In the past several decades, changes in video technology have frequently occurred through seismic shifts in ecosystem support. The triumph of VHS over Betamax, the subsequent shift from VHS to DVD, and the rise of H.264 have all followed a pattern in which the industry rallies around a technology and solidifies its position in the market.
The last seismic shift began around 2015. Legacy video streaming protocols built on overlay networks, custom protocols, and specialized servers have begun to give way to connectionless, HTTP-based Modern Streaming.
The benefits of Modern Streaming include reduced network management complexity, lower maintenance costs, improved scalability, and enhanced playback. Modern Streaming protocols also integrate with organizations’ WAN optimization technologies, homogenizing the network transport and caching infrastructure.
Related Reading: Seven Characteristics Define Modern Streaming
For many organizations, Modern Streaming presents new opportunities to use existing network infrastructure for more scalable, cost-effective video delivery. For other organizations, the rise of HTTP streaming presents an inflection point in how network traffic will be managed. The extent to which organizations can reap immediate benefits from Modern Streaming is based on their network infrastructure investments of the past five to ten years, and on their ability to consolidate network traffic to the HTTP transport.
“We believe strongly that the future of CDN-based streaming video delivery is via cacheable, HTTP streaming protocols.”
– Chris Bay, Vice President, Highwinds
Adopting Modern Video Streaming Protocols
Companies That Have Invested in Web Caching Systems
As HTML pages, images, documents, and other types of content traverse the internet and corporate networks, they pass through a series of intermediaries, or proxy servers. A caching proxy server, also known as a web cache or an HTTP cache, stores local copies of frequently-requested resources. When subsequent requests for a resource are made, the web cache can serve the content to the client rather than make a full round trip to the origin server. Web caching systems improve the response times of websites, reduce the load on content origin servers, and improve resource availability by using cached content in cases where the origin server is unavailable. Popular web caching technologies include Nginx, Squid, Varnish, and WinGate, as well as the Apache and Microsoft IIS web servers.
In recent years, most large businesses have implemented web caching as part of their network infrastructure. For these organizations, Modern Streaming offers nothing but opportunity. HLS, DASH, and other HTTP streaming protocols were built explicitly to work with web caching infrastructure. And through the use of expiration policies and effective cache management, the impact of video traffic on other web-based content can be minimized.
Another advantage of pairing Modern Streaming with web caches is the simple, cost-effective upgrade path as network load increases. Future upgrades come in the form of expanded HTTP edge caches—a commodity with ever decreasing prices.
For organizations that stream media using HTTP, a web caching solution will often be all that is needed to optimize video delivery over the corporate network.
For organizations that haven’t yet invested in any form of caching or optimization, an HTTP cache should be the first step. Why? Planning for effective network management and planning for increased video traffic reduce to the same answer—content caching at the edge of the network.
For Companies That Have Implemented WAN Optimization Technology
Like HTTP caching systems, WAN Optimization (WANop) technologies improve the performance of data delivery across a wide area network. Typically deployed “symmetrically” at both the corporate data center and in branch offices as physical or virtual appliances, WANop solutions provide a superset of the functionality available in simple caching solutions. Their capabilities may include:
- Data compression: When a client within a branch office requests information from the data center, the information is compressed at the data center, sent across the wire, and then decompressed at the branch office. This process improves network performance in two ways. First, it reduces the total amount of data being sent from the data center to the branch. Second, it allows larger chunks of data to be sent, reducing the number of round trips between the branch and the data center.
- Traffic shaping: As information flows across a corporate network, WANop solutions often use fingerprinting tools to identify applications based on their type (e.g. VoIP, CRM, web conferencing, e-learning, gaming, P2P). The WANop appliance then uses this information to delay the transmission of lower-priority data and ensure quality of service (QoS) for business-critical traffic.
- Predictive data delivery: Some WANop appliances can anticipate data requests and parallelize activities in order to improve performance. For example, if a user at a branch office clicks on a network file that resides in the data center, they must first be authenticated before the file is transmitted. While the user is being authenticated, the WANop system begins sending the file to the branch office appliance. When the authentication process is complete, the requested file already resides in the local branch office and can be delivered to the user more quickly.
Like web caches, WANop solutions were built to work in concert with chunked data distribution—the same approach to distribution used by modern video protocols. This means that, at the most basic level, WANop systems can efficiently cache video chunks being streamed by HLS, DASH, or other HTTP-based protocols.
In addition, WAN optimization technologies like those offered by Riverbed, Blue Coat, and Silver Peak can apply traffic shaping and predictive data delivery to HTTP-based video just as they would with any other type of data. For example, traffic shaping policies could be set to identify different classes of video (recreational video from sites like YouTube, Skype for Business video calls, e-learning on-demand video, etc), and to throttle recreational video in order to prioritize business-critical web conferences and eLearning content.
Other WANop capabilities that can be applied to HTTP streaming protocols include:
- Live stream splitting: A process similar to caching, but designed for the unique challenges of live webcasts. With live streaming, requests for the same video fragment are received almost simultaneously, usually before the cache can be populated. Some WANop solutions can identify this condition, consolidate the incoming requests, and then send a single request to the origin server. When the video fragment is received from the origin server, it is served from the local cache to improve performance for all subsequent requests.
- Byte caching: WANop solutions can sometimes reduce round trips to the origin server by identifying common fragments across different videos, and serving those fragments from the local cache. For example, if a common pre-roll bumper is used across all training videos, the fragments that comprise that bumper can be stored in the local cache. As subsequent requests for various training videos are made, the pre-roll fragments can be served from the local cache, reducing round trips to the origin server.
- Time-based distribution: For frequently-accessed on-demand content, some WANop systems can set policies that distribute the videos to branch office caches during low usage hours.
For organizations that have already invested in WAN optimization technology, Modern Streaming provides the perfect complement. Through the use of stateless, chunked video delivery, protocols like HLS and DASH integrate with native functionality in leading WANop solutions, providing an improved video playback experience while maximizing network throughput.
For Companies That Have Invested in Legacy Streaming Protocols
“There is very little, if any, innovation happening around RTMP right now. Adobe has even invested in their own HTTP streaming protocol. I don’t think that’s simply because they wanted to have a new toy.”
– Chris Bay, Vice President, Highwinds
Many large organizations built their video infrastructure prior to the advent of Modern Streaming, when the only viable option was an overlay network using RTMP, MMS, or RTSP. Although these protocols, particularly RTMP, are still in widespread use, their adoption peaked several years ago, and their ongoing use is sustained by inertia, not by continued investment in the space.
This trend is visible across the industry, as content delivery networks, operating system vendors, hardware manufacturers, and media companies abandon legacy protocols in favor of Modern Streaming:
- All major CDN vendors have ceased support for the MMS protocol. Limelight, the last major content delivery network to end support, did so in March, 2015.
- Leading-edge CDN vendors like Highwinds have completely transitioned away from RTMP and related protocols to HTTP-based streaming.
- Microsoft has removed Windows Media Services (WMS)—the streaming media server built around the MMS protocol—from its Windows Server product. In recent years, the company has thrown its support behind the standardization of Dynamic Adaptive Streaming over HTTP (DASH).
- Apple has bypassed legacy streaming, instead leveraging HLS across its products.
- Android tablets and smartphones have also largely moved beyond legacy protocols. Native support for RTMP playback is not included in the operating system.
- Hulu currently streams video to its more than six million subscribers using HLS and DASH.
- Netflix formats its media files as multi-bitrate DASH.
What does this mean for organizations that have built their internal media networks on legacy protocols? As with any technology that is being sunset, they face a Hobson’s choice. In this case, repurpose their custom streaming servers and re-encode legacy videos, or face a market end-of-road.
For Companies That Have Invested in Multicast
“At this point if you’re considering a streaming technology, the overwhelming sentiment is to deliver via HTTP.” – Jan Ozer, Streaming Media Magazine
In recent years, the shift to Modern Streaming has unified the network transport layer, eliminating special-cased data delivery. Multicast was a lofty aspiration, but it represents the ultimate, all-or-nothing special case in network management and content delivery.
The death of MMS and other special-cased streaming protocols also signals the death of multicast. This puts companies invested in the technology behind the eight ball, and presents two options:
- Increase the bandwidth of their network
- Extend support for multicast
Option two may appear to be less disruptive. However, to choose this approach is to continue an investment in the past. At some point, every organization will have exhausted its ability to squeeze efficiency out of a bandwidth-constrained multicast network.
In addition, continued investment in multicast also limits the choice of technology providers, as more and more divest from a dying technology. Those who do continue offering multicast solutions are maintaining the fiction that multicast will persist into the next decade as a viable data delivery mechanism. At best, this calls into question the vendor’s understanding of video futures. At worst, it calls into question whether they have their customers’ long-term interests in mind.
Panopto and Modern Video Streaming
Panopto is the first video platform built from the ground-up for Modern Streaming. In December 2014, the company released a major update to its video capture and management software—the first of its kind to implement an end-to-end media pipeline based on HLS, the de facto standard for HTTP streaming.
This means that, from the point of video capture to the point of playback on any device, regardless of whether the video is being streamed live or on-demand, and regardless of whether the content is being delivered to internal or external audiences, Panopto leverages all of the advantages inherent in a modern HTTP-based protocol:
- Support for existing web caching infrastructure – Panopto is built to work out of the box with popular HTTP caching systems like Squid, Nginx, Apache, and IIS.
- Support for symmetric WAN optimization technology – Through the use of chunked, stateless video delivery, Panopto integrates seamlessly with leading WANop appliances and software from Riverbed, Blue Coat, Silver Peak, and others.
- Support for asymmetric WANop – As more and more organizations deploy video platforms like Panopto to the cloud, there is a need to optimize the delivery of media content that originates from external data centers. To address this need, Panopto integrates with a range of “asymmetric” WAN optimization solutions from leading vendors. Specifically, Panopto’s video platform supports Riverbed’s Steelhead Cloud Accelerator solution, in which Riverbed optimization technology is hosted within Akamai’s globally-distributed points of presence. Panopto also supports Blue Coat’s asymmetric object caching, in which “warm data” requests are accelerated through caching servers in the branch office.
- Support for P2P WANop ECDNs – In addition to traditional symmetric and asymmetric WANop, an emerging class of P2P technologies is delivering on the efficiency promises of multicast while using modern streaming protocols. For example, Kollective (formerly Kontiki) is a software-defined, peer-to-peer enterprise content delivery network (ECDN) built for companies that live stream frequently, that have complex network topologies, or that have small-to-mid-sized video archives. Panopto works seamlessly with P2P ECDNs like Kollective. For live webcasts, Panopto pre-populates the ECDN with HLS segments. For on-demand streaming, Panopto pre-populates popular content to the ECDN, reducing network impact.
Related Reading: 6 Things to Look For in an Enterprise Video Streaming Service
Learn more about video streaming!
In our latest white paper, Modern Video Streaming in the Enterprise: Protocols, Caching, and WAN Optimization, we’ll take a deeper look into the technical shifts driving the move toward Modern Streaming, including the seven characteristics that make a video streaming protocol modern.
We’ll also look that the new opportunities Modern Streaming presents for organizations to use existing network infrastructure for more scalable, cost-effective video delivery.