|Issue:||Europe I 2009|
|Topic:||IPTV – intelligent content delivery|
Ervin Leibovici is the CEO of BitBand a provider of Content Delivery Network solutions for IPTV. Prior to joining BitBand, Mr Leibovici served as the Regional Manager of SGI for the Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) region. Before that, Mr Leibovici held managing director positions at the Israeli subsidiaries of SGI and Cray Research, the supercomputer company. Ervin Leibovici earned a B.Sc degree in Computer Science from the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology and an MBA from the Rekanati Business School at the University of Tel-Aviv.
The success of IPTV providers, and its ability to compete effectively with other TV providers, depends largely upon the quality of experience it offers consumers, the cost-effectiveness of its infrastructure and the flexibility to offer differentiated, personalised, services. Comprehensive content delivery networks (CDN) will help meet these challenges, as will architectures that provide flexible scaling of content storage and streaming capacity. Video Admission Control helps operators tightly plan and control network resources and offer advanced differentiated services with guaranteed QoE.
Survive or Thrive The long-term success of IPTV depends on technological, business and cultural factors, and is especially threatened in times of financial uncertainty, when people and companies alike put ‘survival’ on the top of their agenda. Yet, laying the foundation for a successful IPTV service is not as complicated as it may seem, but rather a matter of careful planning that leverages existing sources and takes into account scalability and service differentiation. Tomorrow’s entertainment environment must be simple to set up, use and personalize. Agility to implement new and re-bundled services, as well as offer personalized content delivered ‘when and where wanted’ are basic to provider success. Service Providers and network owners developing an integrated end-to-end content delivery network will need to consider how to: • leverage existing network resources to allocate content optimally within the limited storage resources across the telecom network infrastructure while providing sufficient streaming capacity for IPTV subscribers; • build and manage a network that allows for fast changes to the service offering; • guarantee subscribers’ Quality of Experience; • offer a breadth of applications and services, flexible enough to allow for a personalized tailored entertainment experience; and • integrate with multiple vendors and simplify potentially complex integration processes. CDN ‘Must Haves’ A comprehensive content delivery network (CDN) fit for this market’s dynamics, which provides a proper answer for the challenges outlined, must rely on solid building blocks, some of which are detailed below: Scalability and automation Ensuring fast response to new technologies and changing consumer demands requires a well pre-defined deployment scheme, which would allow expanding the network to additional service areas and service groups, while utilizing existing network resources. Some of the solutions encompass a clustering architecture, which provides flexible scaling of content storage and streaming capacity. Scaling is achieved by seamlessly adding servers to existing clusters, while avoiding service disruption. Additional options utilize smart algorithms for automatic content distribution, that dynamically and in real-time adapt content handling according to actual content consumption. Automation of the CDN ensures optimized usage of the storage in the network by placing the content in the proper location according to actual demand from subscribers’ and the popularity of the content. At the same time, given existing network limitations and constraints, service providers need an easy way to define rules and policies to control the distribution of content. Automatic content distribution reacts to the actual level of consumption, removing unnecessary copies of video assets that have little demand and adding copies of popular video assets in the relevant places across the network. Online storage Content delivery networks must have storage space at various points across the network and with differing storage capacities, depending on the unique service requirements and specific network infrastructure. Traditionally, IPTV networks include a Central Content Repository (CCR), which is a large storage system that holds all of the content available throughout the network. Utilizing a single centre as both the CCR and a video streaming server is a cost effective solution for Central Content Repository; this keeps costs low through storage consolidation and by avoiding the use of general-purpose storage systems that are not specifically optimized for IPTV systems. Network abstraction As the service grows, many telcos face the need to allow their business and network layer systems to develop independently with minimal cross-impact. An intelligent CDN introduces an abstraction layer between middleware business-related systems and the video Content Delivery Network. The network abstraction significantly increases the flexibility of the IPTV network architecture and detaches the network systems from the service domain, thus enabling easy introduction of new business models and offerings on one side and network expansions and changes on the other. This makes it easier to implement new network models, including various wholesale models and multiple middleware systems sharing the same IPTV network, and helps network owner leverage their investments. Guaranteed quality of experience Quality of Service (QoS) and Quality of Experience (QoE) have become major criteria to evaluate IPTV products and services. Increasing QoE is one of the most important measures for increasing subscribers’ loyalty and securing successful service growth. Most content delivery networks are designed with highly reliable components and numerous degrees of redundancy, yet completely eliminating all potential network failures is impossible. Introducing a comprehensive end-to-end IPTV solution that enhances the quality of the viewing experience requires mitigating such video content delivery challenges as network congestion effects, packet loss due to access line errors and a slow channel zapping experience. IPTV service providers can improve their service and increase customer satisfaction with IPTV by integrating packet loss recovery and scalable fast channel zapping. In addition, to diminish one of the main obstacles in large-scale IPTV deployment, the CDN needs to support Video Admission Control (VAC) solutions that maintain service availability throughout peaks and bursts in demand across the network. VAC allows IPTV operators to tightly plan and control network resources, offer advanced, differentiated, services with guaranteed QoE. Putting it all together A comprehensive IPTV solution is composed of many components, including telecommunication equipment, video servers, head end and encoders, CPE and encryption solutions, to mention a few. Even though standardization efforts are well under way, the task of designing and sorting through the available technologies is not an easy one. Integrating the various building blocks into a comprehensive solution can be simplified via either pre-integrated solutions or a virtual content delivery network (CDN). Virtual CDN enables network owners to support a ’wholesale’ model by offering a managed video content delivery service to multiple service providers, where each one of the service providers gets a virtual content delivery network with a guaranteed service level agreement (SLA). The service provider can then offer new applications without costly investments in video delivery equipment, resulting in significantly reduced CAPEX and OPEX. By choosing a Content Delivery Network as the core of the IPTV service, telcos and network owners can significantly improve the efficiency and flexibility of their networks and service offerings and better leverage their heavy network investments to create additional revenue streams, increase profitability and improve customer satisfaction. CDN, as a significant component of the IPTV eco-system, has largely been ignored and even confused with the Internet CDNs (aka Akamai). There is much in common between the ‘walled garden’ IPTV CDN and the Internet CDN; both address the same basic need to efficiently handle huge amounts of content over widely distributed networks. As IPTV networks grow to support significant countrywide subscriber audiences, the CDN component becomes a critical element of the IPTV platform, one which can easily ensure the success, or failure, of an IPTV service. Interestingly enough, cable networks are also moving away from their original ‘silo’ approach towards implementing distributed architectures with intelligent CDNs to manage them. Among the significant benefits that CDN brings providers is the flexibility to support multiple applications and business models, while catering to viewers demand for personalized, differentiated, services.