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People all over the world have turned to digital options to stay connected with each other and the news while staying home to comply with COVID-19 travel restrictions and social distancing measures. And for most, video is their lifeline.
The increased reliance on digital connections is breaking records for internet and application traffic around the globe, with some areas seeing speed reductions at peak streaming times of the day. Teams count on video calls to stay connected with colleagues and clients, and people live chat with family and friends. Everyone streams news to stay informed about the ongoing crisis and other topical issues of the day. They’re also streaming their favorite shows and movies, as a welcome distraction from the chaos. Video has become the answer to canceled trade shows, live events, and concerts.
This rapid, unexpected increase in streaming is testing the limits of both internet and content providers. BT Group reported that daytime traffic has increased by as much as 60%, and AT&T said in a business update regarding its COVID-19 response that Netflix data traffic across its U.S. networks reached record levels the weekend of March 20-21. This is significant, considering that video streaming was already on the rise and predicted by Cisco to contribute up to 82% of total traffic by 2022.
This crisis is pushing boundaries and testing network resilience, and yet the bar for user experience and application performance remains high. Many now wonder if their favorite brands are adequately prepared to enter the next phase of digital.
The good news is that many companies have technology in place to keep networks and applications online and performant. Major streaming, gaming, news, and communications companies have implemented best practices for building and managing network infrastructure at scale, which can serve as examples to growing brands and offer solace to the customers who are relying on them during this unprecedented time.
Scalable, Distributed Architecture
Legacy hardware and monolithic applications cannot support modern digital experiences, such as video streaming, because they cannot quickly scale in response to demand. Elastic resources, such as cloud servers and microservices, empower organizations to quickly spin up new services and capacity to support surges in users and application traffic — such as intermittent spikes from specific events or sustained heavy workloads created by a suddenly remote, highly distributed user base.
While some may be tempted to go “all in” with a single cloud provider or content delivery network (CDN), this approach can result in costly downtime if something were to take the provider offline. This is especially true in a time of crisis. Successful companies diversify infrastructure by using two or more providers with distributed footprints, which allows them to significantly reduce latency by bringing content and processing closer to users. And if one provider fails under duress due to network congestion, geographical restrictions, resource availability or other issues, there is always a failover system in place to ensure there is little to no impact to users.
Real-Time, Data-Driven Decision Making
Streaming video across the internet is a complex undertaking, and the plethora of video players, streaming devices, and business requirements — such as CDN contract commitments, resource and overage costs, and regional licensing and compliance requirements — demand an intelligent, automation-driven approach. Forward-looking teams collect real-time user measurements of availability, latency, or throughput to automate optimal decision-making about video and application traffic and intelligently manage resources to ensure the footprint they’ve worked so hard to build is actually being used at its peak potential. This level of visibility provides a strong understanding of how well their infrastructure configuration is delivering content and allows for better capacity planning over the long term.
Many also collect quality-of-experience metrics, which include real-time data about playback failures, startup times, rebuffering, and video quality. By collecting and ingesting these video performance metrics from end-users, along with real user monitoring (RUM) and network data, they can deliver consistent performance and reliability, even during times of unexpected strain. Factoring in business requirements also ensures a balance is achieved and performance-based service level agreements are met without under- or overusing resources.
Cohesive Global Traffic Strategy
By taking a data-driven approach, IT teams have the insight needed to build a cohesive, global traffic steering strategy. The metrics they collect inform and fuel traffic steering policies for dynamically orchestrating traffic across distributed infrastructure for high availability and the very best performance.
Data-driven traffic steering allows IT teams to:
- Seamlessly connect and optimize infrastructure to meet high user expectations for quality.
- Dynamically manage traffic and resources to move infrastructure based on demand so that processing is occurring at the edge.
- Direct and balance real-time workloads appropriately between resources as conditions and demand shift in dynamic and distributed infrastructure footprints.
- Deploy new infrastructure and manage the use of resources to route around problems, address unexpected traffic spikes, or even control costs between cloud providers.
- Rapidly spin up new cloud instances to increase capacity in strategic geographic locations where internet conditions are chronically slow or unpredictable.
While no two companies’ goals are exactly alike, there are many similarities in the approaches taken by the major players in streaming. These leaders are investing in scalable and distributed architectures, automating decisions based on real-time data, and building a cohesive global traffic strategy in order to ensure performance and resilience. Other companies that follow these best practices will not only deliver high-quality service, but they will be sufficiently prepared to expertly manage traffic not only for large-scale planned events — like a new game or platform launch — but also unexpected events like a crisis-driven surge in video streaming.
Feature image via Pixabay.
The New Stack is a wholly owned subsidiary of Insight Partners, an investor in the following companies mentioned in this article: Real.