SPs’ IP Agendas Inspire Innovations in CDN Tech

Julien Signes, president & CEO, Envivio

Julien Signes, president & CEO, Envivio

Service providers’ demands for greater efficiency and lower cost of delivering their linear and on-demand content as well as over-the-top video to devices of every description has unleashed a torrent of innovation focused on optimizing content delivery networks for their purposes.

Among the more dramatic developments of late are new initiatives launched by Envivio, Ericsson and Verivue that touch on various aspects of what needs to be done to mitigate the overwhelming traffic implications of supporting both multi-screen TV Everywhere services and surging OTT consumption on SPs’ broadband core and access networks. “Operators are thinking about more than just the act of delivering TV entertainment to multiple screens,” says Envivio president and CEO Julien Signés “They are searching for solutions that will enable them to streamline workflows, add new devices to their network quickly, tackle scalable video coding needs and address the security concerns of their content partners.”

The solution, say Signés and other strategists, is to apply the intelligent caching capabilities widely used in global IP CDN networks but with major enhancements that address SPs’ managed service needs. In Envivio’s case, the company has developed what it calls the Genesis CDN architecture, which is meant not only to address SPs’ requirements but also the increasingly sophisticated formatting and transcoding capabilities that traditional CDN suppliers are seeking to build into their networks as a way to address the monetization requirements of the OTT ecosystem.

As described by Bob Stockwell, director of marketing and communications at Envivio, Genesis is based on a two-tiered processing architecture consisting of Envivio’s multi-screen headend as the single point for high-quality audio/video processing and compression and edge-positioned Network Media Processors (NMPs), which handle packaging, encryption, “light” transcoding and distribution of content for specific types of devices. “This architecture affords content suppliers tremendous flexibility to keep expanding the range of devices they serve without encoding for specific devices at the core,” Stockwell notes.

By using the company’s 4Caster C4 encoding platform at the headend to stream a “mezzanine” level of high-quality video on order from the edge points, the architecture allows providers to eliminate separate silos of equipment to meet the individual requirements of broadcast, Internet and mobile services, he explains. At the NMP, which uses a scaled down version of the 4Caster, content is formatted and packaged on the fly in response to a specific user demand from a specific type of device platform.

“We’re doing formatting on demand as well as encryption and authentication, so if the request comes in from [Microsoft’s] Silverlight, the repackaging system reaches back and pulls that piece of content from the headend encoder, which sends it out in full 1080p,” Stockwell continues. “All of this happens well within the acceptable time sequence where the end user is concerned, so there’s no latency penalty that the user will see.”

Envivio says the NMP is presently in trial with major cable and telecom operators, with general availability anticipated for early 2011. But interest goes beyond SPs, Stockwell notes. “Everybody is talking about transcoding in the cloud,” he says. “Akamai, for example, says this is the direction they want to go in. Content providers like MTV want it. We’ve been in a lot of interesting discussions.”

Verivue, a supplier of distributed server platforms rather than encoding technology, has built its product to be a video-on-demand optimized CDN solution for IP-based distribution of SPs’ content to the edges, typically relying on traditional encoding of various streams from the headend to support edge storage of content in the appropriate formats. For example, Canadian MSO Shaw Communications, one of many Verivue customers but the only one willing to publicize the fact, earlier this year deployed the vendor’s MDX 9200 Media Distribution Switch to support expansion of VOD service in HD and SD modes.

Now Verivue is moving to extend the usefulness of its technology so that SPs can rely on the caching architecture to minimize the traffic impact of surging OTT video consumption. “Every operator we talk to has seen video traffic exploding on the backbone, to the point where they can no longer afford to cover the costs,” says Tom Rosenstein, vice president of product marketing for Verivue. The problem, he notes, is that, until about a year ago, the router and transmissions costs were falling fast enough to keep up with the pace of adding capacity to support traffic growth. “Now there’s a net cost penalty that’s starting to hurt, and some core SPs are saying they need a different architecture to offset the growth in traffic,” Rosenstein says.

Traditionally, Internet CDNs are contracted by content suppliers and other site owners, who control the licensing required to enable cache storage in the network. But Verivue’s strategy is to leverage a technology acquired with purchase of CoBlitz LLC, a provider of targeted, transparent caching solutions, to provide operators with a broad range of choices for both managed video networks and OTT video services.

While, in some countries like Japan operators can use CDN technology to cache other suppliers’ content without their permission, that’s not the case in the U.S. and many other nations, Rosenstein notes. But there’s reason to believe operators can negotiate deals that would lead to major reductions in the backbone IP traffic, he adds.

“Operators are telling us 60 percent of the IP traffic on their backbones is HTTP (Hypertext Transfer Protocol – the mode of distribution used by the World Wide Web), and half of that traffic is from the top ten Web sites,” Rosenstein says. “So in the U.S. a number of operators are reaching out to those top ten to negotiate caching rights. It’s a good deal for content providers because they offload some of the costs of the improved quality of service that comes with caching.” SPs will see ROI on the CDN purchase after 12 months as a result of the reduction in traffic on their backbones, he adds.

While the acquisition of CoBlitz puts Verivue in direct competition with CDN technology suppliers like Alcatel-Lucent and Cisco Systems, it’s not necessarily a competitive move against traditional CDNs like Akamai, Rosenstein notes, likening the respective roles to the old Ma Bell-to-Baby Bell relationship where more efficient local distribution is supported by the edge providers who in turn gain global reach through their peering relationships with Akamai. The result is a sharing of costs and revenues that benefits all concerned. “It’s already happening in Europe,” he adds.

One immediate benefit realized by Verivue with expansion of its capabilities is a global distribution agreement for its portfolio of content delivery solutions with Nokia Siemens Networks. Under the multi-year agreement, NSN will integrate and support Verivue’s complete range of CDN solutions for wireline and wireless SPs, the companies said.

Another major contribution to SPs’ CDN options is coming from Ericsson, which in September introduced a video-optimized CDN solution it calls “Media Delivery Network.” The MDN is a media-centric network that supports multi-channel TV, VOD and OTT video content from the same core infrastructure. It includes solutions for distribution and delivery, caching, storing, streaming, transcoding and the content management system. It also enables targeted advertising and fast channel changing across any platform to any screen.

“This is a CDN platform enhanced to be more useful to video entertainment providers,” says Michael Adams, vice president of applications software, at Ericsson. “It’s designed so that operators can build their own MDNs internally to handle all the different ways of providing content. There’s storage and networking involved, but the intelligence to manage all that is the tricky bit.”

A big factor in the MDN is its support for linear as well as on-demand content. At the same time MDN handles many traditional CDN tasks, including the ability to take the data burden off the core network, reduce peering costs, improve quality of service for OTT video services and provide usage statistics for third-party billing, he notes. The last attribute makes it possible for SPs to use the MDN to wholesale media delivery services.