This past week, Microsoft purchased Peer5, the developer and creator of a P2P enterprise Content Delivery Network solution. Microsoft has purchased Peer5 to “enhance live video streaming in Microsoft Teams”. The Peer5 service will be integrated with Microsoft Teams, likely as an optional service amongst other premium partner offerings such as Ramp. The new acquisition represents a push for mainstream adoption of P2P eCDN for enterprises that do not require on-premise deployment. With Microsoft putting its weight behind eCDNs, this means more customers will realize the essential role that eCDN plays in successful Teams deployments.
What is P2P?
Put very simply, a Peer-to-Peer (P2P) network is designed around nodes functioning as both “clients” and “servers”. Rather than each client pulling content from a central server, each client pulls and serves content to peers within the network. Most Internet browsing uses FTP where clients initiate a request for data and the server delivers on these requests. Most P2P networks create their own overlay network which allows them to serve and pull content from each other (FIGURE 1).
This form of networking can bring incredible efficiencies in terms of speed, quality, and cost-efficiency of content delivery and viewing. Rather than returning to the source for content, users can pull content directly from other users. Besides being faster and less costly, it also bypasses and mediates network bottlenecks. Congestion can occur when too many large files are being requested from one source at the same time. So why hasn’t it got more traction?
A Historical Overview
P2P has been used in many domains, but it first came to prominence in the context of the Internet with infamous services such as NAPSTER and LimeWire. Unfortunately, these services had questionable rights to distribute the content and often presented considerable security risks to their users. The demise of these services cast a very dark shadow over the viability of P2P as a distribution technology. ISP’s had legitimate concerns about their subscribers sharing content with each other, often without the users being aware. Also, P2P applications act as servers and clients so they can be more vulnerable to exploits. The legitimate use of P2P technology for Internet video distribution failed to get traction because of this dark shadow. Most services required the installation of some form of plug-in – the death warrant of many applications.
In the early 2000s, companies saw the opportunity to bring P2P efficiencies to enterprise networks. Software updates and video files were starting to crush enterprise networks. There were innovators such as Red Swoosh and Kontiki who developed P2P solutions designed to be enterprise-friendly. Content, such as VOD files, could be seeded into the network. As employees start to view files, they would share over the LAN instead of pulling it over the WAN from the source. It was a courageous CTO that supported the rollout of these services back then due to the stigma associated with P2P and the fact that these early solutions involved having to install a software client on each users’ device.
Providers of enterprise P2P video distribution solutions have come a long way. Most providers label their services as enterprise Content Delivery Networks or eCDN. The need has never been greater due to the explosive growth in the consumption of high-quality video in the enterprise. P2P is not the only way to solve the challenge of efficient video delivery behind the firewall. Some eCDNs offer multicasting and caching solutions, but P2P is in the spotlight due to several recent developments:
- Modern Streaming Protocols P2P Friendly
Streaming protocols, such as HLS and DASH, break the video file into segments. This makes it easier to deliver and optimize (adaptive bitrate) in comparison to one large file.
- The emergence of broad support for WebRTC
WebRTC (Web Real-Time Communication) is an open standard that was released by Google. It enables audio and video communications inside web pages without the need to install a plug-in. Originally supported by Google Chrome, it is now supported by all major browsers. Some eCDN are leveraging WebRTC to enable P2P distribution without the need to install a software plugin.
- Integration with Unified Communication Platforms
Unified Communications platforms such as Microsoft Teams and Slack are embracing video and user experience is paramount. Buffering video is not an experience that reflects well on their services, so they have thrown their support behind eCDN solutions. In the case of Microsoft Teams, they have integrated eCDN into their service.
Limitations of P2P
Each enterprise network is unique and a P2P may not always be the optimal solution. Most P2P eCDN providers still require their services to call externally to optimize delivery and gather statistics for reporting which may present security challenges for some enterprises. Large and security-sensitive organizations often have security policies that prohibit the use of P2P technology. Examples include government, healthcare, financial services, utilities, telecommunications, aerospace, and manufacturing, among others. These organizations require complete control over security that only on-premises eCDN solutions can offer.
Multicast or cache technologies can be more efficient in situations where there’s a lot of on-demand video being consumed. As well as in well-resourced satellite offices where there is a high concentration of viewers on WiFi networks. These eCDN technologies will also be better in situations where many are using thin clients.
Best of Both Worlds
Recognizing that one size doesn’t fit all, Ramp’s Universal eCDN includes P2P, Multicast, and caching in a single unified solution. This allows organizations with diverse needs to simply use one vendor and leverage the technology that best suits their environment. Many enterprises even use multiple eCDN technologies together for optimal user experience and bandwidth savings.
Ramp – Peer5 Integration
The Microsoft purchase of Peer5 may be the bell-weather announcement that creates clear skies for P2P in many enterprise video situations. Microsoft has been using P2P technology for the delivery of many of its own internal webcasts for several years now. Now that Microsoft Edge supports WebRTC, having their own P2P WebRTC video distribution service was a compelling proposition. Congratulations to Peer5, a pioneer of WebRTC enterprise P2P solutions and a partner of Ramp eCDN. Through Ramp’s integrations with Microsoft and Peer5, we can deliver or supplement any Teams environment. If you are planning to run events on Microsoft Teams, we can help. Talk to us to learn more.