The standard for streaming live video in large organizations is multicasting. The primary advantages of multicasting are its high efficiency and low bandwidth usage over corporate networks, making it possible to broadcast reliably to hundreds or thousands of people simultaneously.
However, Microsoft's new Edge browser shipped in August, and it does not support plug-ins for video multicasting. This puts many corporate video managers in a quandary as they figure out how to reach employees with enterprise-wide webcasts.
Microsoft worked hard to entice organizations to adopt Windows 10, offering free upgrades to accelerate its adoption. The strategy succeeded, driving a strong rate of adoption throughout the Microsoft ecosystem. More than 75 million devices upgraded to Windows 10 in a little over a month.
One noticeable and, for video, impactful change in Windows 10 is the default browser. Internet Explorer has been retired and Edge has become the new default browser. For organizations that rely on multicasting to broadcast live video to employees, this is a significant development.
Like Chrome, Edge doesn’t support plugins – including multicast-enabling plugins, such as Microsoft Silverlight. Interestingly, while users embraced Windows 10, more than 70% have bypassed Edge and turned to Chrome as their default browser, according to Quantcast. Whichever browser you chose, the impact is the same on enterprise webcasting.
The change has been a long time coming. Microsoft signaled its move away from Silverlight as early as 2010 and shut down Silverlight.net in 2012, as it focused on HTML5. Further development of Windows Media Server has already ended, but support will continue until 2021. But the end date for Silverlight plug-ins was never defined, until now.
So what does this mean? Let’s take a step back for a moment: If your organization supports Windows and streams live events to a distributed audience, then you likely use multicast to deliver the video stream (because it’s the most reliable method for large-scale, secure video delivery). And if you use multicast, then your employees view the stream on Internet Explorer using Microsoft Silverlight as plugins (because this is required to view multicast streams)
For large organizations, multicasting can make a big difference in webcasting performance and reliability. The most widely used alternative to multicasting is unicasting, which works efficiently during webcasts numbering less than a hundred participants. But when large organizations want to broadcast live video to hundreds or thousands, unicasting floods the network with traffic, leading to gaps in transmission or complete breakdowns for many users. Multicasting’s superior performance is well understood by service providers like Verizon and Comcast, who routinely multicast in large venues during football games and rock concerts.
You need plugins to deliver multicast video, but neither Edge nor Chrome support plugins. If you oversee the use of video in your organization, this leaves you in a bit of a predicament because you need to find a new solution for delivering live video. This isn’t news to you. The new twist is your time frame. You need a solution by the time you start supporting Windows 10.
Moreover, a fragmentation of standards and formats makes it difficult for enterprises to see a clear path forward. Amazon, Cisco, Google, Intel, Microsoft, Mozilla and Netflix have gotten together in the Alliance for Open Media to develop royalty-free video formats, codecs and other related technologies. The new standard aims to displace H.264 and puts these vendors in the position to grab a bigger share of the OTT world of streaming video.
In conversations we’ve had with video managers in enterprises, we’ve found an overwhelming preference to continue with multicast, rather than veer off course with P2P and unicast solutions. Customers value the reliability and scalability that multicast provides. Plus, they simply don’t want to reinvent their entire video delivery architecture.
Enterprise users are left with two options. One is to find another multicast solution. The other is to find a new method to deliver enterprise video. Multicast alternatives, such as peer-to-peer (P2P) and unicast require a combination of proprietary eCDNs or media servers and a custom video player.
In the enterprise, we just want our video to play, to work reliably today and tomorrow. As you transition to Windows 10, consider all the options for enterprise video. If you are multicasting now, there are alternatives that will allow you to continue. If you choose unicasting or P2P video, carefully analyze your needs and options before taking the leap.
Raymond Lau is CTO for Ramp, which provides a next-generation media content platform, making it easy for companies to manage live and on-demand video and audio content.