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Hybrid Flash Multicasting: The Next Generation of Enterprise Video

Eliminate the usual tradeoffs between video consumption and network investment

Hybrid Flash multicasting is the second and decisive wave of innovation that will enable enterprises to stream video without overtaxing their network infrastructures. It eliminates the usual tradeoffs between video consumption and network investment, regardless of increased video traffic in budget-constrained corporate networks. Hybrid Flash multicasting also solves the cost and complexity challenges of IP multicasting. By combining a new form of multicasting, known as application multicasting, which leverages a peer-assisted model of video sharing with an IP multicast network, a video stream can reach virtually everyone on the network using existing bandwidth and infrastructure. Hybrid multicasting finally unlocks the full potential for video within the enterprise by combining IP and application multicasting to deliver streaming media using the most efficient algorithms within a dynamic self-optimizing topology.

Hybrid Flash multicasting, available in the recently released Adobe Flash Media Server 4 (FMS4), arrives at an opportune time. The use of online video is growing rapidly within corporations. Industry data shows that video consumption inside the corporate firewall is growing at an unprecedented rate, following consumer trends of the past few years. Approximately 12 percent of large enterprises were generating more than 100 hours of video content per month in 2009, up from 9 percent in 2008. The number of corporations generating 25-100 hours of video jumped from 21 percent to 29 percent in the same period.[1] At that rate, a company could have amassed a 6,000-hour library of video since 2005. In the consumer public, video as a percentage of Internet traffic is projected to reach 91 percent by 2014,[2] with corporate network traffic likely to mimic that consumer pattern. Gartner Research projects that 25 percent of content that workers see in a day will be dominated by pictures, video or audio by 2013.[3]

Economic Advantages of Hybrid Flash Multicasting
From an internal cost perspective, hybrid Flash multicasting enables corporations to keep up with growing video usage while cutting enterprise video expense across several cost centers. IT managers will appreciate it for the ability to deliver the greatest level of video service while minimizing the need for additional media servers, edge caching devices, eCDNs, and WAN acceleration hardware. By having fewer physical servers to install throughout the network, FMS4 promises a shorter deployment cycle than existing video streaming technologies and lower ongoing IT maintenance and support costs.

Hybrid Flash multicasting is also as valuable to media producers as it is to IT managers. Flash is compatible with all operating systems, so corporations can now stream video to Macs, PCs, and Linux machines with relative ease. It's compatible with all popular browsers, making the video experience seamless for users of Internet Explorer, FireFox, Chrome, Safari, and Opera. Media producers will no longer have to produce video in multiple streaming formats when a corporate video is intended for both internal and external audiences, which is potentially a huge money and time saver.

Piloting Hybrid Flash Multicasting
On paper, all of the new benefits of hybrid Flash multicasting sound impressive. However, no one really knew how well it would work until it was implemented in a real-world, global corporate environment. To test hybrid Flash multicasting, MediaPlatform, an early adopter and advocate of Flash and Flex-based webcasting applications, worked closely with Adobe on the development of the industry's first Flash multicast-enabled player.

Adobe and MediaPlatform decided to approach a Fortune 500 client that had been using MediaPlatform's webcasting solutions for several years. We selected this client for the Flash multicast test for several reasons. First, their global network is enormous, with offices in 95 countries on six continents and over 100,000 employees. Second, this corporation is actually comprised of two enterprises, one of which is the original company with a significant portion of their network IP multicast enabled, and the other of which is a large entity they recently acquired whose network is not IP multicast enabled. Third, a number of the client's satellite locations around the world are not equipped for IP multicasting. Figure 1 shows a simple network map of the client as two entities, where there is an obvious division in multicast-enabled networks.

Figure 1 - High level network structure of the client site

The employees within the client organization had expectations of enterprise video and hybrid Flash multicasting that varied depending on their roles. The line-of-business (LOB) people MediaPlatform worked with wanted the highest possible video quality wherever possible. They were most concerned about latency and performance and anything else that could potentially affect the quality of an online event for viewers or executive presenters. In addition to quality concerns, they wanted video to be as pervasive in the organization as possible. The LOB stakeholders wanted to utilize the multicast test to explore other streaming possibilities, which were currently limited, as their remote offices and scattered groups inside the two-network structure were not able to view videos in real time.

The IT department, however, had a different agenda for the hybrid multicast test. The most critical issue they wanted to address was the ability for the entire organization to access and watch videos without causing network failures. To implement this test, the client insisted on scheduling it during the middle of a major network upgrade project. This complicated matters, but we were able to work around the project so that the test would not cause any adverse network traffic patterns.

The Test Solution
Our test solution needed to accommodate four important factors that the client requested:

  1. Variable streaming rates: These were needed to multicast across varying network conditions throughout the enterprise.
  2. Support for multiple languages: As a global corporation, the company wanted to make sure that hybrid Flash multicasting would support video streams in more than one language.
  3. Primary and backup streams: The video signal required a backup stream in the event that the primary stream became unavailable.
  4. Streaming from multiple studios: The client also wanted to be able to originate a video signal anywhere in the world and have it stream easily to any location.   They had a goal of being able to produce videos and webcasts from either Studio A or Studio B and allow anyone in the to watch the presentations live without any network performance issues or latency.

The solution resembled the high-level overview shown in Figure 2. We started with the original video signal from the live event, which we sent to a battery of Flash Live Media Encoders (FLMEs) for encoding in different bit rates. We also set up FLMEs for different language versions of the video. Each language stream could then be encoded with a different audio track. Flash Media Server, running with MediaPlatform's software, organized the streams and made them available to viewers using MediaPlatform's OSMF compatible flash multicast player, WebCaster.

Figure 2 - High level overview of MediaPlatform's approach to testing Hybrid flash multicasting.

With multiple encoded streams hitting the server, the key to making hybrid Flash multicasting work is using MediaPlatform's capacity to make a quick match between each player and the appropriate stream. In a process that is completely invisible to the end user, MediaPlatform's software is able to connect viewers with a Flash video stream that was configured for their language, location, and bandwidth. When viewers are invited to participate in the test, they receive a link to a Web page that contains our WebCaster player. The player is set up to transmit the viewer's network location and language preference to the instance of MediaPlatform's software running on top of FMS 4. Using a table of IP addresses and correlated multicasting factors, MediaPlatform's software is able to match each player with a specific type of stream. The viewer then receives the correct type of stream. For example, one viewer might receive a primary low bandwidth stream in English, while another viewer in another part of the network might receive a high bandwidth stream in French.

Conclusion
The hybrid Flash multicasting test was a success. IT stakeholders were struck by how efficiently a high-quality video stream could flow through their network. The bandwidth usage was, in their view, amazingly and unexpectedly low. Audiences involved in the test were pleased with the quality of the video. For some participants, it was the first time they had seen a video on their work PCs, because previous network limitations had prevented them from watching online video. The business stakeholders in the media production department were elated that they now had the ability to produce content in a single format that could span the entire internal audience and also be simultaneously usable for the external Web. The results of the test prove that enterprise video seems destined for a hybrid Flash multicast future.

References

  1. Interactive Media Strategies Executive Web Communications Survey, Q4 2009
  2. Cisco Visual Network Index 2009
  3. Gartner Data 2008

Resources:

 

More Stories By Greg Pulier

Greg Pulier is the founder and CTO of MediaPlatform, the webcasting software and media management platform provider. The Harvard University graduate in physics has spent the last ten years developing rich media webcasting software products.

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