If there’s one thing about which there is never an argument it’s this: streaming video consumers never want to be reminded that they’re on the Internet. They want their content to start quickly, play smoothly and uninterrupted, and be visually indistinguishable from traditional TV and movies. Meanwhile, the majority of consumers in the USA (and likely a similar proportion worldwide) prefer to consume their video on mobile devices. And as if that wasn’t challenging enough, there are now suggestions that live video consumption will grow – according to Variety by as much as 39 times! That seems crazy until you consider that Cisco predicted video would represent 82% of all consumer Internet traffic by 2020.
It’s no surprise that congestion can result in diminished viewing quality, leading over 50% of all consumers to, at some point, experience buffer rage from the frustration of not being able to play their show.
Here’s what’s crazy: there’s tons of bandwidth out there – but it’s stunningly hard to control.
The Internet is a best-efforts environment, over which even the most effective Ops teams can wield only so much control, because so much of it is either resident with another team, or is simply somewhere in the amorphous ‘cloud’. While many savvy teams have sought to solve the problem by working with a Content Delivery Network (CDN), the sheer growth in traffic has meant that some CDNs are now dealing with as much traffic as the whole Internet transferred just a few years ago…and are themselves now subject to their own congestion and outage challenges. For this reason, plenty of organizations now contract with multiple CDNs, as well as placing their own virtual caching servers in public clouds, and even deploying their own bare-metal CDNs in data centers where their audiences are centered.
With all these great options for delivering content, Ops teams must make real-time decisions on how to balance the traffic across them all. The classic approaches to load balancing have been (with many thanks to Nginx):
- Availability – Any servers that cannot be reached are automatically removed from the list of options (this prevents total link failure).
- Round Robin – Requests are distributed across the group of servers sequentially.
- Least Connections – A new request is sent to the server with the fewest current connections to clients. The relative computing capacity of each server is factored into determining which one has the least connections.
- IP Hash – The IP address of the client is used to determine which server receives the request.
You might notice something each of those has in common: they all focus on the health of the system, not on the quality of the experience actually being had by the end user. Anything that balances based on availability tends to be driven by what is known as synthetic monitoring, which is essentially one computer checking another computer is available.
But we all know that just because a service is available doesn’t mean that it is performing to consumer expectations.
That’s why the new generation of Global Server Load Balancer(GSLB) solutions goes a step further. Today’s GSLB uses a range of inputs, including
- Synthetic monitoring – to ensure servers are still up and running
- Community Real User Measurements – a range of inputs from actual customers of a broad range of providers, aggregated, and used to create a virtual map of the Internet
- Local Real User Measurements – inputs from actual customers of the provider’s own service
- Integrated 3rd party measurements – including cost bases and total traffic delivered for individual delivery partners, used to balance traffic based not just on quality, but also on cost
Combined, these data sources allow video streaming companies not only to guarantee availability, but also to tune their total network for quality, and to optimize within that for cost. Or put another way – streaming video providers can now confidently deliver the quality of experience consumers expect and demand, without breaking the bank to do it.
When you know that you are running across the delivery pathway with the highest quality metrics, at the lowest cost, based on the actual experience of your users – that’s a stunning result. And it’s only possible with smart load balancing, combining traditional synthetic monitoring with the real-time feedback of users around the world, and the 3rd party data you use to run your business.
If you’d like to find out more about smart load balancing, keep looking around our site. And if you’re going to be at Mobile World Congress at the end of the month, make an appointment to meet with us there so we can show you smart load balancing in real life.