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The Edge

Disney gets behind open cache tech for streaming

The Walt Disney Company is exploring the deployment of new open cache systems at the edges of service provider networks to help power a streaming strategy poised to scale to hundreds of terabits per second.

"We need some way to scale our business, and we're committed to the open cache initiative," Michael Fay, VP of media distribution at Disney Streaming Services, said today. Fay spoke on a webinar hosted by the Streaming Video Alliance, a technical consortium of service providers and suppliers focused on specs and best practices for video streaming, including open cache technologies.

Disney's streaming output will continue to scale up amid the growth of its core OTT services alongside a broader company-wide focus on direct-to-consumer video offerings.
Disney's streaming output will continue to scale up amid the growth of its core OTT services alongside a broader company-wide focus on direct-to-consumer video offerings.

Streaming at scale is critical for Disney as OTT video becomes a core focus of its business following the success of Disney+, a subscription VoD service with 73 million subs worldwide, along with Hulu, ESPN+… and likely much more to come.

Disney, Fay predicted, has embarked on a "journey" that will take it to 200 Tbit/s of edge traffic. It will need something that's both flexible and neutral to get it there.

"We need to control our costs," Fay said. "Maybe having one fixed route, like CDNs [content delivery networks] or our own appliance, is not the best thing for us. We need to find a neutral way of managing that load over time."

Disney has been teaming working with Verizon on some of its initial work focused on open cache-based systems. The company believes that scale will be achieved through the coordinated and integrated use of multiple systems – CDNs, open cache platforms and Disney's own edge appliances.

"Disney can't have 75 ISPs having 75 different CDNs that have 75 different configs for how we onboard content" along with dozens of APIs and reporting metrics, Fay said.

It's early days still, but Fay said the performance of the open cache system being used on the Verizon network is already in the realm of what Disney is seeing with CDNs.

"They are all within one or two standard deviations for a particular point in time," he said. "I know the performance is there … We have non-anecdotal, quantifiable data that shows that, for the most part, you can substitute CDN 'C' for an open cache deployment on Verizon, and our end users are not getting the rebuffering. It's not false advertising. The stuff that's deployed works really well."

Jeff Budney, manager, core network planning at Verizon, said the work with Disney is at the "evaluation stage," with more details forthcoming.

Fay said the open cache specs and their ability to gather crowdsourced-data provides plenty of opportunities for optimizations and improvements as the technology is deployed at greater and greater scale. "I don't think the last battle has been fought as it pertains to performance on the open cache," he said. "There are opportunities to outperform CDNs."

BT pushes ahead on open cache

Others are making progress with open cache systems of their own. BT, for example, is billed as the "flagship customer" of an open caching system developed by Cisco and Qwilt.

The general idea behind the project is to improve the quality of experience for BT customers as demand for streaming video and the downloading of massive game files continues to accelerate during the pandemic.

Caching content at the edge has helped BT provide more than enough capacity against this "colossal uptick" of network demand, John Faria, product manager, edge compute, network and content delivery convergence at BT, said. He's hopeful that other ISPs in the UK adopt the same approach.

"We do believe it is a very novel and disruptive approach to what has been as a commoditized [CDN] market," Theodore Tzevelekis, head of business development at Cisco's mass-scale infrastructure group, said. "We see open caching as a way of really pushing the envelope of content delivery."

Although open cache is built on specs, initial deployments aren't yet completely plug-and-play – they still require customizations and optimizations that account for peculiarities of the carrier's network, he warned.

"There's no one solution that fits all," Tzevelekis said, noting that Cisco is working with Qwilt on approaches that would continuously improve on the full-stack design currently being deployed, for example, at BT. "A vanilla off-the-shelf compute will only cut it so far."

"It's still very early and the results are encouraging," said Alon Maor, co-founder and CEO of Qwilt.

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— Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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