Public Cloud for Live Streaming: the opportunities and the challenges
The M2A team has an extensive history in serving media online. We’ve been delivering online media since the launch of BBC iPlayer in 2007 when Flash and RTMP were state of the art. For the 2012 London Olympics, we delivered one of the first ABR and chunked HTTP live streaming services, offering live restart and catch-up. We were also early adopters of public cloud and have been delivering services from AWS Cloud since 2013.
At M2A Media we work with our customers to create complete solutions covering: ingest, transcode, packaging, live event and live capture workflows, caching, scaling and integration with CDNs. We also build custom integrations to customers’ specific requirements. Our MCR team operates 24/7 to ensure fault free live streaming.
For M2A, using public cloud means outsourcing infrastructure to experts who deliver instant access to the resources we need with consistent and standard interfaces, security and monitoring.
Once we do the tooling we have full agility ramping up and down: we can roll out a brand new live streaming service in weeks and we can scale at any place in our ecosystem, thus avoiding bottlenecks.
Using public cloud also removes risk as a new environment can be completely isolated from production.
The built-in tools for component metrics like CloudWatch, Kibana and Grafana are invaluable and we extend these with log analysis tools to create custom reporting, monitoring and alerting.
Finally, the virtually infinite availability of resource in AWS Cloud means we don’t have to provision a service for peak usage and then have it sit idle 95% of the time.
Challenges & Solutions
Using public cloud is not a panacea and introduces challenges. Getting networking right is key both to reducing costs, ensuring security and ensuring safe delivery of content across the ecosystem.
For the biggest live events an audience may jump from thousands to several hundreds of thousands in minutes. The challenge is to design for pure horizontal scaling and to get the scaling right.
Live means live: it can’t be repeated so it has to be right the first time. Each step of the workflow needs resilience and monitoring so there are no weak links.
For rewind and for catch-up, before the static VOD is created, requests are resolved through the manifest API and we use live stream URLs with start and end times to constrain the stream to the single live event. This serves well as VOD on most players although on some TV devices catch-up isn’t available until a VOD file is delivered.
For efficiency of both time and cost the VOD files are not re-encoded but captured directly from the live encodes. Live Capture is triggered by the workflow at the end of each event. The encoded fragments and captured to ISML files are then used for catch-up VOD presentation.
Our VOD workflow uses just-in-time packaging which runs in the same origins as used for live. VOD files are created from the live archive within minutes of the events finishing. The VOD files are served at new URLs to get around caching issues.
Our customers are major international broadcasters whose brand reputation rests on the quality of their online video service. Where so much focus is on customer experience you need great video playback on hundreds of different devices. We deliver HLS, Smooth and Dash streams with a variety of custom manifests to suit different devices.
In the little over two years since M2A Media launched we’ve delivered six full services and iterated on ingest formats, profiles, frame rates, encoder configuration, packaging and caching configuration and custom manifests for each. We release changes most days and sometimes more than once a day.
Smart Use of Public Cloud
Efficiently managing cloud resources is key to running a successful service. This means managing ingress and egress, understanding cloud topology and connectivity within and between zones and regions, managing scaling both up and down, and finally understanding how spot instances work and taking advantage of the spot market.
Smart use of public cloud for live streaming is our passion. If you’d like to speak to us about our resilient, scalable and secure public cloud solutions, get in touch.