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Data-driven internet traffic management supports massive growth in video streaming

(Image credit: Image Credit: Picjumbo / Pexels)

Demand for internet-based media services from watching box-sets to downloading movies on Virgin, Amazon, Netflix or Sky, is exploding and set to continue apace into 2020. In the UK alone last year the popularity of digital content subscription services resulted in more than £3bn in sales for streaming music, films, and TV shows, according to the Entertainment Retailers Association. In fact, they found more than 80 per cent of total entertainment is now spent on digital services.

Organisations in the sector have recognised that if they want to win the hearts and the wallets of customers and nurture loyalty, they need to deliver video content at an exceptional level of quality. But internet infrastructure is notoriously complex, so they must find a path through the forest of technologies – multiple clouds, content delivery networks and edge computing architecture – in order to guarantee a seamless, glitch-free performance every time.

The ‘forest’, however, is becoming more tangled and busy every day. Cisco has predicted that by 2022, more IP traffic will cross global networks than in the 32 years since the Internet started, with video contributing up to 82 per cent of the total. So, not only is the space crowded with technology, it’s also crowded with content.

Multi-CDN strategy is in place, now what?

This emerging scenario means that organisations, whether they are delivering over-the-top (OTT) media streaming services over the internet, or platform-based live streaming, are actively looking for a solution to bring video closer to their customers, and to do this they have adopted multi-CDN strategies. This has allowed them to reach global audiences and helped them to eliminate the risks associated with single points-of-failure that could threaten to take their services offline. However, the congestion of the Internet—and performance of the CDNs themselves—can result in latency issues, and given the direct, inverse relationship between the latency of video services and the revenue they generate, all organisations want to put measures in place to guard against any delays to transmission of data.

Those that have adopted a multi-CDN approach with distributed cloud and edge network architecture are significantly reducing latency by bringing content and processing closer to users. But now they are looking for the best and the most straightforward means to automate content delivery in a way that ensures the best performance possible.  

One approach to optimising CDN orchestration is through the use of application traffic management capabilities and platforms that leverage user and network data as well as business logic. Along with billions of data points on network conditions from CDNs, these types of solutions also ingest data from real users, load balancers, and custom data sources. This makes it possible to create Internet traffic management policies that combine real-time data within the context of an organisation’s own business requirements. As a result, not only can they deliver quality video services, they can also incorporate traffic routing that balances performance and cost outcomes to deliver those services while maximising their technology investments.

Steering through the video ecosystem

Distributing live video across the internet is a complex undertaking and the plethora of video players, streaming devices, CDN contract commitments and regional licensing and compliance requirements demands the most intelligent approach to steering video traffic. As such, organisations will benefit from streaming optimisation and support at network level – Domain Name System (DNS) level – which ensures full compatibility with every player and every platform. Active routing decisions can then be accessed via HTTP API in addition to DNS lookups, enabling organisations to utilise CDN switching for live streaming sessions and active traffic steering for non-DNS-based applications. They will also benefit from the automatic detection of changing conditions on the Internet and content geo-IP restrictions, while at the same time automating the delivery of content to different regions in compliance with local licensing limitations.  

Understanding performance

Of course, all companies specialising in the space understand that to compete effectively it is not just about streaming video smoothly, but also delivering it in the highest possible quality. This is why it is essential that the tools they use incorporate feedback on customer experiences. This should be based on real-time data about playback failures, startup times, rebuffering and video quality. It is only by collecting and analysing these video performance metrics from end-users, along with real user monitoring (RUM) and network data, that they can confidently provide flawless video performances every time.

Central to the success of global streaming service businesses is the balance between video delivery, managing costs and meeting contractual commitments. To compete in this burgeoning market, providers must optimise solutions that help them understand usage, manage CDN commits and route based on a combination of performance and cost.  For example, one might invoke a rule that if all CDNs’ performance is within 20 ms of one another, route to the least expensive CDN.   This can unify and automate their video traffic operations. Even with a multi-CDN strategy in place and the deployment of advanced telemetry to assist with real-time decision-making, it is those organisations that are using advanced traffic steering that will be ahead when it comes to delivering superior video streaming experiences for their customers in the most economical way.

Mark Fieldhouse, General Manager EMEA, NS1

Mark Fieldhouse is General Manager EMEA at NS1, a leader in next generation DNS and application traffic management solutions. He is responsible for NS1’s growth in the region.