The case for software containers for online video

The key to delivering video programming over the Internet as effectively as possible is operating a distribution network that can adapt to the fast-changing nature of viewer expectations and is agile. As service providers ...

Comcast aims to tighten up streaming video
Comcast aims to tighten up streaming video

The key to delivering video programming over the Internet as effectively as possible is operating a distribution network that can adapt to the fast-changing nature of viewer expectations and is agile. As service providers increasingly want to start distributing programming in higher resolutions like 8K or create personalized channels for each viewer, they require a delivery infrastructure that lets them add new functionality as they need it.

Media has learned from the IT world

To create this kind of workflow, the TV delivery industry has increasingly been adopting ways of working from IT. It now commonly replaces monolithic hardware with microservices and is increasingly shifting entire workflow operations into the cloud.

Using software for the execution of certain functions is key in creating a workflow like this. The practical side of rolling out software can be done using virtual machines (VMs) or software containers. The requirements of a VM’s emulation – i.e., a hypervisor layer that needs its own operating system – can, however, be somewhat limiting.

Containing software applications

The way software-contained functionality sits on top of a container manager and shares an underlying operating system is much better suited to TV service providers. Because everything they need for it to work is contained within a single packet, this kind of software works well for TV service providers looking for quick turn-around functionality deployment.

Containers can be easily deployed to expand the abilities of a delivery platform without having to put in place another VM for each new function or application. For TV service distributors, this means they can put in place a new ad insertion application or an enhancement to a VOD feature-set very quickly.

The incremental addition of elements minimizes disruption to existing workflows. This is key because TV programming is being delivered all the time. Containers allow for the rollout of new services while maintaining a consistency with the rest of the workflow.

TV service providers are able to do this with fewer resources and associated costs than if running on VMs. Adding software in an incremental way with containers makes it easy to implement and upgrade services as needed. This means TV service providers can continually improve their offerings instead of locking themselves into a distribution workflow that limits their service until they get to a position where they have to replace larger elements of the network.

Cloudy with a chance of software

Use of the cloud is delivering benefits to businesses all over the world, in multiple sectors. TV service providers are no different. The cloud-native aspect of containerized software packages is a huge benefit to TV service providers. It enables them to run more efficiently without the overheads associated with virtual machines.

This provides TV service distributors with higher performance workflows. And they can choose the cloud environments in which they run. This includes options from public cloud providers like Amazon Web Services and Google Cloud Platform, or on private cloud infrastructures running OpenStack.

Creating the next-generation of TV

Using containerized software gives TV service providers the unique ability to mix and match elements of their platforms. They can use centralized cloud services where it makes sense and deploy other functions such as streaming and caching, closer to the viewer.

The main benefit of this is that they’re able to tailor their workflows to provide the best services to audiences. Every TV service is different. For example, a public-service broadcaster won’t need the ability to insert personalized advertisements, while only a handful will require UHD capabilities. Each is delivering its own brand of specific TV services and functions to an ever-changing audience.

And it’s this kind of approach that’s driving the next generation of television – programming that goes beyond traditional broadcast and gives audiences more.

Whether it’s bolstering the workflow for the delivery of higher resolutions, inserting personalized ads or enhancing their VOD features, TV service providers using software containers can deploy exactly what they need, wherever they need to operate it. And that’s enabled by implementing the most flexible, agile and feature-rich distribution platform that takes advantage of containerized software functionality.

Karl Thedeen is the CEO of Edgeware.

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