Friday, February 01, 2008

Flash Flood

Adobe have launched a new version of their Flash streaming server with improved security and live event features and revised costings.

Traditionally, Flash streaming servers were charged for on a ridiculously high per CPU rate, so everyone used progressive downloads (http serving), which had disadvantages such as disabling forward and rewind, but basically did the job so that most viewers didn't notice.

The following post from the product manager's blog is worth reprinting in full:

Today we announced two new product versions: Flash Media Interactive Server (FMIS) and Flash Media Streaming Server (FMSS). Flash Media Server 3 is the next generation of Adobe's Emmy-award winning software for streaming video and real-time communication. Flash Media Server 3 can stream to Flash Player, Adobe Media Player, Adobe AIR, and Flash Lite 3 (on mobile devices).

Flash Media Interactive Server (FMIS) is a new configuration of Flash Media Server that has all the features of Flash Media Server 2 Professional, Origin and Edge editions. It supports distributed processes that enable more connections and better file caching. This server supports the new C++ plug-in framework, and the server-side action script framework required for developing custom streaming solutions and multiway communication services.

Flash Media Streaming Server (FMSS) is a brand new product offering. This low-cost server is limited to live and video-on-demand (VOD) applications only. It cannot be used for multiway applications such as video chat, server-side playlists, or server-side recording. Flash Media Streaming Server does not support the new plug-in architecture or server-side ActionScript API. Edge or Origin configurations are not available in the streaming server either.

Flash Media Development Server (FMDS) is a free edition designed for you to evaluate or fully test the product. There is no expiration time period and it contains all the features and functionality found in Flash Media Interactive Server, but with a limit of 10 simultaneous users. You will need to upgrade to a paid version to deploy the software in a production environment.

In a nutshell, if you want all the latest offerings of Flash Media Server technology, then you need to buy FMIS. FMSS is really configured for lower volume streaming of secure, high-quality content suitable for small- to midsize businesses. FMDS is for testing purposes only.

So what happened to Flash Media Server 2 Professional, Origin and Edge editions? All the features of those editions are now part of a single server offering: Flash Media Interactive Server 3. Also, we lifted the restrictions on concurrent users and bandwidth. If you purchased Flash Media Server 2, then you know about making these calculations—it wasn't always easy! Both new versions of Flash Media Server 3 allow unlimited connections and bandwidth.

The high-level difference between these two products is that FMSS is restricted to live and VOD services. Users cannot customize the server-side application and cannot deploy plug-ins that provide additional rights management control (DRM) and deeper integration into their existing networks. By contrast, FMIS is the full-featured version of FMSS that supports Edge configurations for remote file caching and custom server-side applications for enhanced stream security and multiway communications.

Let's look at the new features and benefits within the product.

Security

In the previous versions of FMS, utilizing a Secure Socket Layer (SSL) was the only way to encrypt your data stream, resulting in a noticeably slower connection. However, we have made improvements in FMS with the new Real-time Messaging Protocol (RTMP), the patented protocol used by FMS to send and receive data. Not only is the RTMP handshake between the Flash Player client now more strictly enforced, but SWF verification is now possible, ensuring that the SWF connection request comes from the expected source. This effectively prevents FLV and bandwidth theft. The new RTMPE protocol in Flash Media Server 3 secures the channel with 128-bit encryption between the client and the server without the performance hit found with SSL, and without the need for a certificate. Providing real-time, high-capacity encryption with RTMPE and simple access controls with SWF verification eliminates the need of a complex DRM solution.

HD-quality video

The H.264 codec delivers excellent quality video and is now supported by Flash Media Server 3. With the latest Flash Player 9 release
, you can now watch H.264 (HD-quality) content seamlessly through the player. In addition to FLV, Flash Player 9 supports streaming or progressive playback of MPEG-4 container formats such as MP4, M4A, MOV, MP4V, 3GP, and 3G2 if they contain H.264 video and/or HE-AAC audio.

Performance

The overall performance of Flash Media Server 3 has been significantly improved. This not only continues to solidify FMS as a stable, enterprise-level streaming solution, but it makes it more affordable for businesses of all sizes to stream video online with their web properties. If you review our FMS 3 white paper, you can see actual numbers that show the increases in CPU power and bandwidth capacity. You can now deliver more streams with less hardware, significantly lowering your development costs.

Live video

Flash Media Server 3 allows you to broadcast live streams with a wealth of interactive features. Connected clients need only Flash Player or an Adobe AIR application to view the live broadcast. Adobe Flash Media Encoder 2 is a Windows XP-based live encoding application designed to enable event producers to capture live audio and video while streaming it in real time to Flash Media Server or a Flash Video Streaming Service (FVSS). Featuring simple out-of-the-box setup and operation, Flash Media Encoder requires no scripting knowledge for you to begin broadcasting high-quality, continual streams for events such as sports, concerts, webcasts, and seminars.

Price

We heard you! The biggest barrier to entry for many customers was price, and many chose to deliver video via a web server because it was cheaper and less complicated. Flash Media Streaming Server 3 (MSRP US $995) takes away that barrier with a very low entry price and significant improvements in the out-of-the-box experience and documentation. Unlimited users and unlimited bandwidth—up to the capacity of your hardware—make it easy to know how many servers you need. Flash Media Interactive Server 3 (MSRP US $4500, upgrade US $1995) allows you to customize your deployment with massive distribution models, and adds rich interactive features to help you monetize and socialize your video.

I hope I covered all the questions you might have about the new Flash Media Server 3. Let's see if this year marks the shift from progressive download to streaming video.


Personally, I remain somewhat cynical about the performance of the serving software, especially for H.264 delivery (I have only seen a handful of working implementations - all very crude); the simplistic security model and the cost - I am still unclear what the actual cost implications would be for large deployments.

No comments: