Rock N’ Roll With Performance Cloud Servers

By Casey Charvet, Technical Director, Blastro Networks

One of the truest lines ever written about the music business is from AC/DC’s face-melting classic, “It’s a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock ‘n’ Roll).” With all due respect to Angus Young and Bon Scott (onya, mates!), streaming a live concert is an even tougher mountain to climb.

In the old days (am I really calling the 90s the old days?) if you liked a band you bought a ticket to their show. Next, you put on a flannel shirt, got in the car, fought horrendous traffic, carefully waded through the sea of posers on the way to your crummy seat only to get your face smashed in because you accidently ended up in the mosh pit. I don’t know about you, but I miss those days about as much as I miss late fees from Blockbuster and the gut-wrenching angst on My So-Called Life. Okay, okay, My So-Called Life was awesome.

Watch Casey whiteboard how Blastro streams high quality live video:

Fortunately, in 2013, there are Rackspace Performance Cloud Servers. Now, as long as you have any device connected to the Internet, you can watch your favorite bands jam out live anywhere on earth without catching a shoe to the face, overpriced beer—or worse—putting on a flannel shirt. It’s awesome. But it sure isn’t easy. Until now.

At Blastro Networks, our mission is to deliver flawless HD streams of your favorite bands to any device on earth. Weather you’re rocking out in front of your flat screen with friends or trying not to head bang at work, Blastro will continue delivering live music to you for your unbridled enjoyment.

To do this, we have an incredible production crew at the concert shooting with multiple cameras in order to catch the best angles, even from the front row. These video feeds go to a switcher where our director makes the live cuts. Then, the switched live feed runs into encoding hardware that builds an MPEG 4 stream.

That’s just the opening act. Before it can go to our CDN we need to take this massive, HD quality MPEG 4 stream and transcode it in real time into several different formats to work seamlessly on a variety of devices and platforms all the while taking end user bandwidth capability into consideration. Encore! Encore!

The application that does this insane amount of encoding is Wowza media server. It’s a killer app written in Java and, as you’d suspect, is a memory vampire. After all, taking one stream and doing MPEG 4 encoding in real time with multiple streams using Wowza requires more hardware than a Pearl Jam concert.  Keeping all those threads running smoothly and in time could easily make a modern eight-core machine sweat.  If the threads can’t keep up, the stream can drop frames and stutter, leaving us with unhappy customers.

Not long ago we’d have to spend a fortune to buy and maintain bare metal servers in our data center to handle this crazy intensive process. Imagine the frustration of being forced to buy an expensive car you could only drive a few times a year, especially when you needed that capital to invest in your business to make it better.

For a while we made due with less powerful servers, but it required turning down the quality to keep CPU load manageable. Since we shoot in HD and pride ourselves on outstanding production quality, settling for a second-rate stream was out of the question.  Thankfully there’s Rackspace Performance Cloud Servers.

We found the 60GB performance flavor absolutely rocked the house. We gauge performance by the quality of our video stream, which is an amalgam of many different encoding parameters. With the new servers, we turned the quality up to 11 and were floored as the 16 vCPUs in the 60GB Performance Cloud Server cruised through a three-night run of shows.  The two-fold boost in stream quality didn’t go unnoticed by our users either.  We had virtual fist-bumps all night in the chat room over how great the stream looked and sounded, even at the lower bitrates where the CPUs have to work harder to squeeze extra quality out of fewer bits.

We didn’t stop there. Once we saw the other offerings from Rackspace, the wheels started turning. We implemented Mailgun to deliver email receipts to customers and built out our chat application to scale on the day of the show using the great value of 2GB standard flavor and a Rackspace Load Balancer.

All told, we were projecting to spend in the neighborhood of $50,000 in hardware and services for the first year of our streaming initiative to handle one concurrent live event. Instead, we’re spending a fraction of that. We were also able to reduce our per-viewer cost. And now we can scale horizontally at will to serve multiple live streams events.

Face it. No matter what business you’re in, it’s always going to be a long way to the top. Just trust me when I tell you Performance Cloud Servers can help you make it – even if you’re wearing a flannel shirt.

Casey Charvet is Technical Director for Blastro Networks, a Rackspace customer that provides music video fans with a high quality experience to watch their favorite videos and discover new artists. Blastro Networks participated in the beta testing of the new Rackspace Performance Cloud Servers.


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