Translation Please

On Clouds and Chokepoints

3/12/2014 3:34 AM


In the halls of cable and broadband technologies, what people were talking about last week were the performance glitches during the first-ever live stream of the 86th annual Academy Awards.

A few weeks earlier, what people were talking about were the travel-is-so-glamorous accommodations in Sochi, Russia, for the Winter Olympic Games.

In other words, what people weren’t talking about were performance glitches during an Olympic Games treatment that put every event (every event) online.

This week’s translation examines the subtle and shifting nature of choke points, bottlenecks, and other things that now — in the age of the cloud — can constipate the user experience of television.

Let’s start with Oscar, and his first experience as a live stream. Something went wrong. That it disaffected viewers is bad, of course. But why it happened is illustrative of the expanding nature of potential choke points when it comes to moving a stream of video from where it’s happening to your screen.

Until the Oscar hiccup, the perceptions associated with performance breakdowns on live-streaming events were typically pinned on the physical infrastructure. Something bottlenecked, either in the last-mile plant, or north of the headend, or between regional rings and national fiber backbones. Bad ISP. Bad, bad, bad.

These days, we live and work in a digital world increasingly plumbed to optimize three things: Connectivity, “compute” and storage. The “connectivity” part came first, and thus bore the brunt of the early glitches.

The thing we now call “cloud” brings two other dimensions — “compute” and storage — into the video pipeline. Both are now core parts of video distribution as we know it. It follows that both can become accidental choke points, especially if they aren’t built for “elasticity” — to expand and shrink as needed, based on demand.

Storage, in a cloud sense, is proximity-based. Popular stuff streams from the edge closest to consumers; long-tail fare sits elsewhere. (In the cloud, storage is priced by size, as well as “how soon would you need it.”)

“Compute,” as a dimension, handles things like input, output — or, in the case of the Oscars, how fast a stream could be spun from the source, when lots of people wanted it.

That the streaming treatments of the Winter Olympic Games weren’t plagued with connectivity issues is a nod to the ongoing modernization of video-distribution systems.

Sure, connectivity matters, all day long — but at the same time, the care and feeding of “compute” and “storage” matters as much, if not more.

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