A new startup company is promising to make viewing video on the Web as satisfying as traditional TV, without the buffering, hiccups and burps that often accompany streamed content. It’s been proven that a better user experience translates into increased revenue.
Founded in 2008 and based in Santa Clara, CA, Nokeena Networks has introduced a software-based media delivery appliance called Media Flow Director that supports the delivery of up to 40,000 streams, at 10Gb/s per rack unit, of guaranteed uninterrupted throughput, from a standard 1RU server. The company is targeting content publishers, content aggregators and content distribution networks of all types.
A constant bit rate of SD material can be delivered at as low as 2Mb/s stream for the end user. And because it’s software based, the product offers content providers a very low cost per stream, according to Rajan Raghavan, co-founder and CEO, Nokeena.
While several other companies offer media delivery platforms, most require customer video players or other proprietary hardware that ads extra cost and complexity. Nokeena’s model is to provide massive streaming capability on standard x86 servers and storage arrays that are already installed in many content distribution networks. Deployment (in many cases within one hour) is easy, and there’s no disruption to other pieces of media ecosystem.
Content publishers and distributors such as Break Media have deployed the Nokeena Media Flow Director to support online video delivery of user-generated content to customers.
Anshu Agarwal, vice president of product marketing, said the key for customers is that in order to minimize initial investment and long-term operational costs, they need an open, format-agnostic architecture that plugs into their existing infrastructures while supporting multiple protocols, formats and screens (from TV to a cell phone). It’s a tall order, but one that serves as the basis behind the company’s “SmoothPlay” initiative.
“In this economy, nobody wants to buy hardware,” Agarwal said. “We have done everything on software, with all of the benefits of hardware systems, but we allow people to use their existing servers. This has not been available before. And we have the multiprotocol and multiformat solution that everyone can leverage. This means less chance for service interruption.”
The software also supports HTTP, RTSP and RTMP streaming protocols as well as the H.264, H.263, On2-VP6, and VC1 video codecs.
Media Flow Director software runs on any general-purpose x86 server. It’s also very flexible from a system wide view, utilizing patent-pending algorithms to reduce the need for multiple servers, by an order of 10:1. Agarwal said users get 10Gb/s capacity from a 1RU server, which also reduces power costs.
The toughest challenge for any streaming software is the unpredictability of the Internet. This causes a huge scalability problem because you never know how much bandwidth you really need until you need it. Nokeena’s Assured Flow ensures that every stream gets the proper amount of data throughput by employing multitier caching that is optimized for media delivery. Streaming media files is very different from data. You have to have a constant flow for video content whereas data throughput can fluctuate and still deliver the full packet in the end.
Smooth Flow features within Media Flow Director work with the Flash run-time player over HTTP and provide adaptive bit-rate streaming. As individual connectivity changes — due to network traffic and other issues — the technology automatically adapts to that and adjusts by transferring a lower bit rate, lower resolution version of the content.
“We don’t overcompensate like other systems do,” Agarwal said, “because this wastes bandwidth, which can get expensive. We keep on moving the object based on the hotness of the content. We have a scheduler, which is bit rate aware, so that’s how we can assure a smooth flow.
A flexible software-licensing model enables customers to order as much or as little capacity software as necessary. Nokeena preconfigures the software for the capacity needed by the customer. Customers then add more capacity using virtual software switches provided by Nokeena.
“A smooth viewing experience makes all the difference in the world,” she said. “We give content providers the capability to tailor different amounts of bandwidth for different users, so that a premium content subscriber always gets a premium experience. It’s that simple.”
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