At least that’s the opinion of Brick Eksten, the president and CEO of Digital Rapids, who is pretty well in position to know.
“We’re going to find out whether the Internet is going to melt under the weight of video in a couple days,’’ he told Between The Lines this morning.
Eksten’s company, based in Markham, Ontario, is providing encoding, streaming and management systems to provide live streaming of the 2008 Olympic Games to Internet audiences in China, working for CCTV. Closer to home, Digital Rapids is providing encoding, transcoding and streaming systems to NBC Universal, for the live streaming of the Games that have already begun at www.nbcolympics.com.
This is not like streaming a single event, such as the Victoria’s Secret show that crumpled Mark Cuban’s broadcast.com a decade ago. NBC plans to stream 2,200 hours of live competition in 25 sports, ranging from cycling to soccer to table tennis. Cycling, Eksten says, can be the most challenging of sports to send out good feeds, because in road races like the Tour de France you are dealing with cameras on the back of motorcycles taking pictures of cyclists with lots of flying wheels against a constantly changing scenic background..
hat is not the case. All the prepping, encoding and sending out of streams happens at the International Broadcast Center in Beijing. And there is not just a single stream coming in. NBC and Digital Rapids are set up to take in as many as 112 video streams, at one time.
Then, there’s not just 112 potential streams to send across a virtual private network to a landing point in North America for dispersal to Internet viewers all across the U.S. There’s the high-resolution stream for NBC’s enhanced player, there’s the lower-resolution version for normal viewing, and a third stream for a picture-in-picture view. All told, 336 streams, maximum, at one time, going out.
Beyond that, we’ll see how technically adept NBC, Microsoft and Digital Rapids are. Because the Olympics organizers in Beijing put significant rack space, heat dissipation and other restrictions on this initiative. Which forced the encoding to take place in half as many servers as originally planned, according to Digital Rapids. Instead of each of those 112 streams coming into its own system, two incoming streams and six outgoing streams will be handled by 56 systems. That meant getting creatively adept at preprocessing each stream, before encoding, and allowing some extra capacity to handle complexities of each stream.
So, soon, we’ll see if it all will work. We’ll see how many of the U.S.’s 210 milllion Internet users (and China’s 220 million) want to watch sports they’re personally interested in, on their computer screens. If NBC has a hit on its hands with streaming video, the demands on Internet service providers’ networks will be evident, soon enough. The opening ceremonies are tomorrow, 08/08/08.
Eight is a lucky number in China. But all these streams can come apart, as office workers keep streams open as they try to conduct business. That, you have to believe, will be NBC’s prime audience for the streaming video.
In my test this morning involving the U.S. vs. Japan soccer game, the main video frame locked up when I threw up three other games into side viewing panels on a split screen presentation. I had to close the browser and restart, to keep watching the game.
That’s probably an isolated incident. But Eksten is watching to see if there are lots of these lone cases, which aren’t to be worried about. If 50 people at a single office building report problems, that’s not too worrisome to Eksten, either, because the problem likely will have to do with the capacity of a corporate network to handle simultaneous live streams. [Side note: How many CIO’s are going to block these streams altogether, for the duration of the Games, to maintain productivity in the office, not to mention to protect the capacity for those actually doing work?]
If usage overwhelms a regional network belonging to a cable company like Time Warner or phone company like AT&T, however, then it’s worrisome. And if many people on many systems have failures, then eyes turn toward the content distribution network. If no one in North America can see NBC’s streams, then it’ll be a problem with the fiber that is carrying all the streams under the Pacific Ocean.
This will be the biggest test today of Internet viewers’ appetite for streaming video of live sporting events – and of the Internet’s ability to handle that.
If the Internet service providers networks start getting maxed out, you can probably expect some “rate shaping” or other bandwidth management techniques to come into play, Eksten notes. After all, you still have to get the e-mail through for non-sports fans.
Which means not just technologists like Eksten but network neutrality proponents should spend a lot of time looking at logs and statistical reports from the service providers, after this is all over to see how the streaming affected the Internet’s fabric of networks.
The odds of the Internet melting down, once the Games begin?
Eksten puts the odds at 60 percent for achieving a “generally great experience” and between 5 and 10 percent for “the whole thing melting down.”
Stay tuned. If you can. haha.. … If you found this topic intresting then just stumble accross.. .