Home Asia-Pacific III 2014 Software-based video delivery solutions and virtualization: Providing increased flexibility, efficiency, and cost savings to operators

Software-based video delivery solutions and virtualization: Providing increased flexibility, efficiency, and cost savings to operators

by Administrator
Ms. Nivedita NouvelIssue:Asia-Pacific III 2014
Article no.:3
Topic:Software-based video delivery solutions and virtualization: Providing increased flexibility, efficiency, and cost savings to operators
Author:Ms. Nivedita Nouvel
Title:VP, Marketing
Organisation:Broadpeak
PDF size:212KB

About author

Nivedita Nouvel joined Broadpeak in 2010 as Vice President Marketing, and is responsible for all communications, product strategy and positioning within the company.

Previously Nouvel worked at Envivio as a Product Manager, specializing in their H.264 encoding technology. Prior to joining Envivio, Nouvel was in charge of the IPTV and Mobile TV Service Platform at Thomson.

Nivedita graduated from Télécom Bretagne Engineering School and holds a Master of Science in Satellite Communications from University College London (UCL).

Article abstract

A software-based approach to content delivery simplifies system upgrades and maintenance. As technology advances, operators can take advantage of new features and capabilities by reinstalling a new version of the software as opposed to swapping out hardware, which can be expensive. With a software-centric content delivery model, operators can rely on more than one CDN technology vendor.

Full Article

Over the last few years, the television world has gone through a radical transformation. Gone are the days when consumers would leave work, come home, and sit down to enjoy a full night of entertainment on their living room TVs. Today’s consumers are now watching a mixture of live, VOD, catch-up TV, and other advanced services, such as OTT, on an ever-increasing number of devices, including smartphones and tablets. As consumer demand for video content anytime, anywhere, on any device continues to grow at a dizzying pace, pay-TV operators are seeking content delivery network (CDN) solutions that are more efficient and flexible to speed up the time to market for new services and decrease capital and operating expenses. This article examines the benefits of a software-based approach to content delivery compared with the traditional hardware-based method. In addition, the article looks at key trends for OTT video delivery, including network functions virtualization (NFV) and software-defined networks (SDN).

Benefits of software-based video delivery solutions
Traditionally, the content delivery chain has included a variety of proprietary hardware-based systems. However, as operators look to deliver more content to more devices more affordably, a software-based approach, implying portability on off-the-shelf hardware, is emerging as the ideal solution.

Software-based video delivery solutions offer several key benefits to operators. One benefit is flexibility, which is very important today as operators look to launch new value-added services with agility. Trading proprietary hardware for off-the-shelf hardware enables operators to change the purpose of hardware easily (e.g., an encoder can be converted into a streaming server). In addition, a variety of off-the-shelf hardware and software vendors can be used. Operators are not confined to just choosing one vendor. This enables them to choose best-of-breed equipment that matches their exact requirements. Separating hardware from the software also increases business flexibility. By dissociating the provisioning of the hardware and the delivery of the CDN software, operators can achieve faster deployment times for new services.

A software-based approach to content delivery also simplifies system upgrades and maintenance. As technology advances, operators can take advantage of new features and capabilities by reinstalling a new version of the software as opposed to swapping out hardware, which can be expensive. With a software-centric content delivery model, operators can rely on more than one CDN technology vendor.

Adopting a purely software-based approach to content delivery also opens up the possibility for virtualization.

Virtualizing Content Delivery with CDNs
By deploying a CDN solution in a private cloud, operators can completely virtualize content delivery. From a technical standpoint, it is more or less easy to virtualize a CDN architecture. An operator merely needs to provision blade centers, storage, processing power, and connectivity in a cloud-based data center.

A software-based CDN solution is naturally a better fit for virtualization than a proprietary hardware-based solution. In order to define a reliable CDN architecture, it is important to adopt a flexible approach that allows operators to deploy an application on cost-effective off-the-shelf hardware as opposed to using video servers capable of streaming tens of Gbps but that will impact many content and customers in the case of a failure.

The greatest challenge with virtualization is that the operator must be able to appropriately allocate applications to the resources. For example, it is not efficient to run virtual machines hosting applications that will face peak consumption at the same time on the same hardware. The performances will be degraded in this case, and the virtualization will have brought no benefit to the operator. Planning based on the similarities between applications must be done carefully to fully benefit from NFV. Once this is done, operators can truly capitalize on the flexibility brought by NFV.

Virtualizing the CDN for OTT delivery offers several important benefits. The greatest benefit is reduced capital expenses. With a virtualized infrastructure, operators will be spending less on hardware, and there will be resource sharing going on for certain functions. For example, load balancing between different servers handling different formats.

Scalability is another benefit of virtualized infrastructures. Operators can easily add more storage or processing power to launch new services quickly. Before, they may have had to wait a few weeks or months to deploy dedicated hardware that had to be shipped and go through customs.

Operators that are using a virtualized infrastructure for content delivery also will see increased robustness. The cloud has built-in capabilities for duplicating content, which is beneficial for disaster recovery. If one virtual server fails, another server will automatically take over.

Frameworks for Cloud-based Network infrastructures
NFV and SDN have emerged as two popular frameworks designed to help operators transition toward an open, software-centric network infrastructure. The idea behind NFV is to replace hardware network equipment such as routers and switches with software running on off-the-shelf servers. This allows operators to reduce the number of machines deployed in a network to support a service. ETSI, the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI), is responsible for standardizing the protocols and, if necessary, the workflows at stake. Some documents are already available, and we can expect to see the finalization of the first step of the work in 2015. Within the industry, NFV is mainly receiving support from network operators and carriers.

SDN, on the other hand, is based on the concept of separating the control plane and the data plane, replacing standard network protocols with centralized software applications, and programming the behavior of the network components. The objective is to boost innovation by making the switch to a new network configuration simple and fast. OpenFlow is the communication protocol defined within the SDN framework that specifies the organization and way that streams are controlled, and some trial projects are already underway.

While NFV and SDNs are sometimes considered competing approaches, they should be seen as complementary since they do not cover the same scope: NFV is about the virtualization of network functions while SDN is about automating and orchestrating the use of these functions. It is therefore possible, but not compulsory, to combine both NFV and SDN approaches. The benefit of combining them is to have a self-supported system with automated workflows that can allocate and de-allocate resources based on the current needs.

Both frameworks are relatively new in the market; however, SDN is a bit more mature since specifications already exist. It is simpler to implement an SDN type of network strategy within an organization since the scope of the covered functions can be limited. On the other hand, NFV requires a larger consensus between several operators and providers to be implemented, which is more time-consuming.

One trend we’re seeing is that the industry is currently moving faster than the standardization process for these models. Thus, it’s likely that some operators will establish a virtualization strategy and will not wait for the standard to implement it. The requirement for virtualizing the video delivery process is greater in areas of the world where the uptake of services is fast. According to a recent Nielsen report, this is the case in the APAC region, where the highest growth rates for OTT consumption are found.

ETSI has already referenced CDN as a use case covered by the scope of NFV. The objectives are to be able to reallocate the resources used by the streaming servers to other tasks when the peak hour is over, host several CDN solutions on the same hardware, have more flexibility in allocating streaming resources based on consumption, and to launch new wholesale models with the possibility for content providers to rent CDN capabilities directly from the operators. The latter approach is already being deployed by operators around the world. Using this type of CDN solution, operators can make their CDN available to content providers directly to separate the CDN topology and servers.

The main target of the NFV approach is not to improve the quality of content delivery but rather to decrease its cost by mutualizing hardware and using off-the-shelf equipment. For example, in the case of a CDN, one could replace dedicated hardware capable of streaming 80 Gbps with two off-the-shelf machines capable of streaming 40 Gbps but costing less than half the price each. Power consumption is reduced, as these servers can be reused to do offline transcoding during off-peak hours, for example, without the need of switching on new machines.

Conclusion
As operators around the world try to keep up with the growing consumer demand for video content anytime, anywhere, on any device, an off-the-shelf hardware and software approach compared with a proprietary hardware method is the ideal solution for OTT video delivery. Software-based video delivery brings increased flexibility, efficiency, and cost savings to operators, opening up the opportunity for a completely virtualized infrastructure.

 

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