Save your FREE seat for Streaming Media Connect this August. Register Now!

Why You Should Embrace Sustainability (But Not For The Reason You May Think)

Article Featured Image

There’s no doubt that humanity has an obligation in our stewardship of this planet. Even beyond just making sure we have a place to live in 50 years, it should be a moral imperative. But let’s ignore that for just a moment. Let’s ignore the scare tactics, the fear mongering, and the many ways that we fail to understand the difference between causation and correlation when looking at both immediate and historical climate data.

To really make an impact, we have to put sustainability within a context we can understand. It’s hard, whether as individuals or businesses, sometimes to grasp the very huge concept of climate change and then commit to “sustainability efforts” as a way to have an impact. But when there is context, sustainability efforts can be achieved without actually trying to focus on them in particular. Within the streaming industry, that context is power.

Power threads through the entire streaming workflow. From encoders to devices, from content development to transmission, power links everything together. But power is not, in and of itself, a measurement. The amount of power needed to produce, deliver, and render a single frame of video is a result of efficiency. When elements within the streaming workflow are not efficient, they tend to use more power. For example, a screen turned up too brightly requires more power (and to be recharged more often). An AI application being used too dynamically render captions for streaming content that is not programmed efficiently could use extra cores, require a larger cloud instance, or peg a CPU for longer, all of which require more power. And those power requirements can have a cascading effect. Poorly performing software can require more boxes which require more rack space which require more power. And, as Dom Robinson has pointed out in his work within GreeningofStreaming, the cloud services that many streaming workflows rely on have unused capacity that is just on and waiting. That takes power too.

For streaming operators, then, embracing sustainability is about embracing efficiency. And efficiency has a demonstrable impact on the bottom line. Better software efficiency means less cores needed, for example, which can equate to less expensive cloud instances. Better management efficiency can mean improved business logic for managing the elasticity of the workflow, which can result in instances being up for less time resulting in lower overall costs.

But there is also efficiency within the software itself. When applied, context-aware encoding for example can reduce the amount of CPU required to produce a specific frame of video. Employing business logic for delivery can have an impact too. High-bitrate content, like 1080p60 video, when streamed to small screens (which can render the content but the human eye can’t discern the depth) is wasteful. It keeps sessions open longer which requires more sustained compute and can even require additional caches as the output can fill up NIC capacity sooner. More caches equals more instances or more boxes equals more power.

For streaming operators, efficiency can reduce the amount of infrastructure needed to deliver a high-quality video experience. For example, consider how Varnish, a very popular reverse proxy cache in many streaming delivery architectures, has optimized performance on specific Intel Xeon chips resulting in up to a 90% reduction of power. Consequently, this reduced cost is reflected in margins which has a demonstrable impact on share price. And there are even other correlations. Better efficiency can improve scalability and resilience by requiring less elasticity to support increased demand or failover.

To embrace sustainability, then, the streaming industry should focus on efficiency, which is something that can be addressed at each stage of development and implementation. Waiting until you’re ready for deployment and asking the question, “How can we ensure this is efficient?” is too late. Software engineers, developers, devops, operations, product managers, and everyone in between has to ask that question at each stage.

The end result? A more efficient workflow requiring less power and, ultimately, generating more revenue. Win-win.

Streaming Covers
for qualified subscribers
Subscribe Now Current Issue Past Issues
Related Articles

The State of Streaming Sustainability 2024

How do others see us, and how do we measure our progress? New data on streaming power consumption will al­low the industry to target further reductions in power consumption while working toward longer-term solu­tions that reuse old technologies alongside current best practices as a way to extend the life of streaming tech for years to come.

Practical Approaches to Sustainable Streaming

In this article I'll expand on prior sustainability approaches, detail reasons to consider additional areas of power-consumption optimization, and invite diverse stakeholders across streaming workflows to engage with Streaming Media magazine, GoS, and like-minded stakeholders in a mid- to late-2023 initiative around the LESS Accord, with an overall goal of readers recommending measurable best practices for consideration by September 2023.

The Greening of Streaming

The time has long since passed to turn our attention to making the streaming delivery ecosystem more environmentally friendly. Here are some of the key challenges, as well as some suggested first steps towards solutions.

Companies and Suppliers Mentioned