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1.5.3 Real-time Interactivity
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In addition to stored media, some applications such as Internet phone and video conferencing send live media streams encoded in real-time to participating users. Unlike stored media, which a few seconds start-up delay is tolerable, these real-time applications cannot tolerate too long a delay (e.g., 150 ms one way in voice call). This stringent delay requirement consequently puts much tighter constraints on the design and implementation of the media streaming system. It is worth noting that this real-time requirement often con icts with other design goals, such as continuity or ef ciency, and thus careful trade-offs are needed to balance these con icting requirements.
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1.5.4 Ef ciency
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Continuous media typically generate huge amount of data for storage and delivery. Thus, in designing media streaming systems, ef ciency in the various subsystems becomes crucial in
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determining the service s cost-effectiveness. Many early continuous media streaming services, video-on-demand in particular, have failed to reach wide acceptance partly because the cost of provisioning the service is too high. Along with the recent advances in processor, storage, and network technologies, the cost in storing and delivering vast amount of media data has dropped substantially. Nevertheless, the cost in serving high-quality media contents such as the emerging high-de nition video to a large number of users (e.g., in a city) are still very substantial and thus the quest for ever more ef cient media streaming system designs continues to be an important research topic.
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1.5.5 Scalability
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Another challenge related to ef ciency is scalability. Speci cally, scalability refers to the limit at which one can increase the service capacity of a system, and the rate of increase in the system cost when the system capacity is scaled up. Consider a simple system with one media server as shown in Figure 1.12a. When more and more clients join the system, the media server will eventually become overloaded (Figure 1.12b), thus leading to unacceptable waiting time or service quality. One possible solution is to add a new media server to the system, and replicate all media contents to the new media server as shown in Figure 1.12c. This doubles the system capacity at the expense of doubled system cost. More generally, Figure 1.13 illustrates three types of cost/capacity relations when we scale up the capacity of a system. In Case #1, the cost per unit capacity increases when one increases the system capacity. For example, if we increase the capacity of a media server by replacing it with a higher-capacity server, then it is quite common that the cost per unit capacity will increase for servers of higher and higher capacity. This is due to the lack of economy of scale in producing the very high capacity servers compared to the mass-produced commodity server platforms. In Case #2 the cost per unit capacity is constant. Our previous example of replicated media servers falls within this type of scalability. Finally, in Case #3 the cost per unit capacity decreases with increases in the system scale. This is obviously highly desirable as it implies that a service operator can bene t from economy of scale in provisioning media streaming services to a large user population. The multicast streaming architectures to be covered in Part III of this book will cover many streaming architectures that achieve precisely this type of scalability.
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1.5.6 Reliability
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In addition to scalability, service reliability is another important challenge in provisioning large-scale media streaming services. Starting from the storage subsystem such as a disk array, the failure of a disk will disrupt the operation of the media server unless fault-tolerant mechanisms (e.g., RAID [2]) are employed. In addition to disk failures, the media server itself is also susceptible to many potential failures, including memory failure (some of which can be corrected using error-correcting memory chips), network interface failure, processor failure, power failure, or simply due to hitting a bug in the media server software.
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