Selecting a streaming partner

When selecting a streaming partner, no fly-by-night operation will do.

For the past few years I have been writing about streaming media and interactive technologies. I have tried to showcase some of the leading companies in the industry and give a realistic view of what makes them leaders. Looking back I have noticed that sometimes I have been right and sometimes wrong. Lately some of the showcased companies have gone belly up, while others have become industry stalwarts.

When selecting a streaming partner, no fly-by-night operation will do. There are many technicalities in delivering good online streaming media. In many cases the initial setup costs are not for the squeamish. So choosing wisely is very important. I have known many deals where the due diligence process required the submission of financial, operational and strategic documentation.

I have written extensively about I-Beam, Akamai and even Digital Island (which was recently bought by Cable and Wireless). Many times I have overlooked Globix as an also-ran. They entered into the industry late, after all the hoopla of the past two years. Their first real commitment to streaming media came last year with the founding of a dedicated group based out of Santa Clara, CA.

In recent months, Globix has come into its own, with major wins for online media streaming.

Organizations such as Radio Free Virgin, House of Blues, and ClearChannel Interactive Group, have chosen Globix on the basis of its strong network backbone and its highly scalable streaming content distribution network (CDN).

Globix has deployed its new EarthCache streaming technology, a next-generation content distribution system, throughout its global network. The technology works seamlessly with Globix's network to offer content providers scalable and reliable streaming media performance, with increased media server efficiency and better bandwidth management.

Like other streaming media suppliers, Globix is moving content to the edges of the network as part of the solution to some of the network congestion problems. Content is moved to peering points, where it stored for distributed “edge” delivery and directed efficiently to destination networks and to the end user.

As a result, frequently viewed content sits closer to the end user and is served by the infrastructure at the edge, not by the source media server at the network's core.

EarthCache's solution has allowed Globix to win some recent big contracts because Globix controls not only its distributed network, but also its own 20,000-mile worldwide Internet backbone network. By positioning streaming server deployments inside Globix SuperPOPs and the peering interchanges, and thereby minimizing router hops to the access network, Globix directly manages both content caching and intelligent routing directly to more than 500 destination networks. This control allows the support of true intelligence and fault tolerance.

Smaller content distribution networks have not been able to fulfill their promise of building out a substantial network with all of the necessary elements to control the delivery of content. It has turned out to be too costly to build this type of network infrastructure strictly for streaming. Globix has had the advantage of being, first and foremost, a well-established data delivery company and only recently devoting resources to streaming media.

Edge delivery of streaming media provides improved audio/video quality by reducing the packet loss and congestion buffering associated with traditional Internet streaming. In addition to improved performance, one of the key benefits is a significant increase in scalable network capacity.

Streaming media networks

Globix's network is a blend of three network components: the Globix Internet backbone, its extensive private and public peering relationships and its proprietary EarthCache streaming technology. The Globix network is the most important component of consistent stream delivery. Globix has built its own international network, designed to meet the reliability, availability and security requirements of businesses with mission-critical applications. It has instituted a policy to keep its capacity significantly underutilized to allow for traffic spikes such as those created during sudden surges in customer usage or during large live streaming media events while leaving plenty of bandwidth for customer IP traffic to reach its destination with minimum latency or packet loss. It will be interesting to see how this plays out once they start hitting capacity issues!

In addition, Globix is one of just a few service providers to use global “cold-potato” routing. This technique ensures that its customers' traffic will be carried on the Globix-controlled network to the greatest extent possible — and thus not suffer from the congestion or high latency of public networks.

The backbone, with guaranteed SLAs (service level agreements) including 99.99 percent uptime, is based on ATM and IP technology that rides over a protected synchronous optical network (SONET). A 6500-mile OC-48 ring connects the many SuperPOP Internet Data Centers and MiniPOPs in the United States. Connection to Europe is provided through two protected trans-Atlantic STM-1 connections. Each of the POPs is connected to the backbone by multiple fault-tolerant connections. Calculated mathematically, they claim a total network capacity that exceeds 32Gb/s.

Inherent in the OC-48 backbone is the latest routing technology to provide 100 percent network availability. The company re-routes traffic around any potential network segment experiencing a problem to another part of its network or to a peering partner's network.

Globix connects to numerous network access points, commercial Internet exchanges, and other Internet, application and network service providers. Multiple carriers provide diverse connections to diminish the negative impact of the loss of a single connection. It is the second largest peered network in the world and has peering agreements with more than 575 organizations that represent more than 1300 peering connections, including private peers.

Clients can benefit from these relationships, as latency and bandwidth are two of the most important factors in a consumer's streaming media experience. Through peering, it is effectively able to deliver streaming media from the origin point directly into many end users' access networks without ever using public Internet transit.

Steven M. Blumenfeld is currently the vice president of advanced services for America Online.