Given the growing consumer demand for convenience, flexibility and content, companies are building streaming media apps to deliver high-quality video and audio content — straight to users’ devices.
Streaming media applications enable organizations to reach wider audiences and deliver content in a more personalized and interactive way, collecting valuable data and analytics companies can leverage to better understand audiences and tailor their content, products and marketing efforts accordingly.
As streaming apps grow increasingly popular and serve a larger audience, the infrastructure supporting those apps must be capable of handling the increased load. Without proper scaling, people using the app may experience slow or interrupted playback — resulting in a subpar user experience, lost revenue and missed opportunities for growth.
Understanding the unique importance of scaling applications to meet increased demand, this blog post will highlight many of the most important considerations for scaling a streaming media app.
7 Considerations for Scaling Streaming Media Applications
Scaling Streaming Media Apps Consideration #1: Bandwidth
Bandwidth is critical when scaling streaming media applications because transmitting and receiving high-quality video and audio content over a computer network requires significant transmission capacity. Understanding your application’s bandwidth requirements is the first step in optimizing bandwidth usage. From how often and how long you’ll stream to how many users you’ll have and what bit rate you stream in, a few factors go into calculating bandwidth usage.
By choosing the proper codecs and bitrates for your content, you can reduce the bandwidth required to deliver high-quality content — whether audio or video. When optimizing bandwidth usage, the delivery protocol used by your application is an essential factor to consider. Opting for protocols like Dynamic Adaptive Streaming over HTTP (DASH), also known as MPEG-DASH, can ensure that users receive the necessary bit rate for their connection speed, resulting in reduced bandwidth usage. Check out these blog posts to learn more about video encoding formats, streaming protocols and WebRTC for interactive video streaming.
Additionally, scaling your bandwidth to meet increased demand is crucial. By increasing the capacity of your existing network infrastructure or utilizing content delivery networks (CDNs), companies can distribute content from servers located closer to users’ physical locations. Efficiently managing bandwidth empowers you to guarantee uninterrupted, buffer-free high-quality content delivery to your users.
If you are planning on delivering media to a large audience, bandwidth is also where you will spend the most money in the form of egress fees. Estimating and designing around your bandwidth needs is essential to keep costs down.
Scaling Streaming Media Apps Consideration #2: Server Capacity
When scaling streaming media applications, server capacity is another important consideration. Streaming media apps require significant server capacity, including processing power and storage capacity to provide top-notch video and audio content to a large audience.
There are two predominant ways to increase server capacity:
- Adding more servers to the infrastructure.
- Upgrading existing servers to more powerful hardware. Cloud-based solutions like Amazon Web Services can also offer a cost-effective and scalable option for server capacity expansion.
The number of concurrent streams a server can comfortably manage varies based on several factors, so load testing is essential in ensuring optimal server performance during scaling. By simulating high volumes of users and traffic, load testing can help you pinpoint potential bottlenecks in your infrastructure and optimize server performance. This ensures that your app can handle increased demand and provide a top-quality user experience — even during peak usage.
Scaling Streaming Media Apps Considerations #s 3 and 4: Content Delivery Networks and Geographic Distribution
As their name implies, content delivery networks — or CDNs — play a critical role in delivering streaming media content. By caching content on servers that are located closer to users, CDNs help reduce latency and improve streaming quality.
Selecting a CDN with servers in regions where your audience is located is important to make the most out of CDN usage. Doing so can help minimize latency and enhance streaming quality, improving the user experience for viewers in different regions. In addition, adaptive bit rate streaming can ensure that users receive the appropriate bit rate for their connection speed, reducing the amount of data that needs to be transferred over the CDN.
CDNs aren’t appropriate for every streaming protocol but when you can leverage a CDN, do so. The cost of delivering media from a CDN vs. a cloud service provider network directly is substantially cheaper and can also keep your delivery costs down.
All of that is to say that selecting the right CDN for your application is crucial. Factors like cost, performance and reliability should be considered when picking a CDN. Choosing a CDN type that supports the protocols used by your application is also important. By optimizing CDNs and selecting the correct type of CDN for your application — push, origin pull or peer to peer — you can ensure that your audience receives the best possible streaming experience.
Scaling Streaming Media Apps Consideration #5: Content Optimization
Optimizing content delivery is essential for providing users with high-quality streaming media content. Various techniques can be employed to optimize content, including compressing video and audio files, reducing file sizes and using efficient codecs.
Adaptive streaming technologies like HTTP Live Streaming (HLS) and MPEG-DASH can minimize buffering and enhance the streaming experience. Employing caching techniques to reduce server load and the number of requests made to the server, optimizing the encoding settings and resolution of videos and using CDNs to distribute content to users in different geographic locations are other effective strategies for optimizing content delivery.
By implementing content optimization techniques and adaptive streaming solutions, streaming media apps can deliver high-quality content with minimal buffering and interruptions, ensuring a seamless viewing or listening experience.
Scaling Streaming Media Apps Consideration #6: Monitoring and Analytics
Providing jitter-free viewing experiences that meet consumer expectations demands insight into the performance, health and availability of the systems, applications, network and containers across your entire streaming environment. Consequently, monitoring and analytics are critical components for ensuring the optimal performance of streaming media applications.
Tracking the following key performance metrics is important to the success of any streaming media app, as they help provide a valuable look at the user experience and help identify performance issues:
- Bit rate
- Rebuffering ratio
- Startup time
- Playback errors
- Request response times
- Adaptive stream switches (HLS and DASH)
Tools and techniques for monitoring and analyzing performance include monitoring platforms like New Relic, Datadog and CloudWatch, which provide real-time insights into server performance and application metrics. Additionally, log analysis tools like Loggly and Splunk can be used to monitor and analyze application logs, providing insights into performance issues and errors. Learn more about cloud monitoring tools like Datadog in this related blog post.
Regularly reviewing monitoring data and making necessary adjustments is crucial for optimal performance. Whether increasing server capacity, optimizing content delivery or adjusting encoding settings, regularly monitoring and analyzing performance data enables streaming media applications to deliver high-quality content at scale without delays.
Scaling Streaming Media Apps Consideration #7: Scalability Planning
Planning is critical for scaling streaming media applications, especially since demand can quickly surge as user numbers increase and scaling too late can leave you scrambling. Having a well-thought-out plan in place to scale servers, bandwidth and other resources as demand increases is perhaps the most vital consideration.
Scaling up is complex and time-consuming, especially when dealing with physical servers or on-premise infrastructure. By developing a reliable scalability plan that regularly monitors performance metrics and tracks user growth well ahead of time, identifying when it’s time to scale up resources and plan accordingly is easier than ever.
Possible steps include:
- Conducting a capacity analysis.
- Determining expected traffic.
- Assessing requirements.
- Optimizing content delivery.
- Implementing a CDN.
- Testing and monitoring the application.
- Optimizing on an ongoing basis.
- Utilizing resource management tools like Kubernetes
There’s nothing worse than experiencing a sudden spike in demand, particularly during your most popular events. Without proper planning, these spikes in demand can overwhelm servers and result in poor performance or even downtime, which can be detrimental to the user experience and lead to lost revenue.
Final Thoughts on Successfully Scaling Streaming Media Apps
By considering factors like bandwidth, server capacity, CDNs, geographic distribution, content optimization, monitoring, analytics and scalability planning — and implementing appropriate strategies — it is possible to successfully scale a streaming media application to meet the needs of a growing user base.
Building a streaming media app? Work with an experienced streaming technology partner like Cardinal Peak. Our streaming experts have a proven track record of developing streaming media systems and can provide valuable expertise, guidance and comprehensive support throughout the scaling process, helping to identify potential issues and offer solutions that ensure optimal performance.