Tag Archives: Video Streaming

Software-Defined CDNs: Scale and Quality at a Savings

Posted on by

Ustream has earned a reputation for being able to accommodate some of the world’s largest streaming events with as many as 1 million concurrent viewers and 14 million total viewers during large events and regularly hosts 70 million viewers per month. And, while that alone is impressive, what’s more interesting is that Ustream has developed technology that meet the needs when audiences start quickly, grow quickly and then leave once the live event is over.

Enormous audiences like these bring with them several challenges.

  1. The need to use more than one CDN provider to cover all viewers in all parts of the world
  2. The need to ensure HD quality playback for each individual viewer, with as little buffering as possible, regardless of where they are or what type of device they’re using
  3. The ability to do both of the above without breaking the bank. While it is always possible to add additional servers or CDN capacity to accommodate the peak usage pattern, that extra capacity is wasted during times of lower usage.

The solution for these problems has been seven years in the making at Ustream. It’s a unique technology we call Software Defined CDN, or SD-CDN. This blog from online video “voice of the industry” analyst and blogger, Dan Rayburn speculates on the possibilities of this technology platform as a stand-alone service or bandwidth exchange. The edited excerpts below from Rayburn’s blog provide more specifics details.

What Is the SD-CDN?

Ustream’s SD-CDN offers:

  1. The ability to scale automatically without manual provisioning of resources, dynamically adding and removing edges and providers as needed
  2. The ability to leverage a combination of edge resources — including CDN providers, transit lines, and peering and ad-hoc edges — including those located inside an ISP’s network on inside a private network (such as an enterprise network). A new edge resource can be registered and serving traffic in less than one minute.
  3. The ability to flexibly and instantly route traffic among any of these sources based on a combination of rules to maximize resilience, quality and cost
  4. Built-in monitoring to evaluate the performance and efficacy of competing sources — on a global scale or down to the individual viewer
  5. The ability to tweak business logic in real time if scale, quality or cost is jeopardized by changing conditions.

How Does the SD-CDN work?

The SD-CDN works by deploying a software layer that transmits, receives and processes metadata between sources of video content (streaming servers, CDN edges, transit lines, ad-hoc edges) and destinations (end-user viewing devices).

Each Ustream player that is deployed has a connection called the Ustream Media Server connection (UMS), which sends back real-time data each second. This creates an enormous amount of data, as each connected player is sending back-real time status updates — even if it is not yet playing or has stopped playing the video content.

This connection delivers messages in both directions. For example, the player reports back its IP address to the SD-CDN, and logic can be triggered based on that data (such as whether the viewer is in a restricted country or not). The same connection can be used to deliver data about whether or not that player is buffering.

This data is all processed at a few geographically distributed locations (to ensure redundancy) and is analyzed in real time using proprietary. The algorithms contained in the SD-CDN central servers look at things like whether a player is buffering and whether it is affecting just one client or if there is a pattern of buffering in a specific region.

Since switching between sources can occur on the level of a single client, the SD/CDN can address an isolated issue with a client side switch. But if a large number of client-side switches are being reported, then the SD-CDN can make a large-scale switch to completely disable a certain CDN provider or a certain ad-hoc edge if necessary.

In addition, since the SD-CDN includes monitoring capabilities, the automatic logic can always be overridden or augmented by real-time monitoring at Ustream’s Network Operations Center (NOC). A network operations expert can spot a pattern not picked up automatically by the algorithms and use the interface of the SD-CDN to take instant control of the entire system. Over time, as new patterns emerge, they are added to the SD-CDN’s automatic recognition algorithms.

The SD-CDN is particularly beneficial when used in concert with Ustream’s other streaming technologies. For example, Ustream offers a cloud transcoding service that allows users to send a single high-bitrate HD stream. Ustream generates lower bitrate and lower resolution versions of the stream; when these versions are created, time synchronization markers are added as metadata in the stream. This is important for switching between bitrates on a single player from a single source, to ensure the stream content does not jump or skip back in time, but these markers also allow the Ustream player to actually perform a seamless switch between streams coming from two completely different sources.

The SD-CDN can adapt to provide the best possible quality for each individual viewer or to make changes on a larger scale that pre-empt an issue before the viewing client reports it. In addition, the SD-CDN can manage traffic across a network of CDN providers, transit lines, peering and ad-hoc edges based on the cost considerations of carrying traffic of a given volume at any given time.

If you’re familiar with CDN pricing and contracts (if not, you might find this page helpful), you’ll recall that content providers are expected to predict in advance the amount of usage they will have on a monthly basis and to sign a long-term contract based on those predictions. It is typically a “use it or lose it” proposition, whereby overestimating usage will result in sunk cost with no ROI, and underestimating usage can lead to steep overage fees.

In addition, the content provider is incentivized by way of scaled discounts to commit to a larger package because unit economics become more appealing when buying in bulk. The rules of this game make it a tricky proposition for any content provider wanting to maximize the value of its investment in a third-party CDN service.

This is one of the key advantages the SD-CDN can provide. This is one of the key advantages that Ustream’s SD-CDN can provide. For several months, Ustream has been able to utilize third-party CDN services at a flat 95/5 usage pattern. This results in an optimal ROI in the contracts Ustream has with third-party CDN and transit providers. This cost savings can then be passed on to viewers, which is one of the reasons Ustream is able to offer the same scale and quality of delivery as many leading CDNs, even at lower costs.

The Future of the SD-CDN

While Ustream has used this solution extensively for delivery of video content, it is in fact content type–agnostic and can be put to work for any kind of HTTP traffic, such as gaming or any Web-based application acceleration. Ustream is currently using the SD-CDN to control all of its video content and is considering offering the solution as a stand-alone service for others with similar needs.

Super Bowl Highlights Need for Scalable Streaming

Posted on by

When the New England Patriots squared off against the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIV, more than 1.3 million people experienced the event through NBC’s live streaming video — a 50 percent increase over last year’s online viewership.

According to NBC’s press release, the stream also set Super Bowl records for average viewers per minute (800,000), concurrent users (1.3 million) and total minutes (213 million).

While it was an impressive achievement for live streaming video, it was not without its challenges. As the game progressed, the overwhelming demand resulted in some online viewers experiencing time delays and other technical difficulties.

“NBC is great at streaming live events,” Ustream CTO Gyula Feher told The Daily Dot in an interview regarding the event. “They were the first to stream the Super Bowl in 2012. And, the Super Bowl is the ‘Everest’ of live events: Let’s remember that Super Bowl XLVIII was the most watched television event ever. It’s likely that the peak load on the NBC livestream was similarly record-breaking.”

One of the biggest challenges in streaming a live event, however, is anticipating the bandwidth required, which can vary dramatically from one minute to the next. For example, during Salesforce’s Dreamforce conference, the streams of keynote speeches by CEO Mark Benioff and Hilary Clinton drew record-setting audiences.

One way Ustream has addressed this challenge of being able to scale and anticipate required bandwidth is through a unique technology we developed called Software Defined content delivery network (CDN), or SD-CDN.

SD-CDN provides the ability to scale automatically without manual provisioning of resources, dynamically adding and removing edges and providers as demand requires. The system can leverage a combination of edge resources (e.g. CDN providers, transit lines, peering and ad-hoc edges, etc.) and instantly route traffic among those sources as needed. A built-in monitoring system evaluates in real time the performance and efficacy of each source and can make automatic adjustments as changing conditions require.

What does all this mean for the individual viewer? The best possible quality from beginning to end — and the ability to pre-empt issues that could disrupt the viewing experience.

Now that’s what we call a big win.

Learn about the best solution for your big event here.

Ustream for Change Embraces Luz Para Venezuela

Posted on by

April 30, 2014 – SAN FRANCISCO — Ustream, the world’s most scalable and social live video platform, today announced that it has selected Miami-based non-profit organization, Luz Para Venezuela (Light for Venezuela), as the newest member of Ustream for Change. Launched two months ago, Ustream for Change is a philanthropic program that seeks to advance Ustream’s mission of empowering businesses and societies to be more transparent and productive through the innovative use of video. The program was originally inspired by three Ukrainian broadcasters that have now captured the attention of more than 60 million viewers across the globe.

More than 170 applications from every continent have been submitted for Ustream for Change since launch, with causes spanning education, civil rights, politics, and evangelism sectors. The program is spearheaded by David Gibbons, Ustream’s vice president of marketing, and is run by a cross-functional group of volunteers within the company.

“An internal committee of Ustream employees selects the recipients, helping to ensure that the causes chosen are things which reflect the spirit of the company, not just the outlook of the leaders. The application from Luz Para Venezuela was very moving, and made it clear that their cause was urgent, their plans were specific, and their passion ran deep.”

Luz Para Venezuela’s Ustream Channel: http://www.ustream.tv/luzparavenezuela

Understanding the Situation in Venezuela, as told by David Dorr, Executive Director Luz Para Venezuela

Since the beginning of 2014 civil unrest in Venezuela has escalated to levels not seen since the unsuccessful coup of President Hugo Chavez in 2002. His successor, Nicolas Maduro, has continued with a series of crushing economic policies that have pushed the country into experiencing soaring inflation and constant shortages of goods, particularly important basic necessities such as baby formula, toilet paper, and medicine. Crime has skyrocketed to the point that the government no longer publishes the shameful data. Estimates place the murder rate at approximately 24,000 annually making Venezuela’s murder rate nearly the highest in the world and for government corruption Venezuela is ranked by Transparency International as 160th out of 175 countries.

The power of live video allows individuals in oppressed and censored societies to have their voice heard and to tell their story. Democracy can only flourish in an environment where every individual is granted this basic human right. We are very excited to have been chosen by Ustream for Change. Their expertise and leadership in live streaming video is exactly what our organization was seeking to effectuate long lasting change in Venezuela. We are giving the citizens of Venezuela a much needed voice so that they are heard by their government as well as by the world.

“Live video is one of the most engaging and effective means for communication in today’s society, and we’re proud that our technology can also be used as a means for transparency and the greater good,” said Brad Hunstable, CEO and founder of Ustream. “Luz Para Venezuela is an excellent example of this and we look forward to expanding Ustream for Change to further promote internet freedom, stable societies, and emerging democracies.”

For more information on Ustream for Change: http://www.ustream.tv/our-company/change