Google Launches New $99 Streaming Box With Android TV; Joins Apple & Amazon With Ecosystem Play

player-overview-1024The $99 streaming device market just got a little more crowded with Google’s announcement of their new streaming box, dubbed Nexus Player. Built in partnership with ASUS, it’s the first device to run Android TV and also allows you to play Android games on your TV, with a separately priced gamepad. Unlike Google’s Chromecast USB stick, the Nexus Player includes an app guide, content recommendations and voice search controls. It’s also Google Cast Ready so you can fling content from Chromebooks and Android/iOS devices to your TV. Inside the device is a 1.8GHz Quad Core, Intel Atom chip, 1GB of RAM, 8GB of storage, HDMI out, with WiFi support for 802.11ac 2×2 (MIMO). The lack of an ethernet port is a big downside as I’ll take the reliability of an ethernet cable over WiFi any day. The box is up for pre-order tomorrow and will be in stores on November 3rd.

The initial content options available at launch are limited on the box with the major ones being Google Play, Netflix, Hulu Plus, YouTube, Vevo, Pandora, iHeart Radio and support for Plex. Other apps from those like the Food Network and PBS Kids are also available, but content choices are pretty limited right now. Other boxes, including Amazon’s Fire TV were also limited in their content choices at launch, so we can expect to see a lot more content come to Google’s new box fairly quickly. I expect it won’t take more than a year before Google’s $99 Nexus Player will be very similar to Roku, Apple TV and Amazon’s Fire TV, with regards to content choices.

With so many streaming options in the market when it comes to Smart TV’s, game consoles, connected Blu-ray players and $99 streaming boxes, Google is entering a very crowded consumer market. But the advantage Google, Apple and Amazon have over everyone else is that they all operate and control an end-to-end video ecosystem. In the long run, they will all be the winners in the $99 streaming box market, and devices from Netgear, Sony, Western Digital and others stand no chance with their boxes. Just within the last year alone, devices from Vizio (Co-Star), D-Link (MovieNite Plus), Hisense (Pulse), Sony (SMP-N200) and Seagate (GoFlexTV) have all been discontinued in the market.

Long-term winners in the space will be Apple, Amazon, and Google for dedicated streaming boxes/USB sticks, and Microsoft and Sony with their more expensive gaming consoles. Where this leaves Roku in the long-term is unknown, as they still have the best $99 streamer in the market today when it comes to content choices, but that gap between them and others keeps shrinking. Roku doesn’t have the marketing power of Apple, Amazon or Google so it’s going to continue to be a tough fight for them in a very crowded market.

Thursday Webinar On DASH and Multimedia Streaming

Thursday at 2pm ET, I’ll be moderating another StreamingMedia.com webinar, this time on the topic of, “DASH and Multimedia Streaming.” By now, you’ve probably read enough to understand what DASH is and why it’s important. For Studio-Approved distribution models like OTT and SVOD, DASH is now DRM compatible using the CENC standard with a variety of DRMs for various playback platforms. Learn more about DASH DRM during this DASH Roundtable webinar with presenters from the DASH Industry Forum, BuyDRM and VisualOn. We’ll also have an extensive Q&A session so REGISTER NOW to join us for this FREE Web event.

Web App Acceleration Market Heating Up: Service A Key Requirement For SaaS Providers

Software as a Service presents a tempting value proposition to businesses all over the world. The benefits are obvious – lower TCO and cost savings, flexibility, ease of access as well as relief from maintenance and upgrade hassles. According to recent data from multiple outlets, SaaS adoption rates continue to outperform those of on-premise enterprise applications.

SaaS provides a significant business opportunity to ERP, CRM and business intelligence vendors as well as for companies in the enterprise content management, supply chain management and project management solutions space. These vendors are putting a web front-end to their application portfolio so that their customers’ user base can easily access them from any browser or multiple devices. These offerings are now mainstream, and independent SaaS vendors and CDNs continue to roll out solutions to capture market share. With such fierce competition and an unusually high churn rate, customers of these solutions tell me that SaaS vendors continually struggle to enhance the end-user experience and increase user stickiness.

Similarly, today’s CIOs, CTOs and IT managers also struggle with a plethora of challenges when migrating from an on-premise application to a SaaS based deployment. While cost is a key driver for SaaS deployment, the implementation may also be accompanied by a dip in productivity due to access to the SaaS application being slow if the distance between the provider and the user is more than a few hundred miles or even 10s of milliseconds in network speed. A case in point being the enterprise deployment of cloud based Office 365 subscribers and the post deployment performance issues created by distance, network latency and poor performance.

It is essential for SaaS vendors to live up to the performance benchmarks set by on-premise applications and the technological advancements to optimize them for a global user base. Enterprises with application servers on-premise had multiple optimization strategies in place when it came to accelerating such applications– including MPLS for stable latency connectivity, wAN optimization for bandwidth reduction and application acceleration systems for improved performance.

However, a SaaS application is a web-based application hosted in a data center owned and operated by the SaaS vendor and provides services to multiple enterprises from a centralized location. This application is typically accessed over an Internet connection, and while bandwidth costs have been continually falling, the public Internet is anything but reliable. As businesses grow global, concerns with latency and packet loss only grow bigger, and MPLS and WAN optimization strategies cannot stem the tide to the cloud. And there you have it – a slow running SaaS application and dipping productivity levels. If unchecked, this could cause enterprises to re-evaluate their SaaS deployment decision and perhaps switch back to their on-premise application provider.

In parallel, it’s important to look at the typical life cycle of SaaS vendors as they grow. Most vendors start off small and pick up local or regional customers. Since one of the key drivers for SaaS adoption is global scalability, it is likely for them to see an uptick in the number of international users because:

  1. Their existing customers are undergoing global expansion, or
  2. Their marketing efforts have resulted in increased global brand equity, leading to 
international customer acquisitions, or
  3. They just acquired a huge customer, headquartered in the same region, but with a large 
number of offices overseas.

As the international user base expands, many times, so do customer complaints. And a major chunk of these complaints is due to performance issues such as “asking too long to upload content” or a “slow reporting service”. More often than not, SaaS vendors are not prepared for this eventuality, which in turn leads to churn and a slower growth rate. In order to retain customers, SaaS vendors need to have an application acceleration strategy in place so as to meet performance expectations of customers and deliver the best end-user experience. One of the options that they have is to deploy multiple data centers, duplicate their software stack and mirror data near customer locations. However, this is not a long-term strategy for growth.

SaaS vendors therefore resort to CDN, or more precisely web application acceleration or dynamic content acceleration services. Capabilities of web application acceleration solutions include:

  1. Intelligent routing over the Internet middle mile to choose the minimum latency path
  2. TCP Optimization – to quickly recover from network congestion and packet loss
  3. Persistent connections – to minimize the number of round trips
  4. Connection pooling – for better origin offload, and
  5. On-the-fly compression

These acceleration services are built as an overlay on the public Internet, which is still a major bottleneck. The ‘middle mile’ between the content and the edge location of the CDN provider may be intelligent with the capabilities above but is certainly not dedicated, guaranteed or private. SaaS vendors do experience better response times with these solutions but consistency in application performance continues to elude them, something I hear from many customers.

While the market for these solutions is still small overall, when compared to other segments of the content delivery industry, web app acceleration is one of the most important requirements for SaaS providers that want to compete in the CDN space. The margins on these services are high, customers understand the impact that fractions of a second have on their business and most importantly, they are willing to buy these solutions based on real performance benchmarking and metrics. This is the opposite of how customers buy large file downloads or streaming video delivery. If a video takes half of a second longer to start up, due to a performance problem, in most cases, it won’t impact the content owner in a negative way and they won’t pay more for such a small uptick in performance. But half a second slower of faster when it comes to commerce, CRM and other applications, can mean the difference between making money and losing money.

There is a lot of competition in the SaaS web application acceleration space right now from Akamai, Amazon, Aryaka, CDNetworks, EdgeCast by Verizon, Fastly, Instart Logic, Limelight Networks, Riverbed, Yottaa and others, all vying for a piece of the business. To me, the most interesting up and comers right now are Aryaka [WAN Optimization & CDN Provider Aryaka Carves Out A Niche To Address Enterprises’ Content Delivery Problems], Instart Logic [How Instart Logic Wants to Solve Web Application Delivery], and Yottaa [Retailers: Your End-User Experience Is Lacking, Here's How to Fix It.] Web application acceleration isn’t simply a hot buzz word, it’s the future of the CDN market and a key service requirement for any SaaS provider that want’s to be successful in the CDN space.

Few Speaking Spots Left At Streaming Media West: List Of Open Spots

I haven’t blogged as much lately as I’ve been hard at work finishing the program for the Streaming Media West show (#smwest) taking place Nov. 18-19, at the Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach Resort & Spa in Huntington Beach, CA. Nearly 100 speakers have now been placed and I have just a few speaking spots left. The spots listed below are the only speaking spots left. Please email me if you are interested in placing a speaker on any of them.

Tuesday, November 18th 2014
Enterprise Mobile Video: Unique Deployment Challenges (two panel spots open)
This session will explain the unique challenges enterprises face when deploying mobile video. Panelists will share their experiences rolling out mobile initiatives and will provide technical recommendations and best practices. Topics include a discussion of mobile streaming trends and business use cases from traditional corporate communications to newer outbound marketing initiatives. The session will also cover workflow from content creation to delivery, including how to support multiple devices and bring your own device (BYOD) initiatives, wireless networking (4G vs. Enterprise Wi-Fi), app vs. browser, and content management.

Tuesday, November 18th 2014
Content Management Strategies for Enterprise Content Platforms (one panel spot open)
With video rapidly growing as a medium for communication across all areas of the enterprise—marketing, training, collaboration, compliance—how can you take advantage of your existing investments in content management, knowledge management, and search platforms to make video a first-class content asset? This panel will discuss and recommend best practices for helping ensure your videos can be found, shared, and watched in the right context and within the platforms already in use today.

Wednesday, November 19th 2014
The Risks and Rewards of Employee-Generated Video (multiple panel spots open)
Phone cameras and YouTube have propelled user-generated video into world headlines, but is user-generated video making inroads into the enterprise? Do the benefits outweigh the risks? Hear from businesses that have made the decision to deploy a secure video sharing and publishing platform inside their enterprises. Attendees will learn what measurable benefits these programs had, how the benefits outweighed the risks, and any unintended consequences that have to be overcome. Learn what questions you should ask when deciding whether to build or buy an internal video sharing platform as well some of the best practices for using one.

New Chart Shows The Differences Between Performance Monitoring Vendors

Performance monitoring was a very straightforward category of service just a few years ago. Companies set up programmatic test boxes in data centers around the world and pinged services designated for testing as their business model. Companies like Keynote and Gomez provided these synthetic monitoring services, and these companies were icons in the field, responsible for creating the market. However, there hasn’t been many innovations in their services over the years, and competition was primarily always based on price. Because the locations of these servers performing the synthetic monitoring could be discovered, these services were also gamed by smart CDN’s that wanted good scores. As a result, this lead to cynicism regarding the results, making their data much less effective.

The good news is when it comes to performance monitoring, things have evolved rapidly in the last few years. The main reasons for this are that application monitoring, which was traditionally data center centric, has now been brought into the cloud. New pricing models such as Cedexis with its free Radar product are creating a commoditization of the traditional service in favor of a more valuable service (in their case the global CDN load-balancing product Openmix). In addition, RUM (Real End User Measurements) has come to the forefront as the defacto standard for monitoring and is a far cry from the methodology used in the early days by systems like Keynote and Gomez.

These three factors have made a market that was feature stable and resistant to price decline into a completely new market that defies easy categorization. The chart below takes a look at some of the current performance monitoring competitors in the market and details their focus. [UPDATE 10/3: The first version of this chart incorrectly showed Keynote as not supporting RUM. Keynote does have RUM measurements taken by inserting a W3C approved tag on the site.]monitoring-vendors-1024x534

As the chart shows, the competitive landscape is broad, and the features supported vary widely depending on the focus of the company. The prevalence of RUM measurements is also something to take note of, and while the majority of these vendors claim to have some form of RUM, it can be deceptive. The reality is that WHAT is being measured by the RUM also matters. Cedexis for instance measures every CDN (and Cloud) for the purpose of their load balancing solution. These measurements are of specific objects that have been inserted into the CDNs for this purpose. This gives a very clear view of the relative performance across CDNs. Other RUM measurements by some of the other vendors may be more directed at specific customer infrastructure, which could provide more relevant reporting only for a specific customer.

Cedexis is clearly the winner with their billions of RUM measurements a day and the fact that they have built a community out of some of the most ferocious competitors in recent history, namely the CDN vertical. This cannot be underrated as the community that Cedexis has built is not easily replicated and their “Wisdom of the Crowds” message only holds water because they have been able to get every CDN on the planet, for the most part, to participate. Conviva has a very strong offering in the video space but as that space has evolved they may find that the needs for such a specific and very expensive service dwindles. I’ve written about this before saying that I don’t believe Conviva can survive on their own, as a stand-alone service. CDNs like Akamai are now offering a competing platform to Conviva, and it’s bundled within a larger ecosystem that is much easier to sell and is a better way to buy it.

The strongest followers in the space are Dyn, DeepField, Catchpoint and New Relic, and it’s interesting to note that two of the four come from the APM space (Application Performance Monitoring). Time will tell if the APM tool companies can compete, especially when they have Cedexis giving away its monitoring product for free. Cedexis does this so that they can aggregate or pool the community data to inform their Global Load Balancing solution (the higher value product), but it’s still hard for any vendor to compete with free. I’d be interested to hear from customers who use these solutions what they like/dislike most about them in the comments section.