Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Perspective: Addressing Net Neutrality, Bit by Bit

In a phone interview today for a news article, the topic of balancing network neutrality and deep packet inspection (DPI) was broached by Prabakar Sundarrajan, CTO and co-founder of Ankeena Networks (formerly Nokeena Networks).

In announcing a partnership with Juniper Networks for Ankeena's video traffic shaping product, Media Flow Director, the company acknowledges that a partnership with a "big iron" company puts the Ankeena solution at the heart of the network neutrality debate.

In a nutshell, network neutrality, as defined by the FCC's recent policy making decision, seeks to limit what service providers would charge content owners and content viewers for delivering "non-traditional" content such as video and audio.

The intent of network neutrality, then, is to keep the network delivery charges neutral - or blind - to the type of content being delivered. In order for network providers to effectively optimize content that is time-sensitive, however, an optimization with is critical to all video and audio content tbeing delivered in real-time as a stream, it some level of packet inspection and packet shaping is required.

Otherwise, all delivery will still be the mediocre "best effort" that is currently synonymous with jerky, underpowered streaming media.

"Our solutions stay well away from the 'clear bright line' of both network neutrality and user privacy boundaries," said Sundarrajan, "while also addressing the needs of service providers."

How Ankeena can accomplish this, according to Sundarrajan, is via a three-fold approach.

"One way is to offer 'opt in' solutions for ISPs to, in turn, offer to their content owners who want to guarantee they reach customers on a particular ISP," said Sundarrajan. "This solution approach offers a uniform priority transport of packets, while a secondary value-added service - such as our AssureRate service - can also be used by content viewers or content owners."

"A third way," said Sundarrajan, "is for service provider to provide content delivery network (CDN) solutions from their own networks, where they charge the content provider to distribute content on the ISP's network."

This approach, where ISPs become CDNs, has been addressed by JetStream with its VDOx CDN-in-a-box solution for ISPs, but Ankeena's Media Flow Director solution also can work for wireless providers who need to deal with limited spectrum.

"As wireless service providers face limited spectrum and growing demands for video content," said Sundarrajan, "they will look for solutions that provide a way to bandwidth constraints."

Harking back to the example of the Terrayon Cherry Pruner, which was used by cable operators to dynamically limit the quality of particular video channels, Sundarrajan says a similar solution would be beneficial to the wireless service providers.

"Why Terrayon used its technology to allow a single channel's video quality to be lowered, as a way to charge a premium for quality," said Sundarrajan, "I like to think our solution will be more egalitarian, dynamically limiting the bandwidth for every user at key events, such as breaking news, rather than blocking mobile customers from seeing the video or attaching to the mobile network tower at all."

 The company has large trials ongoing with 12 potential customers, including telcos, cable MSOs and wireless providers. Ankeena also parters with Citrix on the NetScaler VPX load balancer, and NetApp.

The company says it will be announcing additional features and product enhancements around the time of Streaming Media West, which will be held in San Jose from November 17-19, 2009.

Additional information about Ankeena can be heard as part of a Streaming Media podcast from June 15, 2009.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Perspective: ASTC Mobile DTV standard = CDN disruptor?

[Update: To read a bit more perspective on this, here's an article I wrote for a few minutes ago]

Returning to the US from StreamingMedia Europe, where I moderated the show's final panel with CDNs discussing HD and scalability, I'm spending the day catching up on news. The most important news I've read today may have a bit of an impact on the Content Delivery Network (CDN) space:

The Advanced Television Systems Committee (ATSC) announced the final tally in member voting for the A/153 Mobile Digital Television (DTV) standard has passed with "overwhelming support" on its first vote.

"This milestone ushers in the new era of digital television broadcasting," said Paul Karpowicz, NAB Television Board Chairman and President of Meredith Broadcast Group, as part of the ATSC press release. "This gives local TV stations and networks new opportunities to reach viewers on the go. This will introduce the power of local broadcasting to a new generation of viewers and provide all-important emergency alert, local news and other programming to consumers across the nation."

The other programming mentioned in the above quote, in my opinion, may lead to a bit of left-field competition between the broadcasters and the CDNs, especially in dense-population markets beyond the US broadcast market.

Over the last two decades, living between the worlds of broadcasting, motion picture, the telcos and streaming, I've learned to track these standards decisions to gauge the true sense of where one industry may overlap another.

Here's one tell about the potential disruptor that this standard allows: it's using the same H.264 and AAC compressions across an IP network, something the Chairman of the ATSC alludes to in his comments.

"The ATSC Mobile DTV standard is flexible and robust, enabling a range of services business models that create new opportunities for broadcasters, device makers and consumers," said ATSC Chairman Glenn Reitmeier. "It is particularly noteworthy that ATSC Mobile utilizes Internet Protocol (IP), which will enable broadcast services to be easily integrated with wireless broadband consumer devices and applications, further reinforcing the significant role of terrestrial television broadcasting in the media landscape for decades to come."

In other words, ATSC gets to put a multicast receiver on a chip and deliver via IP, with enough bandwidth overhead to also do on-demand and progressive download, at least according to the standard draft announced on September 10, 2009, the same date as the IBC international broadcasting show.

 This standard may make for some strange alliances between CDNs, wireless providers and others, since this "over-the-air-broadcast" standard can be used to deliver not just live content to massive audiences in the home, in the form of other non-TV devices, but  also to deliver on-demand or progressive download content to mobile and handheld devices that may not then need a service agreement with the wireless service provider.

In other words, expect a mixing up of A/153 and DVB and CDN and three-letter broadcasters, the latter of whom had been written off for dead but not have a very decent overlay network to fill in (or supersede) the gaps in wireless coverage.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Workflow: Avatar, New Cameron Movie

Jon Landau shows off Avatar's Adobe Heritage

Jon Landau, producer from Lightstorm Entertainment, arrived today at the Adobe MAX conference in Los Angeles, to talk about the December 18, 2009, release of the 3D movie Avatar.

"We look at 3D as a window in to a world, not a way to make things pop off the screen," said Landau, adding the movie is not about Earth, even though it starts there before movie to the (pun-intended) planet Pandora. "We've wanted to do Avatar from way back at the time we did Titanic but the technology wasn't ready to be the enabler."

Landau said the avatars of the movie are dormant hybrid bodies that contain parts of both human and Pandoran bio-mass, sitting in stasis until a medical procedure moves consciousness in to the avatar from a human. The key hero (or anti-hero, depending on your political view of corporations and mechanized armies) is a wounded Army veteran whose twin brother is set to go to to Pandora to be linked with an avatar, before meeting an untimely death.

While the concept is far-fetched, the never-before-seen clips shown at Adobe MAX bring both the movie concept - and the tools used - in to a whole new light.

Landau talked about how Photoshop, Premiere and After Effects were key to various steps in the workflow.

"This is really about pulling Adobe's tools in to our workflow," said Landau. "There are certain software tools that let you do your job, there are other tools that allow you to do your job better."

Landau provided several examples, including one about the use of After Effects for compositing on the set and off the set.

"We used After Effects, with real-time composting, immediately on the set to show Jim," Landau said, referring to James Cameron, who directed both Titanic and the new Avatar. "WETA would interpret a wide-angle video shot of the actor's faces on frame-by-frame basis, to create Kabuki masks that pasted a 'mask' of the video image on to the CG character."