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id3as: Streaming Tech Designed for When Things Go Wrong

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id3as directors Steve Strong and Adrian Roe have been in business together for 30 years. Roe began his career in retail and moved into fintech. He admits that they knew nothing about the media space until a decade ago when they joined forces with video tech specialist (and Streaming Media contributing editor) Dom Robinson.

"What became obvious when we looked at media clients embarking on streaming live events was that when things went wrong there was very little you could do about it," Roe says. "You were lucky if you had a log entry for a fall over.

"Since we came from dev background, we thought that we could make that pain go away and id3as came into being as a result."

The UK-based outfit set itself the task of delivering streaming solutions which are more reliable than any one link in the chain. The aim was to drive out costs associated with downtime, overcapacity, and undercapacity.  

When Roe helped build online banks for companies like Northern Rock he did something similar by using back-to-back service level agreements (SLAs). "That isn't a viable way of doing it now," he says. "The approach needs to be that you construct a system so that if any single element of your system goes wrong nobody notices.

"There have been attempts to do this with generic containers and Kubernetes, but they're not really solutions on their own. Our technology can self-orchestrate or coexist within Kubernetes and Docker environments, and runs on nearly any chipset, OS, and platform. We use Erlang, a programming language developed 25 years ago to deliver Carrier Class telecommunications."

True high availability, he continues, is about accepting things will go wrong and making sure that when they do, it doesn't impact customers downstream.

"We're not interested in how well a solution is doing in lab conditions. We're much more interested when the s--- hits the fan."

The company developed a virtualised video pipeline that can be tailored and installed to deliver premium streaming models for broadcasters and operators

Advanced Video Pipeline (AVP) is a modular architecture that spans ingest through transcoding and enrichment to packaging and CDN. All functionality and data capture is exposed through published OpenAPIs. As such, AVP can be integrated into existing control and monitoring systems.

"We are not seeking to be the next Wowza or Unified or ATEME," Roe says. "We understand our niche and want to partner with a comparatively small number of high value enterprise customers."

For Intrado (formerly Nasdaq, formerly Thomson Reuters), id3as enables 75,000 live events a year. These are mostly financial fair disclosure events and a "perfect example of how we can help scale business and manage cost by looking carefully at where in practice things can go wrong."

In this case, Nasdaq was finding that phone calls were dropping out regularly during teleconference events. Roe says introducing AVP immediately took the impairment rate down by an order of magnitude and today, impairment levels are pretty much negligible. That even includes "nobody noticing" (in particular no Nasdaq customers!) when Amazon U.S. East was down for several days, despite 168 live events being delivered from there when it went down.

For DAZN, id3as provide both mezzanine encode and ABR ladder creation for a number of services, as well as a suite of rich audio manipulation capabilities. One of these is a remote commentary solution for DAZN's live event production which began half a dozen years ago and was one of id3as' forays into WebRTC.

"While we manage the super high-quality encode of the livestream, we could also do a decent quality low latency feed pushed to a commentator based anywhere else on the internet. This decreased the costs for DAZN of having to send multiple commentators to the event and increased the number of languages they could produce in."

Another example of id3as' "real-world practical dirty stuff," rather than clinical lab tested performance, it its work to deliver Arqiva's Hybrid TV capability. "They had purchased a company that kick-started their capability in the area, with technology based on off-the-shelf components," Roe says. "The problem they faced was that many of the TV manufacturers had paid at best scant regard to international standards—the solution only worked on 16% of target devices.

"Six weeks into an engagement with us, we had a solution running on 96% of target devices. Lots of devices didn't follow the standards, so we provided compatible (but not standard) streams for them."

It has also worked with Limelight to replace its real-time streaming platform with one based on WebRTC. Limelight Realtime Streaming delivers reliable, broadcast-quality, real-time video streaming using the UDP data transfer protocol and is integrated with Limelight's global CDN. Although the focus of the project was on improving reliability and being "good on a bad day," it also managed a full order of magnitude increase on the amount of traffic LLNW’s existing hardware could deliver.

id3as, which still has only 8 full time employees, is intent on enabling CDNs like Limelight to hit their SLAs.

"You can kind of ignore the 99% and below SLA," says Strong. "Frankly, you've got so much time to respond to stuff that you can just have a single box set in your cupboard doing the job. At 99.9%, your time is more limited. If you're very organized, you can probably still get away with a fairly simplistic approach to delivering that sort of number.

"Once you get up to four nines, it starts getting out of the realms of human control. You've got to have multiple systems live the whole time. You might get away with something like an n+1 model where you've got a bunch of live systems and a couple of hot spares that are sat there running. But you're certainly in a world where you're going to have to have some form of distributed system."

With SLAs of 99.999 or more, "the reality is you've got 0.86 of a second to respond," he says. "And that's not just to respond; that's to detect, fix, and have the service back up and running. That's very little time to do anything, particularly on wide area networks.Our focus has always been on tackling those sorts of challenges and our tool set has been built with precisely those requirements in mind. That level of availability can’t happen as an afterthought."

[Editor's note: Streaming Media contributing editor Dom Robinson is one of the principals in id3as. He was not involved in any way with the writing of this article, and he does not write about the company or its competitors for Streaming Media.]

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