March 9, 2012 – Are service providers in North America ready to take the managed service CDN paradigm to its ultimate lengths by enabling support for virtually any type of multiscreen service for themselves and wholesale customers alike?
Gambling the answer is yes, Stockholm-based Edgeware has put the sales and support resources in place to draw North American operators to a distribution platform that has become a cornerstone of aggressive IP service agendas elsewhere. Edgeware reports customers in The Netherlands, Austria, Denmark, Slovenia, Russia, Brazil and other countries are deploying its Distributed Video Delivery Network (VDN) platform to provide carrier-class performance assurance and cost-effective traffic management for a wide variety of multiscreen service models, including network PVR and wholesale CDN services.
“By leveraging Edgeware’s extensive experience in deploying some of the world’s largest operator-based video distribution systems, our customers can offer additional, highly scalable services,” says Edgeware CEO Joachim Roos. “Providing reporting to a content provider, they can show details not only about sessions and bandwidth usage, but more crucially, valuable information about the quality of the video being viewed in any session.”
Edgeware’s recent enhancements to what was originally a system designed primarily to support high-volume VOD have taken hold quickly to where multiscreen service applications now comprise 60 percent of its business, says Duncan Potter, Edgeware’s CMO. “A year ago we were at the framework stage of discussions,” Potter says. “Now we’re talking about real deployments.”
For example, The Netherlands incumbent telecom KPN, which a year ago announced it was using the Edgeware system to replace its legacy VOD system as part of a video system revamp led by Nokia Siemens Networks, last summer rolled out nPVR service on a far larger scale than has been the case with other early iterations of that service. KPN’s new IP-based video offering gives subscribers the ability to record up to 200 hours of programs in the network either at no charge with the top-level premium bundle or at a premium of about $8 per month at lower tiers.
KPN benefits from a licensing system in Europe where multiple users can access a single recorded file rather than requiring that the nPVR system exactly replicate the home recording model of one file for each user. The latter approach is the mode followed in the U.S. under terms the courts endorsed for Cablevision in its landmark battle over operators’ rights to offer the service.
But Edgeware’s point in doubling down on its commitment to the North American market is its platform can enable whatever versions of nPVR and other multiscreen services prove tenable. “We’ve made changes in our organization in the U.S. that gives much more weight to our presence,” says Potter, who has taken up residence here to help spearhead the effort. “People here are moving out of their legacy product lines. This is a big opportunity for us.”
What remains to be determined is how far-sighted and comprehensive CDN deployment strategies will be at this early stage of evolution to multiscreen service in the Americas. So far, much of the focus has been on use of COTS (commodity off-the-shelf) servers with highly sophisticated software to achieve certain basic capabilities.
For example, these systems can support edge transrating of centrally encoded video segments for access by multiple devices that use different adaptive rate streaming formats.They can orchestrate use of bandwidth and storage resources to minimize costs across multiple edge caching points. And, in some cases, they share edge caching resources for both legacy MPEG-2 and IP multiscreen content.
Edgeware, with all these capabilities intrinsic to its Distributed VDN architecture, has a different perspective on what it will take to operate in the emerging multiscreen environment over the long haul, starting with the assumption that the foundation must be built on a new breed of servers created specifically for the video distribution business. “We have now introduced our third generation server with capabilities that are beyond the reach of COTS-based systems,” Potter says.
That server, the Orbit 3020, offers advanced capabilities for both retail and wholesale video in managed and unmanaged environments across an operator´s network, irrespective of topology and core network bandwidth, he notes. With a small one-unit half-rack form factor offering up to 24 terabytes of low-power Flash storage, the device supports 20 gigabit-per-second sustained transmission performance with up to 32,000 concurrent unicast video streams. “Fully configured the Orbit 3020 consumes just 85 Watts of power,” Potter says.
“We’ve taken solid state to a new level by avoiding the need for extraneous components for SSD (solid-state disc),” he adds. “This is the ultimate solid state where you can build and add file systems to run simultaneously without having to go through defragmentation, garbage collection and other steps every time you add new functionalities.
“The Orbit 3020 can run all the individual software modules we have in whatever combinations a customer requires,” he continues. “For example, there’s a lot of talk about building managed multicast networks, which deliver great efficiency but are not great at supporting different devices. Operators who don’t want to run multicast end to end can implement multicast-to-unicast conversion at the edge on the D-VDN.”
Over the past year Edgeware has introduced many software refinements to allow operators flexibility to go in whatever directions they choose in their evolution beyond legacy VOD to multiscreen IP services. The result is an architecture consisting of three layers, starting with all the caching and other processes associated with video distribution.
Another layer involves processes supporting service assurance. This employs what Potter calls “active video awareness,” a mode of QoE assessment that aggregates fragmented information into “virtual session” segments that can be comprehended from a video perspective. And the third layer, known as Convoy VDN, has to do with abstracting software functionalities to give service providers flexibility to fine tune strategies to their market needs.
“In the past everything was self-contained in our platform,” Potter says. “With Convoy we’ve made it easier for customers to scale in accord with their specific service strategies.”
Convoy VDN allows an operator to engage all the functionalities required for a particular retail video service configuration while offering wholesale CDN services to third parties, he says. The multiple software modules embodied in the Convoy suite come with APIs that allow operators to integrate the VDN with third-party content management and business intelligence systems and to add new account functionalities to those systems such as are needed for time-shifted TV and nPVR services.
Anchoring this flexibility is a system of stateless request routers which take requests from all devices and direct them to specific assets within the operator’s ecosystem, whether they are assets directly controlled by the operator or those of third parties such as the operator’s wholesale customers. “We have the ability to implement whatever the operator wants, in the data center, in the cloud or at the regional level,” Potter says.
Where wholesale operations are concerned, Potter notes that European operators are now building CDNs within their own domains which the Akamais and Limelights of the world can participate in at a cost if they want to benefit from the higher performance levels offered through the managed network. With the capacity to support up to eight request servers in a given network segment across multiple servers, there’s room for considerable expansion along these lines, Potter says.
The Convoy architecture also gives Edgeware the capability to develop a cloud-hosted distribution solution for smaller operators. “We see an opportunity for offering a smaller level of service where we handle the request routing and provide the content gateway, and the operators would be accounts sharing those resources,” Potter says.
With so many options in play operators must be assured that no matter what service path they pursue on the D-VDN platform they will have a uniformly reliable means of monitoring and assuring QoE. “With active video awareness we’ve introduced a protocol that allows users’ devices to generate information back to an OSS for compilation into a useful view of what’s happening in the network,” Potter explains.
To make this happen the system turns the incessant flow of brief adaptive rate streaming segments into virtual video sessions of longer duration. “What we figured out is we could take all those data segments that are delivered as individual files in the adaptive rate systems and compile them as video assets to be read holistically for service assurance purposes,” Potter says.
Analytics can be applied to these virtual video sessions to aggregate and measure them many ways, depending on what operators and their wholesale customers want to keep track of. Such capabilities are essential to operators’ ability to monetize CDN services, Potter notes.
For example, parameters of interest could be average bit rate, degree of user engagement or instances where sub-par bitrates persist beyond an acceptable timeframe. Actual delivered quality over some subset of each session can be compiled into different types of reports such as “all sessions to a certain device type,” “all sessions for some specific content,” or “all sessions over a certain network segment.”
This process short-circuits what would otherwise be a time-consuming crunching of raw data from thousands of devices that might take hours to derive an accurate view of what’s going on. “If you’ve got people watching a live football game on connected TVs and the replay has become an amorphous brown blob, you need to know about it immediately,” Potter says.
Edgeware’s market penetration has been aided by the affiliation with Nokia Siemens Networks and another with Ericsson, both of which are bringing the D-VDN platform to bear in legacy IPTV environments. One recent win with Ericsson is Brazilian carrier GVT, which was purchased over two years ago by the French entertainment and telecoms group Vivendi. Now GVT is in the process of launching Pay TV services for the first time using a combination of DTH (direct to home) for linear and broadband over VDSL for on-demand and, eventually, multiscreen services.
“GVT is deploying the VDN at three levels, at the core, at regional centers and in smaller towns,” Potter says. “This is phase one. The next phase with multiscreen and CDN services starts in March.”