9 Reasons Why Debunking WebRTC Scalability Is a Fool’s Errand

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There’s no better clue to the deficiencies of a vendor’s solution than a claim that what a competitor is doing can’t be done. It’s one thing for a supplier to say the technology their solution employs is better on the merits. Claiming that they’ve chosen their technology because a better idea that’s proving itself in… Continue reading 9 Reasons Why Debunking WebRTC Scalability Is a Fool’s Errand

There’s no better clue to the deficiencies of a vendor’s solution than a claim that what a competitor is doing can’t be done.

It’s one thing for a supplier to say the technology their solution employs is better on the merits. Claiming that they’ve chosen their technology because a better idea that’s proving itself in the marketplace doesn’t work is simply to admit they can’t do it themselves.

1. Saying WebRTC can’t be scaled only proves you can’t do it

This happens a lot in discussions about whether it’s possible to massively scale a streaming infrastructure that employs WebRTC. “We looked at it, but it doesn’t scale,” is a common response from providers of traditional ABR streaming solutions who have worked hard to hit live streaming latency targets below 10 seconds. The possibility of achieving latencies in the 200-400ms range with WebRTC at massive scales can be hard to swallow when the technology you’re using hits a wall in the multi-second range.

Of course, as these naysayers invariably point out, WebRTC is an open-source standard that was designed as a real-time peer-to-peer communications protocol, not as a one-to-many streaming protocol. True, but so what?

2. Initial protocol design goals don’t obviate innovations that accomplish other goals.

ABR wasn’t designed to deliver broadcast-caliber TV services, but now it can with the help of some clever innovations in stream fragmentation and distribution. Or, to cite another example, using the Internet for telephony was a dumb idea until it became mainstream.

Similarly, smart innovations have made it possible for Red5 Pro and a handful of other first movers to scale WebRTC for video streaming. In Red5 Pro’s case, customers are able to stream video at latencies below 500ms to any size audience of simultaneous viewers numbering into the millions.

The right question to ask isn’t whether WebRTC is scalable; it’s whether it works with the robust consistency and quality of user experience that’s essential to its use with high-value professional services. In that regard there are distinctions that set Red5 Pro’s real-time streaming platform apart from other platforms utilizing WebRTC.

3. WebRTC scalability is a given in real-time streaming applications worldwide.

But scalability? That’s an established fact manifested in commercial applications underway worldwide, some using the Red5 Pro real-time streaming platform, others using technology supplied by Kurento, Phenix, TokBox and a few more. As explained in a recent blog, compared to Red5 Pro, these alternatives come up short for various reasons, mostly having to do with costs and/or limitations in deployment flexibility, but they all support one-to-many scalability.

One of the early examples of mass scaling with WebRTC occurred with Microsoft’s live game streaming service Mixer, which it renamed after its acquisition of the service’s creator Beam in 2016. Microsoft retained Beam’s WebRTC-based approach to streaming in real time, leading to successes like the popular game streamer Ninja’s use of the service to reach millions of fans.

In one peak period where Ninja was drawing over 85,000 concurrent viewers, more than 2.2 million tuned in during an 8 ½ hour stretch. Microsoft ultimately closed Mixer down, having failed to meet its business targets, but it proved beyond doubt the effectiveness of using WebRTC to reach mass audiences with video streamed in real time.

Moreover, WebRTC can readily be implemented with traditional CDNs to support latency levels that can’t be achieved with HTTP-based streaming, as demonstrated by CDN operator Limelight. The CDN’s RTS (Realtime Streaming) option, enabled by the Red5 Pro platform, has been a strategic win for Limelight, according to Limelight VP of marketing Nigel Burmeister.

“Since it was implemented in September 2018, Limelight Realtime Streaming has received the strongest reception for a new product launch in Limelight’s history,” Burmeister said in a  press release issued last year. “Whether it’s delivering live online sporting events, sports betting or online casino games, interactive esports streaming, live auctions or online trivia games, Limelight Realtime Streaming is changing how viewers experience live events online and helping content providers deliver new value-added experiences.”

Seconding Burneister, Peder Drege, chief architect for streaming at Limelight customer Sportradar, a supplier of sports data intelligence, commented, “Limelight Realtime Streaming ensures our customers get a fast, reliable and high-quality video streaming experience without interruption.”

It’s heartening to hear such praise for Red5 Pro’s technology. But to be honest, Limelight’s use of the Red5 Pro platform imposes unnecessary limits on the scaling and application flexibility enabled by customers who employ the full Red5 Pro feature set.

For example, Limelight limits use of the platform to instantiations in its own facilities, preventing full scalability that can be achieved by scaling the platform across multiple cloud provider resources. And Limelight doesn’t allow customers to deploy their own server-side operational apps, which forces them to use what Limelight chooses to expose, nor does the operator utilize Red5 Pro ingestion mechanisms that support user-generated contributions in interactive applications related to streamed content such as watch parties and fan walls.

4. CDN operators can offer highly scalable real-time streaming based on WebRTC.

But, again, the point here is, there is no limitation on the scalability of WebRTC as implemented with the Red5 Pro platform. And as demonstrated by Limelight, CDN operators can put WebRTC as implemented by Red5 Pro to use in harmony with traditional streaming modes.

Just what this capability means to the marketplace was articulated in an early 2019 blog post by Phil Cluff, the streaming architect for Mux, Inc., a supplier of monitoring tools and technical support for building streaming infrastructures. Noting the emergence of “systems built on top of WebRTC to deliver high-scale video delivery systems” along with Limelight’s introduction of RTS, Cluff commented, “We’re excited to see how extensively mainstream CDN vendors will introduce more public WebRTC offerings to help others implement this approach in the coming year.”

Unfortunately for a market hungry for scalable real-time streaming solutions, other CDN operators haven’t done so. Why? The obvious answer is they don’t know how, and, unlike Limelight, they’re not inclined to use Red5 Pro or another third-party solution.

But Cluff’s anticipation that the dam will break is no doubt accurate even if it takes a little longer than he suggested. As demand intensifies and ever more users take advantage of the low-cost, cross-cloud implementations enabled by Red5 Pro, CDN operators will discover they have to satisfy that demand to stay relevant.

Meanwhile, the world moves on.

5. WebRTC scalability is fueling a new era in real-time experience with video.

As described in another recent blog, this one hosted by Red5 Pro, we’ve entered a new era where real-time experience with video in personal and commercial applications is destined to become a given of user experience on the Internet. Soon real-time video Experience Delivery Networks (XDNs) will become as commonplace as legacy CDNs, if not more so.

As Cluff noted, the transformation isn’t just a function of the vast array of specific consumer and commercial use cases in areas like online betting and auctions, multiplayer game playing, network-delivered engagements with virtual reality, workforce collaboration and training, etc. There’s now a fundamental aspect to user experience tied to real-time video streaming.

“As the UGC (user-generated content) live streaming culture has evolved, it has become clear that this space is about much more than just watching other people play video games,” Cluff said. “UGC content has become oriented around the interactions with chat which acts as a meeting point for the community of the viewership of a particular streamer.”

Moreover, as Limelight’s Burmeister noted, real-time video streaming opens a new window on opportunities for content providers to create value-added experiences. A case in point is how graphics tech platform supplier Singular.Live is employing Red5 Pro to support streamlined, lower-cost approaches to delivering such experiences.

Singular.Live streams cloud-hosted personalized graphics and data enhancements as overlays synchronized in real time with each live and on-demand video viewing session. This makes it possible to deliver much richer personalized viewing experiences without having to accommodate network-based injection of such enhancements through just-in-time packaging on each unicast stream.

“If you want a low latency you need a real time low-latency protocol,” says Andrew Heimbold, who helps lead Singular.Live and serves as president of the affiliated integrator Reality Check Solutions. “From what we’ve seen, Red5 Pro is the most robust, scalable enterprise, and they’ve been great to work with.”

6. Highly scalable WebRTC streaming is in play on widely deployed Red5 Pro XDNs.

Red5 Pro’s ability to massively scale WebRTC results from how the XDN platform utilizes the two-way peer-to-peer communications mechanisms of the protocol in conjunction with server software that is hierarchically deployed and orchestrated in three-tiered clusters across one or more public or private cloud environments. Each cluster consists of a core Origin Node where encoded content is ingested and streamed out to Relay Nodes, each of which serves an array of Edge Nodes that deliver live unicast streams to their assigned service areas.

The platform leverages containerized and virtual machine-based iterations of datacenter virtualization to enable the flexibility and speed of resource utilization that is vital to seamless cross-cloud operations and scalability. Set-up configurations and ongoing orchestration of all the nodes implemented with a Red5 Pro XDN are performed by the platform’s Stream Manager.

7. Cross-cloud XDN implementations are taking WebRTC scalability to new dimensions.

Once the initial configuration is implemented and streaming begins, the Stream Manager processes live stream tracking and performance data from all the nodes in real time to perform multiple tasks. Utilizing Red5Pro platform controllers designed to work with each cloud provider’s APIs, the automated scaling mechanisms facilitate addition or removal of nodes in response to fluctuations in traffic demand or the need to add new broadcasters and end users

XDN Autoscaling also supports the cluster-wide redundancy that’s essential to fail-safe operations. With persistent performance monitoring of all engaged cloud facilities, the Red5Pro platform can instantaneously shift processing from a malfunctioning component within a node location to another appliance in that node, or, in the event the entire node location goes offline, move the node to another location with no disruption to the flow or increase in latency.

These capabilities also apply to XDN-wide load balancing. By translating the commands of the XDN operations system (OS) to the API calls of the cloud operators, the OS is able to execute the load balancing essential to persistent high performance across the entire infrastructure without manual intervention.

XDN cross-cloud operations are enabled by pre-integrations with AWS, Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud Platform and interactions with any other cloud facilities that are tied into the XDN via the widely used Terraform open-source multi-cloud toolset provided by Hashicorp. Terraform facilitates cross-cloud instantiations by translating Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) resources into a high-level configuration syntax that allows IaaS APIs to be abstracted for access through a Terraform Cloud API specific to each cloud operator.

By leveraging those APIs, the XDN can manage any combination of contractually available Terraform-compatible IaaS resources as holistically integrated components of the live streaming infrastructure. In addition, the Red5 Pro Stream Manager can be manually integrated to work with the APIs of any cloud provider that isn’t integrated with Terraform.

8. The XDN platform enables WebRTC scalability with support for robust performance

Several attributes intrinsic to WebRTC contribute to its utility as a real-time streaming mechanism, starting with the fact that the underlying Real-Time Transport Protocol (RTP), used in conjunction with UDP (User Datagram Protocol), was designed to serve as the foundation for voice communications in IP-based telephony. To avoid any perceptible impact of packet losses associated with UDP, Red5Pro employs a well-designed implementation of Negative Acknowledgement (NACK) messaging, which uses advanced iterations of Forward Error Correction (FEC) and other mechanisms to replace essential dropped packets.

With this transport foundation, the XDN platform can employ live streaming modes optimized for either mobile or fixed access scenarios on a session-by-session basis. In the case of fixed network connectivity, WebRTC is ideal, because it eliminates the need for plug-ins or purpose-built hardware by virtue of the support for client interactions with the protocol that have been implemented in all the major browsers, including Chrome, Edge, Firefox, Safari and Opera.

To stream content for access on mobile devices, Red5 Pro employs RTSP (Real-Time Streaming Protocol). Like WebRTC, RTSP relies on RTP but exploits the client-server architecture employed in mobile communications, eliminating the need for browser support.

Along with ingesting any content delivered via WebRTC or RTSP, the Red5 Pro XDN can ingest video formatted to all the other leading protocols used with video playout, including RTMP (Real-Time Messaging Protocol), SRT (Secure Reliable Transport), MPEG-TS (Transport Protocol).and HLS (HTTP Live Streaming). These are packaged for streaming on the RTP foundation with preservation of the original encapsulations for egress to clients that can’t be reached via WebRTC or RTSP.

9. Benefits of ABR without latency downsides are retained with XDN use of WebRTC

In addition, the XDN retains the multi-profile streaming options embodied in content that has been transcoded for delivery over ABR (adaptive bitrate) streaming from external transcoders or transcoders positioned within the XDN infrastructure. This avoids the ABR client-server segment-by-segment communications and buffering mechanisms that make the HTTP-based mode of distribution unsuitable for use in real-time streaming.

But the Red5 Pro approach preserves the benefits of ABR. The XDN Origin Nodes, having ingested those ABR ladder profiles, stream them over the RTP-based transport system in push mode to Edge Nodes. From there the content is streamed in profiles matched by node intelligence to each session in accord with client device characteristics and access bandwidth availability.

It all adds up to a real-time two-way live streaming architecture that achieves the quality of service (QoS) goals set for massively scaled one-way live streaming applications but without the higher latencies. Whatever the application, direction of the stream, number of receivers, distance or range of localities served, service providers can create a Red5 Pro XDN infrastructure suited to meeting their real-time streaming requirements with the flexibility to continue scaling resources as needed.

To learn more about the unlimited scalability of WebRTC on the Red5 Pro XDN platform contact info@red5.net or schedule a call.