6 Video Distribution Technologies

It’s no secret that within the enterprise, video files are large and bandwidth-intensive. With this in mind the growing need to stream both live and on demand video over corporate networks can—and often does—have a negative impact on network performance and user experience. Flawless delivery of video across the enterprise requires a sophisticated combination of behind-the-scenes technologies, and this article was specifically designed to provide an overview of these technologies, as well as the strengths and weaknesses of each.

But First . . . Why is Video Distribution Important?

Although the vast majority of end users will never know whether their video is being delivered via Unicast, Caching, Multicast or some other method, the video distribution technology being used has a significant impact on overall user experience and engagement. In fact, studies have shown that viewers will abandon a video if their content doesn’t stream within 2 seconds and after only a few seconds, you can lose a quarter of your audience.

Today’s article provides a quick overview of the six (6) most common video distribution technologies, as well as the pros, and cons of each. This information was originally presented by our Senior Sales Engineer Alfie LaTorre in a webcast titled Choosing the Best Video Distribution Technology for Your Environment. If you’re a visual learner or find yourself looking for more information on the topic of video distribution (diagrams, examples, customer case studies, etc.) be sure watch this on demand webcast for a deeper dive into the topic.

What are the Most Common Video Distribution Technologies?

As of the publication date of this article, there are six (6) primary video distribution technologies in use within the enterprise today—and each plays an important role within its specific use case and network environment. And because large companies typically support multiple use cases across the enterprise, most will require a combination of two or more distribution technologies.

Technology #1: Unicast

Unicast distribution is the simplest form of streaming video within an enterprise—sending  video from a single media server directly to a single recipient.

Unicast Pros and Cons – Unicast is a simple, mature and reliable technology requiring minimal configuration, and is also supported natively by most network devices. However, establishing a single and dedicated stream for each user causes significant network load when viewing volume is high. To use Unicast successfully in high-volume environments, most companies will be required to deploy Edge Servers at key sites to ensure video is served as locally as possible.

Technology #2: Caching

Caching is a technique that involves storing on demand video content on multiple servers (called Media or Edge Servers) across the network—meaning Caching only applies to on demand video and not live video. When a video is requested by a user, it is automatically stored locally on an Edge Server so that other users in that region or network area may access it.

Caching Pros and Cons – Caching video content on Edge Servers greatly reduces the number of times a single video asset is pulled across a WAN, which both accelerates video delivery and reduces bandwidth usage. But on the flip side, Caching requires the added expense of additional infrastructure.

Technology #3: Multicast

Multicast involves streaming live video from a Source Media Server to a group of secondary hosts or recipients on a network. A good analogy would be a radio broadcast—the server simply “broadcasts” a video signal, and whoever wants to tune in may do so.

Multicast Pros and Cons – The biggest advantage of multicast is that it minimizes WAN traffic because requests for video assets are not being sent across the network. While this is a key advantage, Multicast is only applicable to live video and requires significant additional management resources. Multicast also requires Multicast-enabled network equipment, browser plugins in most cases, and is often not supported by Wi-Fi networks or mobile devices.

Technology #4: Peer-to-Peer (P2P)

Peer-to-peer distribution allows devices on the network—like two employee laptops, for example—to connect and share video directly from one to the other. P2P is gaining momentum in the enterprise as of late with the emergence of WebRTC, which allows video to be shared directly between browsers without apps or plugins.

Peer-to-Peer Pros and Cons – Peer-to-Peer can significantly minimize WAN traffic, because the video asset is being streamed from a peer instead of a Source Video Server. P2P is also especially useful in companies with many branch offices, where it is impractical to deploy Edge Servers at each location. However, Peer-to-Peer configurations may still require software and storage on each peer device, and may not include native support for mobile viewing.

Technology #5: External CDN

External Content Delivery Networks (CDNs) such as Akamai, Amazon CloudFront, Level 3, and Cloudflare are paid services that utilize the internet to deliver video. While not a distribution technology in and of itself, an external CDN can be beneficial as part of the distribution mix in certain use cases.

External CDN Pros and Cons – External CDNs allow organizations to offload video traffic from an internal network, and can be a great way to deliver video to remote users on VPN connections or in branch offices with local internet connections. But as with any external connection, companies must ensure that security requirements are met, and deal with internet gateway infrastructure and configuration requirements for branch offices and VPN access.

Technology #6: Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI)

VDI is a technology used by many large enterprises to give mobile and thin client devices a centrally controlled set of applications and data—such as a Citrix solution—and therefore a standardized end-user experience. VDI environments are notoriously challenging to provide acceptable video to users at scale, due to the inherent performance limitations in virtualized computing.

VDI Pros and Cons – VDI optimization allows companies to offload video traffic from the Citrix server to an Edge Server, which not only dramatically minimizes WAN traffic but also makes “desktop equivalent video” possible for thin client and mobile devices. However, there is one significant caveat: VDI environments are complex, and the solution provider must be experienced in delivering VDI video solutions at scale.

What Should I Do Next?

As you can see, there are multiple types of video distribution technologies and, while it might seem overwhelming to choose one or more of them for your environment, here are two suggestions on how to simplify the process:

1—Check Out Some Real-World Examples.

In our recent webcast on choosing distribution technology which is now available for free on demand, Qumu Senior Sales Engineer Alfie LaTorre details how two Qumu customers overcame major challenges by mixing and matching multiple distribution technologies, including:

  • Peer-to-peer streaming to branch offices
  • Unicast within corporate offices
  • Internet CDN delivery for remote employees on VPN
  • VDI optimization for desktop-quality video to Citrix users
  • And more.
In his on demand webcast, Qumu's Alfie LaTorre details how two Qumu customers mix and match multiple distribution technologies.

2—Get Help Designing Your Video Network.

As you will see in our case studies, a well-designed network—one that saves costs and delivers a great user experience—begins with everyone on the team understanding the technical challenges and strategic objectives of the organization. And if you need assistance, don’t hesitate to Contact Qumu and we will put you in touch with our own team of experts who can help you design the smartest solution for your enterprise.

Related Articles