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How to Improve Video Delivery With Virtualization and Containerization

Pay-TV operators must optimize all aspects of their service, including delivery if they want to be successful in today’s dynamic media market, and sustain and grow their position. To achieve this effectively they need to reduce operational complexities and costs, while maintaining broadcast-grade availability and quality for their customers.

Over the last few years, there’s been a monumental shift in the industry towards cloud-based video delivery, leveraging in particular virtualization and containerization. Using virtual machines and containers, operators can realize many benefits including reduced capex and opex, improved scalability and flexibility, increased performance and robustness, as well as simpler updates and overall operations.

Deployment Options: Bare Metal, Virtualization and Containerization

There are several deployment options for operators to consider for video delivery. Traditional deployments involve running content delivery network (CDN) applications on a hardware-based commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) server. With virtualization an application that used to run on dedicated hardware on-premises is transferred to a new virtualized infrastructure with resources managed by a hypervisor technology.

Containerization aims to provide the highest level of flexibility by setting up a discrete environment with an OS running one or more applications. Containers are typically assigned only those resources necessary for the application to function correctly. Monolithic software is cut down into several microservices, each microservice being containerized in order for the deployment to fully benefit from the elasticity brought about by the container approach. Kubernetes has become the de facto standard for containerization, providing an open-source container-orchestration system for automating computer application deployment, scaling, and management.

Benefits of Virtualization and Containerization

Many content delivery vendors are deploying software solutions in their private clouds to increase flexibility and agility. With cloud technologies, operators can deliver new services and applications with greater speed and efficiency. There is also a surplus of additional benefits from deploying virtual machines and adopting a containerized approach to video delivery, which are described in more detail below.

  • Cost savings: Reduced capex and opex is a primary advantage of virtualization and containerization. Transitioning to virtual machines, operators only need to maintain and manage a single IT infrastructure. They have a farm of identical servers at negotiated prices. With containerization, operators have access to compute resources, no matter what hardware they are using. Capex is reduced since there is no upfront investment in hardware, and operators can pay as they grow. Automated elementary processes are handled by the framework components.
  • Scalability: Virtualization offers a set of physical resources as a cluster of disposable virtual machines. Adding new virtual machines in the system to increase capacity allows operators to easily scale up. Containerization takes scalability to the next level by providing built-in vertical and horizontal scalability for independent modules or microservices.
  • Robustness: Virtual machines are deployed in isolation and can be moved between physical hosts to ensure high robustness. For containerized applications and services, a control plane monitors the state of every pod and worker node, offering built-in redundancy processes.
  • High performance: Performance is critical for video delivery. Containers can be booted up in seconds and guarantee a predictable performance, thanks to their isolated design.
  • Easy upgrades: Migrations and updates are easy with containerized deployments. Containers enable fast elementary upgrades and simple roll-back, if needed.
  • Simplified operation: Virtualization supports mutualized procedures for batch deployment, streamlining video delivery operations. A key advantage of containers is that they are a lightweight technology that is easy to manipulate. Operators can use container technology to package and deploy applications, and the granularity of the packages allows for continuous delivery and seamless integration with third-party solutions.
  • Security: Virtual machines and containers are both secure. Virtual machines offer dedicated storage and isolation, ensuring information from one application cannot be freely accessed by another application. Containers provide role-based access control, enforced isolation policies, and a patch management pipeline to maintain high security.

When Containerization Makes Sense

While many video delivery vendors are moving full steam ahead to containerization, it’s important to understand that the gains achieved with this approach — which are mainly categorized as operational improvements and increased elasticity — are not the same in a public cloud vs. a private cloud environment.

The operational benefits of containers are always applicable in a public and private cloud environment. However, elasticity is not always required and can be dependent on the use case. In a public cloud, elasticity has a direct impact on cost. Through vertical scaling operators can allocate and deallocate resources for a given machine that will be more, or less expensive. Horizontal scaling allows operators to allocate and deallocate additional machines, however, note that this approach often implies updates in workflows to be really exploitable.

On the private cloud, resources are not infinite, and elasticity does not bring the same level of benefits. The benefits of elasticity stand out when resources need to be shared between applications with the right level of affinity (i.e., when their peak does not happen at the same time).

Thus, a hybrid cloud deployment offers benefits to improve the whole media delivery chain. Hybrid cloud is a cloud computing strategy where different cloud environments are connected to each other. These cloud environments can be public or private or simply virtualized infrastructures.

This strategy allows operators to define which workload runs more efficiently on public or private cloud environments based on infrastructure (i.e., storage, network), security or scalability.

Therefore, a hybrid cloud deployment requires communication channels that are highly encrypted and secured.

As video delivery evolves, Broadpeak sees one main split of functions between the data plane components on the operator’s private cloud and the control plane, where components can be hosted on any private cloud for management functions and features that don’t directly manipulate video streams. This approach is also the one that makes the most sense from an economical point of view, with data transfer being the costliest aspect of public clouds.

Conclusion

Video delivery is evolving. As operators transition away from using traditional hardware infrastructure in favor of cloud-based virtual machines and containers, they need to be pragmatic about how to exploit these new frameworks. Not all components of a CDN require the elasticity that containerized microservices are known to provide.

If operators transition to a full container approach where every function is reduced down to microservices, they will achieve high operational benefits and elasticity; however, ease of transformation will be difficult because it requires completely reworking the architecture.

Broadpeak’s recommendation is to deploy a partial microservices containerization approach for video delivery that does not require re-architecting software solutions already working effectively. Under this method, operators can put certain modules into a single container and the rest into separate containers, reducing the time and effort spent in cutting down the monolithic container into microservices. This approach offers full redundancy, along with increased operational efficiency, elasticity, and ease of transformation for video delivery now and in the future.

Nivedita Nouvel is Vice President of Marketing at Broadpeak

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