by Karl Jonas, Manfred Kaul, Klaus Rebensburg and Frank Ruge
Distributed Multimedia Applications are among the hottest research topics in Germany (like in many other countries in the world), driving the demand for high performance communication. A variety of activities has been initiated in cooperation with research institutes and universities. Major programs are BERKOM, GMD's POLIKOM initiative and the Regional Testbeds (RTB) of the German Research Network (DFN).
From the very beginning BERKOM projects were supported by the availability of the BERKOM Broadband ISDN fiber optic based testbed in Berlin. This metropolitan area network already started 1990 with ATM-switches connecting sites in Berlin and includes other local ATM testbeds at DeTeBerkom, GMD and Berlin Technical University with a total of currently 10 interconnected ATM-switches today from six different vendors. This so called BALI testbed (Berlin ATM LAN Interconnection Initiative) allows interoperability, performance- and conformance testing of multimedia applications in high-speed networks. Since 1989, DeTeBerkom has launched more than 100 research projects in the area of MultiMedia, MultiVendor, MultiNetwork systems. While covering a broad application field including CAD/CAM, CIM, mechanical engineering and office automatization, among the most successful activities were those in medical applications and in Computer Supported Collaborative Work (CSCW).
Medical environments are seen as one of the earliest adaptors of multimedia systems. This is due to strong time constraints in many medical areas in conjunction with the readiness to pay the price for the - currently still very expensive - training and equipment. The PADKOM (Patient Data Communication) and MEDAP (Medical Applications) prototypes developed within BERKOM provide distributed access to medical databases via high speed networks.
Two BERKOM teleservices, the Multimedia Collaboration Teleservice (MMC) and the Multimedia Mail Teleservice (MMM), supported by a common Multimedia Transport- and Network Protocol Stack (MMT), are some emerging and promising results of the BERKOM project. In a cooperative effort of industry (Danet, Digital, Hewlett Packard, IBM, Liebing & Ullfors, Siemens, Siemens Nixdorf Informationssysteme AG) and research (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, GMD, Technische Universität Berlin) a multivendor CSCW system has been developed and has successfully been demonstrated at various occasions (CeBIT '94 in Hannover, InterOp'94 in Berlin, etc.).
Multimedia Collaboration Teleservice
MMC allows interactive high-quality audio and video conferencing with several partners. Conferencing is enhanced by the ability to share any core X11- and MS-Windows based off-the-shelf application (e.g. spreadsheets and wordprocessors) between all partners in order to jointly view the application output and to be able to jointly edit these applications from remote as well. MMC teleservice closes the geographical gap between users and enables them to communicate in real time.
Multimedia Mail Teleservice
The MMM teleservice has been specified for asynchronous communication needs (e.g. users are located in different timezones) and is based on CCITT/ITU recommendations X.400/88. MMM enables the user to compose, send, receive and view multimedia messages via standard X.400/88 store-and-forward. In order to be able to send and receive very large multimedia objects, such as video clips, the concept of a global store has been introduced. It is possible to just include a reference to an object within the standard X.400/88 message and to resolve this reference when needed on the recipient's side.
Joint Viewing and Teleoperation Service
An approach like MMC has been taken also within the project RACE 2060 CIO -Coordination, Implementation and Operation of MultiMedia Services with DeTeBerkom as the prime contractor putting major emphasis on early experience with the integration of multimedia services and network protocols into today's LANs and WANs and to harmonize the developments in different European broadband islands. The prototypes are now being used within a variety of European activities and fairs. Enhancements on Quality of Services including the Protocol Stack are under test and further investigation.
Globally Accessible Services
The goal of the BERKOM project Globally Accessible Services (GLASS) is to define a service architecture and realize a pre-product implementation of an open system for multimedia service provision to professional and consumer users. The engaged services comprise facilities to access broadcast television, on-line multimedia storage systems providing real-time data such as video and audio, interactive hypermedia documents, and communication services like electronic mail and fax on a single end-system in a distributed environment. The base for all these services is a common data format for the representation of multimedia and hypermedia information (MHEG). Participating partners in this project are Digital, GMD, Grundig, IBM and Berlin Technical University.
In GMD several projects in the distributed multimedia field have been started. The POLIKOM initiative is oriented towards telecooperation in distributed organizations. Other technologically oriented projects include ATM, satellite, digital video, and generic application sharing technology. The overall concept for POLIKOM has been elaborated in cooperation with potential users and industry. As major research fields the following areas have been identified:
In the PoliLink project, GMD, IBM, and some research institutes are working on synchronous telecooperation, desktop conferencing, document sharing and collaboration within small groups. Users from the Department for Information Technology of the Federal Ministry of Inner Affairs and from the North-Rhine-Westfalia state ministry for Culture are participating in a field test.
PoliTeam is oriented towards asynchronous telecooperation, workflow management, archiving, and group coordination in distributed organizations with GMD, Volkswagen, University of Bonn, the federal ministry for family and seniors, an East-German ministry for Justice, and the car manufacturer Audi as test users.
Within PoliFlow Hewlett-Packard, University of Stuttgart, federal administrations for financial affairs are working together on security aspects, availability, and management of distributed, asynchronous administration processes.
Multimedia projects and broadcasting
GMD and WDR (Westdeutscher Rundfunk) are collaborating in the fields of ATM, satellite and video on demand. GMD has installed several ATM switches and is testing multimedia applications on top of ATM. WDR is planning to invest heavily in ATM networks and wants to learn from the experiences gained in the GMD field tests. On several fairs and booths, like "photokina 94" and "Internationale Funkaustellung 95" in Berlin, GMD and WDR will show demonstrators for Video on Demand.
In Germany public broadcasters have built up huge audio and video archives for tens of years. Separate text retrieval systems like IBM Stairs are used to describe all video clips and a large number of details of all sequences. Up to now, both systems are separate, urging reporters to use different systems and locations for retrieval and verifying the retrieval results. Archimedia has been proposed by GMD, Tecmath, the public broadcasters Südwestfunk and Süddeutscher Rundfunk, for building up integrated multimedia retrieval and archive systems.
Together with industrial partners GMD and SINTEF are working on multimedia telecooperation for "round the clock" development and manufacturing within global enterprises and environments. Thereby, development and manufacturing turn-around times and time-to-market are expected to be reduced drastically as well as cultural differences can be better taken into account.
Within ERCIM GMD is collaborating with European national research institutes (INRIA, France, CWI, Netherlands, SINTEF, Norway, FORTH, Greece, VTT, Finland, AEDIMA, Spain, SICS, Sweden, etc.) on an European Distributed Generic Environment (EDGE) with the goal of high performance networking, multimedia information dissemination, cooperative work, mass information storage and quality user interface. Pilot demonstrators are planned for travel industry and car design and manufacturing.
German Regional Testbeds
The German Regional Testbeds (RTB) are initiated by the German Research Network, which is the provider of the interconnection between German research institutes. DFN's intention is to investigate the need for a faster national backbone (currently upto 2 MBit/s). Six RTBs are setup in the areas of Berlin, Hamburg, Cologne, Dresden, and other German regions, where a high-speed backbone with 34 Mbit/s or 155 Mbit/s is provided to interconnect local research institutions. A supporting action is the installation of a multimedia reference center, where multimedia applications like the BERKOM applications are installed, and where support for installation and use within the testbeds is provided.
It is intended to compile a more complete list of R&D projects involving distributed multimedia applications, every input welcome!