Does the end of Microsoft Silverlight mean the end of multicast?

Large enterprises have been using a ‘multicast’ approach to stream live video across the organization and world for more than a decade. But soon, the de facto standards for multicast video streaming will be no more. Microsoft has announced Windows Media Server and Microsoft Silverlight are nearing end-of-life.

This is confirmed on Microsoft’s Support Lifecycle page: “Silverlight 5 will support the browser versions listed on this page through 10/12/2021, or though the support lifecycle of the underlying browsers, whichever is shorter.”

Windows Media multicast and Silverlight multicast playback have been the standards for large-scale video delivery in the enterprise for good reason. They provide the ability to reliably stream high quality video across the global enterprise with minimal impact on a company’s network. This is critical for large organizations. Take for example a quarterly CEO Town Hall in which the CEO seeks to address the entire organization in real-time. As you can imagine, hundreds, or thousands, of users viewing a live stream can overwhelm networks, introducing major obstacles in smoothly delivering a streaming event.

Windows Media multicast and Silverlight multicast playback has been the staple for large-scale video delivery in the enterprise. With both technologies now officially end-of-life by Microsoft, there is a huge opportunity for any vendor who can provide a replacement.

Multicast Reborn
Ramp launched the Ramp Multicast Engine (RME) in May 2015 at Microsoft Ignite in Chicago, and have since rebranded it AltitudeCDN Multicast+. We developed our own multicast solution so we can enable companies to continue to deliver high-quality streaming video to large groups of employees globally. Multicast+ delivers standards-based and secure multicast support to any live video deployment that uses HTTP Live Streaming (HLS).

There is a widespread demand and an urgent need for a multicast video streaming solution that is compatible across all browsers, devices, and platforms. With the end of Microsoft Silverlight, Multicast+ represents the next phase in the evolution of multicast. It is multicast reborn.

Other video delivery vendors have reacted to the news of Silverlight’s EOL with fundamentally different technical approaches than multicast: unicast and peer-to-peer.

Wi-Fi Supplants Ethernet Making Multicast More Necessary than Ever
Video delivery vendors must consider a recent enterprise trend, one that further complicates the challenge of delivering streaming video without overwhelming and bringing down a company’s local network. That is the decline in the number of companies who provide a hardwired solution for employees to connect to the company network, and an increase of a Wi-Fi only Internet connectivity model.

Today, employees at some F500 companies can only connect to the company network via Wi-Fi. The modern workspace has changed from a rigid, highly-structured layout to a free-flowing open office. In addition, more employees are working from home or at satellite offices. These factors have led an increasing number of IT departments to commit exclusively to Wi-Fi, as it is a far simpler and a more practical alternative to rigging up entire offices.

However, this shift is not without great consequence for enterprises who stream live company-wide events. Wi-Fi is more susceptible to network surges than Ethernet, further compounding the issue of delivering streaming video to large local audiences without impact on the network.

This is why unicast streaming, while effective in certain use cases, is inadequate when many hundreds of users need to concurrently login to a video stream from the same network. Web caching technologies simply don’t protect an enterprise’s LAN from surges that massive quantities of concurrent streams cause, making multicast the only effective protocol when trying to reach thousands of concurrent users with a live video broadcast.

Qumu announced an integration with Hive for a p2p model
Recently, Qumu announced ‘Qumu Peer Delivery’ the result of a partnership with Hive Streaming, a peer-assisted video solution. This seems to be a strategic response to the end-of-life of Microsoft Silverlight. Without its own multicast capability, Qumu appears to be abandoning multicast altogether – long the industry standard – for a peer-to-peer streaming model. Hive Streaming’s peer-assisted video is an alternative approach to multicast.

“Qumu Peer Delivery, which leverages Hive Streaming’s best-in-class capabilities, enables enterprises to efficiently provide high performance video to globally distributed parts of their organizations such as branch offices or storefronts,” states Qumu’s press release announcing the partnership. “Video content has become an essential part of many organization’s communication strategy and delivering that video content to employees, partners, or agents in distributed locations is now a necessity.”

The release goes on to say the partnership enables businesses to securely share video across distributed locations.

Omitted from the release is specific reference to the fundamental challenge in video delivery: live video streaming. The Qumu and Hive Streaming announcement doesn’t adequately address the impact video delivery has on a local network in a peer-to-peer streaming model.

Peer-to-peer handles the challenge of delivering high-quality video streams to a distributed workforce securely and reliably, but it falls short in many use cases at the local network level. Most notably, efficient playback of live streams through the company’s local network. However, unlike HTTP unicast caching, peer-assisted video doesn’t require the implementation of proprietary hardware.

Peer-assisted video is similar to unicast in that it does not address the impact of livestreaming video on the local network. While livestreamed events requiring the network bandwidth of CEO Town Halls may only occur once or twice each quarter, they’re the most high-profile use case in all of enterprise video. Qumu’s peer-to-peer model doesn’t address this key driver of enterprise video because it has inherent limitations on the local network level. It doesn’t solve the challenges for the local area network (LAN) and the inevitable network surges resulting from a company-wide event where hundreds or thousands of employees attempt to reach the network concurrently. It doesn’t solve new Wi-Fi challenges either. Therefore, it doesn’t solve the core challenge of enterprise video: To ensure high quality video distribution without negatively impacting the network or blocking other network services with degraded network performance.

Ramp’s Approach
Multicast+ answers the call with a true multicast cross-platform solution. Multicast+ provides standards-based and secure multicast support to any live video deployment that uses HTTP Live Streaming (HLS).

Multicast remains the most efficient way to transfer live video data within the enterprise and Multicast+ brings multicast support to industry-standard HLS. Multicast+ delivers an effective and easy-to-use solution for updating an organization’s live video delivery architecture without requiring a combination of proprietary eCDNs or media servers, nor requiring a custom video player – a standard HLS compatible video player is sufficient.

Adobe Media Server
An alternative to Multicast+ is the Adobe Media Server which supports both multicast and peer-to-peer streaming. Adobe’s multicast service supports true IP multicast, however, since Steve Jobs publicly slammed Adobe Flash in 2010, the industry has moved ahead without it. As a result, it has limitations, mainly that it requires Adobe Flash for playback. It’s also not supported on mobile or fully supported on Mac.

In addition to many enterprises not wanting to support Flash, the version of Flash bundled with the Chrome Browser (aka “Pepper Flash”) does not support Adobe’s multicast protocol. So, employees using Chrome cannot view multicast stream without an onerous upgrade process. It would require a large-scale effort on the part of a company’s IT department to configure employee devices to view Chrome.

Multicast+ will also restore multicast support for Chrome users as Chrome has ended support for plug-ins and does not offer native support for multicast.

The Future of Multicast
Although Microsoft Silverlight is close to the end, multicast as a solution for global enterprise video delivery isn’t going anywhere. With enterprise video use on the uptick and a new trend of enterprises relying solely on Wi-Fi to connect to the company network, a comprehensive streaming solution that addresses “last-mile” delivery issues is a massive need.

Local network issues are a huge limitation for streaming live events to a global audience, making multicast the only effective protocol when trying to reach thousands of concurrent users with a live broadcast. Peer-to-peer and unicast simply don’t address the gamut of enterprise use cases, so if video delivery companies are searching for a multicast alternative in the wake of the Microsoft Silverlight news, it likely signals that they’re struggling with a multicast integration path.

The only future-proof replacement for Windows Media multicast and Microsoft Silverlight is a new multicast solution that is based upon standards. Adobe’s multicast streaming solution, which requires the Flash player, falls down on that account. We’ve built a next generation multicast solution in Multicast+. Multicast+ delivers the technical functionality and cross-platform, standards-based usability that IT departments need to securely stream live events to employees at offices across the globe.