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.

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