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26 March 2020

Edgeware engages AutoPilot – keeping QoE on course when streams sleep

Swedish CDN technology specialist Edgeware boosted its six-month old multi-CDN switching technology StreamPilot this week with additional automation capabilities, in a move which initially seemed reactive to the current pressure on ISPs to alleviate bandwidth due to fewer on-site engineers.

Edgeware’s CTO and CPO Johan Bolin explained to Faultline that the new AutoPilot extension was already running trials at large customers before the global internet bandwidth crunch – and therefore the technology is reactive to existing customer demand rather than the coronavirus crisis. “In such complicated systems at large customers with huge amounts of data, it is impossible for humans to see and do things that StreamPilot with AutoPilot can. This software can identify more problems and it is important to visualize this data to make it as actionable as possible,” Bolin explained.

AutoPilot is ultimately about enabling broadcasters and content providers to automatically act upon and resolve issues flagged by StreamPilot in a multi-CDN set-up.

AutoPilot can pick out and present a unified view of issues affecting end user QoE, regardless of CDN, client and media format – which is StreamPilot’s core message. As we learned when StreamPilot launched at IBC 2019, optimizing sessions is the next stage of multi-CDN architectures, expanding beyond standard CDN switching and some element of load balancing – techniques which have been around for a long time.

Network technology vendors like Edgeware taking an enhanced interest in QoE video analytics has been an incrementally important trend in recent years. Our initial coverage of the StreamPilot launch highlighted how Edgeware was coming for Conviva’s lunch – after we spied Conviva’s name on a list of Edgeware competitors during a presentation from Edgeware’s CEO Karl Thedéen at the time. The arrival of AutoPilot therefore appeared to emphasize that message, particularly as the announcement mentioned devices as part of its QoE analytics remit along with the delivery CDN, the ISP and the content itself.

“Surely you haven’t managed to put an analytics client on end user devices?” was our message for Bolin, who quickly confirmed that this wasn’t the case. “StreamPilot remains entirely client-less but we can know from HTTP data whether an end user is running an iOS or Android device for example, although we cannot know more specific device details,” Bolin confirmed.

Taking a more data-driven approach, AutoPilot can present information on all CDNs, devices, geography, ASN number and – importantly – trends.

Diving deeper, Bolin broke down AutoPilot’s presentation functions into three core buckets – Attend, Resolve and Act. AutoPilot’s Attend automatically presents preventative measures like peering congestion based on historical data, while the Resolve feature automatically presents manual intervention measures, for example fixing file or origin servers, while Act triggers Immediate and Automatic intervention for CDN selection impacting QoE.

“We can see a lot of the blue and yellow, which companies like Conviva cannot see,” added Bolin.

A bonus feature is Predict, providing QoE stats with real-time graphs to forecast issues before they happen. Predict is perhaps the most intriguing element of AutoPilot, although the lack of emphasis on this forecasting element suggests it is in the fledgling stages.

The independent nature of Edgeware’s SaaS-based StreamPilot platform is achieved by inserting code into the control plane between the client and the CDN, a technique often compared to software-defined networking (SDN) – a common network configuration technology. By placing StreamPilot in the control plane, it opens up opportunities like gathering insights from video sessions to test new concepts, measure outcomes, insert blackouts, enforce rights and block illegal distribution.

StreamPilot is much more than a CDN switcher; the patent-pending technology is being marketed as a product for measuring, managing and monetizing video all in one. That could have serious implications for vendors in fields from analytics to ad insertion, with StreamPilot enabling a whole host of features. “We are the only origin vendor that can do advertising regionalization, not to be confused with ad personalization,” added Bolin.

Not only does the AutoPilot feature allow customers to nip potential problems in the bud, it also identifies problems that are unsolvable, such as ISP-related or other infrastructure-impacting circumstances. Edgeware says this reduces operational costs and allows users to focus on other tasks. “Valuable session data around CDN performance and overall QoE provides key insights to help content providers monetize their services, such as creating innovative service offerings and performing A/B testing,” states the vendor.

QoE video analytics has always been something of a grey area, with operators, broadcasters and vendors alike ambivalent about what really defines and constitutes true QoE. Edgeware has therefore taken the approach of allowing customers to define their own definition of QoE from where Edgeware can act.

Bolin also referenced the bitrate chomping efforts of major OTT video service providers, which we have covered in a separate story this week, as an example of one of the many features StreamPilot could enable. He made its clear that Edgeware is not currently involved in any bitrate reducing activities for customers triggered by the calls for network traffic reductions, although Bolin noted how StreamPilot has attracted interest from mobile operators. This is because telcos typically use between 5 and 15 different CDNs, whereas operators without in-house infrastructure usually rely on 2 CDNs. This is increasing all the time across various regions.

On paper, business should be booming for a vendor like Edgeware as video consumption skyrockets and customers increasingly adopt multi-CDN architectures. Things are never that simple though and one mitigating factor for Edgeware is that live sports delivery is a sizable breadwinner, and with the world’s most lucrative sporting events postponed, that may offset additional business on the VoD side.

“Business is booming in some markets, yes. But in the Nordics, for example, Friday and Saturday traffic peaks are no higher than before, and the infrastructure is already built out to cope,” said Bolin.

Edgeware still cannot disclose any StreamPilot customers – and therefore AutoPilot – but Bolin did reveal there are trials ongoing in the Nordics.