, and do better business.
Video is an integral part of the way that they help their partners achieve success. The best part is that no one sees the work that goes into creating these video overflow rooms. Now, because of the simplicity of the setup, it can be done quickly and easily, and can even be managed by an outsourced event management group like Evia with very little investment in time.
Want to get a closer look at how Microsoft puts their video workflows together? Click here to take a look at a case study that outlines the entire workflow and the tools that they used.
Want to see the results of Microsoft’s video workflows live, in person? You will be able to see them in the overflow rooms at Microsoft Ignite 2018, from September 24, until September 28, in Orlando, Florida. If you are attending this year, be sure to stop by booth #2134 to come see us with our friends from Whitlock. Come learn about our different video streaming solutions across Microsoft applications like Office 365 and our secure, high-quality, low-latency, video delivery solutions for enterprise and broadcast applications. Looking forward to seeing you there!