By Fred Dawson
March 26, 2013 – Pay TV service providers are rapidly running out of reasons to fear all-out embrace of IP streaming.
The latest blow to the fear-of-streaming syndrome comes from Akamai. Through a combination of initiatives implemented over the past year the CDN giant has positioned itself to be a linchpin in network operators’ efforts to streamline multiscreen service operations as the volume of streams, variety of device platforms and monetization opportunities multiply.
“Everybody is looking at how to make the online experience be like the TV experience,” says Kurt Michel, director of marketing for Akamai’s new Sola Media product line. “We need to get to that but push beyond it.”
Akamai’s latest step in this direction plays to the multiscreen monetization challenge, where, as IDC research manager Greg Ireland notes, the need to insert targeted ads on the fly in accord with the specific screen resolution and adaptive streaming format requirements of each user’s device argues for an edge-based solution. Such solutions offer “the ability to scale to meet broadcast-size audiences and using ad content from a variety of sources in a simple, device-agnostic way,” Ireland says.
Akamai’s new Ad Integration Services are part of a cluster of cloud-based online video services offered under the Sola Vision brand within the Sola Media Solutions portfolio. As explained by Michel, the new product dynamically inserts targeted ads from multiple ad decision and ad network platforms into linear and on-demand video streams for delivery to any Internet-connected device via Akamai’s Sola Sphere global CDN.
“The ad insertion solution we just launched is a significant large step toward implementing the TV Everywhere strategy and taking it to the next level,” Michel says. “This is something you can’t do from a central location, and it’s a far superior approach compared to relying on client players to perform the ad insertions. With client solutions you have to deliver ad content separately with the primary content, which creates bandwidth and performance issues.”
With the ability to leverage over 100,000 CDN servers for such applications worldwide, Akamai believes it is well positioned to help content suppliers and distributors to execute on the TV Everywhere mandate. Along with dynamic edge-based ad insertion, the Sola Vision cloud solutions are designed to simplify workflow management, perform adaptive streaming fragmentation, support subscriber authentication, alleviate encryption and DRM burdens and supply a comprehensive set of diagnostics on per-session performance across multiple parameters.
“What we’ve traditionally done in this space is primarily content delivery with caching at the edge and acceleration of delivery of large files through progressive download or streaming,” Michel says. “But we weren’t part of the story before delivery, where the customer would prepare content for streaming and do all the things they need to do with content before putting it in origin servers.”
Storage is a big part of the cloud solution Akamai offers, allowing transcoding, DRM wrapping and other functions to be performed for on-demand content that’s delivered from the firm’s datacenters. Other aspects of Sola Vision operate in on-the-fly mode at the edge.
As the Sola Vision solutions came together Akamai was also making adjustments to enter the private CDN space for network operators under the new Aura brand. These steps included acquisition of operator CDN supplier Verivue, which was completed in December.
“In the last six months, Orange in France and AT&T have decided to use us as their CDNs in their networks,” Michel says. “It’s all about managed and licensed CDN technology where customers can implement their own servers and connect into our network or contract with us for managed service, in which case we can install equipment in their POPs.”
In the case of AT&T, under terms of the agreement announced in December Akamai will deploy CDN servers at the edge of AT&T’s IP network and in AT&T facilities throughout the United States. AT&T will transfer its existing CDN operations, customers and service to the Akamai platform in 2013, with plans to implement the new CDN platform on its IP network worldwide by year’s end.
“By embedding Akamai’s technology within AT&T’s IP network, our customers now have access to a suite of solutions that more than meet their need for content delivery and support,” says AT&T business solutions CEO Andy Geisse. “In an environment where companies and consumers alike are accessing video content and other applications online and from a multitude of devices, I can’t think of a better way to address the explosive growth in content that is sweeping across industries like media and retail.”
Bringing Verivue’s technology into the Akamai Aura solution has added significant bandwidth efficiencies for operators going the private CDN route. As explained by Santosh Krishnan, formerly vice president of product strategy at Verivue and now a senior director of product management at Akamai, what was known as the Verivue OneVantage Content Delivery Solution exploits all the performance advantages of operating in unicast mode yet matches the bandwidth efficiencies that come with use of IP multicasting.
Now deployed by major service providers in North America and Europe, the platform provides operators a cost-effective way to implement a CDN functionalities for video distribution, including caching, request routing, streaming and management analytics, via virtual machine software running on commodity servers with streaming capacity set at 10 gigabits-per-second per server. “This is a highly scalable system that self organizes servers into clusters with the addition of more capacity, allowing operators to easily accommodate more traffic without having to manage new configurations,” Krishnan says.
Along with a fast-acting selection of caches in a tiered caching hierarchy, the platform supports a bandwidth conserving approach to unicasting, he explains. Once segments for a given class of devices of a given program are unicasting to a cache and as long as the stream continues all subsequent requests to that cache from that class of clients for that program will be served with unicast streams from the cache.
In this fashion the hierarchical use of unicasting from packager to origin server to caches to end users conserves bandwidth to maximum advantage with rigorous quality performance end to end, Krishman says. “Quality assurance is maintained throughout by the application of management analytics to report on all streams as they enter and leave the caches,” he says.