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Looking For an Edge in the Streaming Wars? Look to Data Storage

Western Digital
(Image credit: Western Digital)

Consumers now have countless streaming services to choose from and it seems like they just keep coming. For streaming companies, the landscape is more competitive than ever and as consumers begin to spend more time away from home with more alternatives to streaming, every little detail matters when it comes to attracting – and retaining—subscribers. That’s why no stone can go unturned when finding an advantage in the market. 

Streaming services look to grow their subscriber base, serve more viewers and manage a growing content portfolio, particularly content of higher frame rates and quality (like 4K or 8K streams, for example). These organizations need to look more granularly into their technology infrastructure, especially data storage, and how it can help the CDN ecosystem stream more efficiently and cost-effectively at the edge.

The Role of Storage in Streaming
To understand how the industry can properly invest in data storage, one must first recognize the full potential it brings. Data storage is playing a more critical role in the streaming industry as the sector becomes ever more data-intensive. 

Data storage is especially important when it comes to processing growing troves of data as close to the edge as possible and as quickly as possible, with low latency, and at the lowest operating costs for the content delivery process. Cost savings for providers could also mean lower costs for subscribers, which increases their incentives for choosing one service over another. As streaming services continue to serve more and more viewers and subscribers with a plethora of devices, the need to bring content delivery networks closer to the people using them becomes more complex, but also increasingly necessary. 

Different approaches for content delivery require different amounts and types of storage and compute. For example, providers can save on storage capacity by transcoding video on the fly or by creating different data sets for the appropriate end user device, depending on their connection speed and what type of device they are using. This alternative to streaming directly requires high-performance, low-latency storage as well as high-performance CPUs and acceleration capabilities. 

Considerations for the Industry
As the industry looks to stay ahead of these demands, it must explore new and innovative approaches to data storage. One idea is that of Composable Disaggregated Infrastructure (CDI). The goal of CDI is to leave the days of a pre-integrated silo of compute, networking and storage, and emerge with something that is more flexible, more responsive, more scalable and significantly easier to automate. 

The ‘D’ in CDI is particularly relevant to the streaming industry. Disaggregation occurs at the hardware level. By creating pools of network, storage and compute technology resources, these resources, through software, can be easily and even automatically provisioned (and deprovisioned) to applications, as needed. 

This allows for more control over the real-time allocation of resources so each application receives optimized levels of processing, storage and networking—scaled independently of one another.

For the streaming ecosystem and CDNs specifically, this mix-and-match approach can deliver high performance and low latency, two factors that are critical for all content streaming applications. From a cost perspective, if done in the right way, it also means a lower cost for each gigabyte per second, and ultimately a lower cost per subscriber and viewer. Those cost efficiencies can easily translate into investing more in new and exciting content, or perhaps lower subscription rates for consumers.

The best part of this approach? It scales. Think of CDI as efficient building blocks—like everyone’s favorite colorful, plastic building toys—supporting the demands of today and the future. As streaming services deliver content to more viewers and subscribers, just add more blocks. 

Sometimes those blocks will be for processing, sometimes for storage or networking. With the option to disaggregate and then compose block-by-block as needed, streaming companies can ensure that they’re not over-provisioning on any one thing, which is more efficient for processes and for cost.

In an industry where there is an increasing number of players, devices and types of content, having standardization from an infrastructure perspective is essential. The ecosystem must work together through open, industry-wide collaboration and alliances to ensure that best practices and the right specifications are kept in mind. Doing so will create the strongest and most efficient content delivery infrastructure, based on open standards and resources to create the best ROI and viewer experience possible. 

Looking Ahead
So where does the media and entertainment industry go from here? With the right data storage infrastructure in place, the sky’s the limit. In a world of 4K, 8K and even more immersive experiences across the sector, like gaming the industry benefits by investing in the most advanced and cutting-edge data storage technologies and approaches available. 

The streaming industry runs on data, and having the best possible building blocks and data efficiency will become increasingly valuable, no matter where the sector goes next.

Scott Hamilton
Scott Hamilton

Scott Hamilton is Senior Director, Product Management at Western Digital