The COVID Video Communications Bug: An Enterprise Vaccine Guide
Prior to the pandemic, preparing corporate networks for video traffic may not have been the highest priority, despite a steady increase in enterprise video consumption for at least the previous 10 years. Marketing departments were increasingly using video for webinars and product launches, human resources for e-learning and training, sales for partner and customer communications, and executives for employee communications. Best efforts were often good enough, as quality expectations weren't high, and employees were willing to put up with training video buffering and having to gather in central conference rooms or auditoriums for CEO/C-suite town halls.
In the post-pandemic world, expectations for a quality video experience will dramatically increase due to:
- The explosive adoption of Unified Communications platforms—for example, utilization of Microsoft Teams at the beginning of the pandemic was 32 million daily active users, and it was stated on July 27, 2021, it's now up to 250 million! UC Platforms such as Microsoft Teams and Slack make video communications easy and convenient.
- It's not just UC applications that are driving the adoption of video, Zoom and social platforms have dramatically increased the public's comfort with broadcasting themselves and joining meetings with their video camera on.
Behavior builds habits and during the pandemic, remote work moved to online platforms and video communications. Streaming Media recently published its "State of Enterprise Video Trends 2021," and one of the key findings was the revelation that not only were people embracing online meetings during the pandemic but there is an "anticipation that these meetings—as well as hybrid internal meetings—will continue … and there's an expectation that the number of these hybrid meetings will actually increase." This begs the question: Is your enterprise's network ready to handle the increase in video communication that is bound to happen when your employees return to work?
Now is the time for your workplace to embrace video communications, just like your employees have, before they return to work. We hope this article will help.
Defining the Enterprise Video Distribution Challenge
The goal for every organization shifting to an inclusive, video-based culture should be to deliver a high-quality viewing experience to all employees, regardless of locality, bandwidth, or device. Delivering on these quality expectations over the public Internet isn't difficult because corporations can make use of third-party delivery services such as CDNs. CDNs effectively cache video streams in locations close to where the viewers are so that large video files aren't all being pulled from one central source.
Unfortunately, a CDN can't reach into your enterprise network and cache content behind your firewall. If you were to use an internet CDN, every viewer on your network would still be trying to pull a unicast stream through your network access points likely leading to congestion, impacting the performance of your network, and other critical applications, and delivering a poor viewing experience.
Video files are large! For many streaming video applications, the generally acceptable quality is 720P (resolution: 1280 x 720) at a frame rate of 30 per second. Streaming with this configuration will require between 1,500 to 4,000Kbps. If you want higher-quality HD video 1080p, you can double the required bandwidth.
Most modern video applications use HTTPS unicast adaptive bitrate streaming (ABR), which will dynamically select the best video playing quality based on the available bandwidth and how the video player is sized. With Microsoft Teams, for example, if a 1080p video is uploaded, it will create six video quality profiles down to 180p. Depending on the connectivity of the viewer, the player will select the best quality possible and adapt based on constant monitoring of the quality of experience (QoE) of the individual viewer.
In most corporate networks, the bandwidth bottlenecks are the WAN and the network access points—the LAN routers and switches. Bandwidth between office locations is expensive, whereas LAN connectivity is usually abundant. Unicast streaming video, where a single stream is sent to each viewer, can wreak havoc on your WAN and network access points, resulting in a poor video viewing experience.
Enterprise Video Distribution Considerations
To deliver a quality video viewing experience to your employees, the first step is to know your current network architecture. To do this you'll have to get define your existing network and gather data on the following:
- The number of locations
- The number of knowledge workers/viewers in each location
- Available bandwidth between each location
- Connection and device types
- Networking infrastructure in place and their capacity (routers and switches)
- Determine if the network infrastructure is multicast-enabled
It's also critical you gather information on the videocentric applications that are driving the consumption of video—usually unified communication, video conferencing, and webcasting platforms. Gathering the requirements of these platforms is critical to see if your enterprise Content Delivery Network (eCDN) is complementary:
- What are the capabilities of your encoders
- Which browsers are supported and which are being used to view video
- Which platforms are making use of video and with which eCDNs can they integrate
- Which video platforms are being utilized to create, publish, and manage video assets
Once this data is collected, it's worthwhile to gather some historical QoE data from past or upcoming video events, like the follwoing:
- The peak number of simultaneous views—live and on-demand
- Average bit rate delivered
- Amount of buffering/failed streams
- Network impact of streaming – live and on-demand
- Employee support calls during streaming events
This data will help you establish benchmarks that you need to show why an investment in improved video distribution efficiency is needed and, critically, so that you can point to concrete efficiencies once the investment is made.
Now that you have this data, you can use it to perform capacity planning for your enterprise—the process of determining the network resources required to prevent a performance or availability impact on business-critical applications.
One solution may be to connect each of your locations domestically and internationally with dedicated fiber. To most enterprises, this is prohibitively expensive and generally wasteful, as video viewership tends to spike, so you are paying for capacity that you may only use intermittently.
Fortunately, there are more efficient and cost-effective options. These solutions have one thing in common, they are all designed to send one stream to each LAN access point or router and then have that stream sent, or shared with, the requesting viewers over the LAN where bandwidth is plentiful and cheap. We'll now take a detailed look at each of the three eCDN technologies:
- Caching, and
- Peer-to-Peer (P2P)
Before we review each of the eCDN solutions, a few words about live versus on-demand video (VOD). Live video usually presents the biggest challenge. CEO town halls are high-profile events and draw a large percentage of employees. Complaints of poor quality directed to the office of the CEO create headaches for network administrators. The solutions presented can dramatically improve the availability and quality of live streams. VOD isn't usually as big a headache, but it can present challenges; for example, when that new mandatory training video is made available and everyone hits it at the same time.
Multicasting is a one-to-many protocol for reducing network traffic by simultaneously delivering a single stream of content to hundreds or thousands of users. It has long proven to be an extremely efficient method of reaching large numbers of viewers with a great quality of QoE while minimizing the impact of bandwidth-intensive media on the corporate network.
Enterprise multicast solutions have traditionally hailed from industry giants such as Adobe, Microsoft, and Cisco, but many of these solutions are now end-of-life due to the popularity of browser-based HTML5 video, which traditional multicast does not support. Today the landscape of multicast choices is limited, but there are solutions that are highly effective, support in-browser play with HTML5 video, and aren't tied to any proprietary video platform or player.
How Does Multicast Work?
A multicast eCDN only sends traffic to subnets with active receivers (clients requesting the content). Therefore, the traffic does not traverse all network segments, but only the segments needed to ensure all group members receive the traffic. In addition, multicast sends only one copy of the data on each network segment, and every multicast-enabled router and switch sends the traffic only to segments that have active multicast group members. Even if multiple receivers are on a segment, only one copy of the data is sent.
The simple purpose of HTML5 Multicast is to make video playable in a browser over multicast. This process requires two software components to orchestrate the distribution of video in place of the typical unicast HTTP transport layer. A sender sits on the network to retrieve a live HLS or DASH video stream, the most common HTML5 video codecs, from a video source, encapsulates it in a multicast transport mechanism, and then sends it out over the multicast-enabled network. Viewing devices on the network, such as a PC, each host a receiver client capable of tapping into the multicast broadcast stream. When the video stream is received, it is unencapsulated and made available locally to the browser, the same way the browser would receive content from any web server. Because the Multicast server sends out only one stream regardless of the number of clients receiving it, a multicast stream requires the same amount of bandwidth as a single unicast stream containing the same content.
For a network to be able to utilize multicast, all routers must be multicast-enabled. A deployment for an enterprise that has a fully multicast-enabled network is depicted below.
For networks that aren't multicast-enabled, or fully multicast enabled, more resources or Multicast Senders, may need to be deployed in each location.
- Extremely efficient at delivering highly scalable live video. Best for enterprises with well-populated remote offices that have IT staff and resources
- Once installed, it is the most robust, efficient, and reliable solution for live video
- No cloud access is required. Multicast can operate without having to make calls to outside resources, enhancing security
- Enhances the viewing of live video on Wi-Fi networks
- No support for VOD
- May need remote IT staff and infrastructure for installation and maintenance
- Currently, most multicast solutions require client software to be installed on end devices—there are no plugins for mobile devices
- Video start times may be slower than P2P and video caching because it's based on a push architecture
- Rewinding or jumping back in a live video is not possible
Caching can be a highly effective means of distributing video within the enterprise. Caching software is installed on (virtual or physical) servers in strategic locations around the network, such as the edge of the enterprise WAN close to viewers in regional and branch offices. When the first viewer requests a video, the cache retrieves it from the video source and stores a local copy. When other viewers in the same location request the same video, they receive it directly from the local cache—not the source. As a result, fewer video streams are traveling across the corporate internet connection and WAN links, reserving bandwidth for mission-critical applications.
Typically, software-based caches with appropriate memory, storage, and network connectivity can support 500 to 1,000 users, which directly correlates to WAN efficiencies. So, a location with 500 or fewer users will generate 4Mbps of WAN traffic when all users are accessing the same 4Mbps video, netting a 99.8% WAN efficiency.
Teltoo's real-time analytics and WebRTC-enabled P2P gives Haivision an end-to-end low latency ecosystem
Roogle Marketing's Stephen Condon, BC Live's Dan Houze, Pixel Corps' Alex Lindsay, and LinkedIn's Dan Swiney debate the current P2P enterprise streaming landscape in this clip from Live Streaming Summit at Streaming Media West 2019.
Streaming Media contributing editor Tim Siglin interviews id3as Founder and fellow Streaming Media Advanced Forum co-host Dom Robinson at Streaming Media West 2019.
For global companies, deploying live video events to multiple remote offices can quickly become a challenge. Ramp's console aims for simplicity.