Chris Allen, Red5 Pro’s CEO and Co-Founder, spoke on the Linode podcast, Craft of Code to discuss the ends and outs of live real-time video streaming.
Listen to the discussion as Chris covers the early days of Red5 Pro and how we identified major problems in the older live streaming infrastructure: latency and lack of support for a truly interactive experience for as many people as needed.
Red5 Pro strives to give as much power as possible to the user, whether based on geography, technology, SDK orientation, or customizability.
We want people to be able to build whatever’s in their dreams and make it a reality, rather than dumbing it down to the common denominator.
Looking forward, Red5 Pro expects to benefit from Linode’s ongoing geographic expansion. Linode data centers support 11 global markets, enabling secure and reliable networking through its network backbone. Machines can communicate with one another, reducing latency and lowering the friction of scale. Red5 Pro’s low-latency, high-bandwidth use cases for communicating and messaging in real-time are only going to become more relevant and widely in demand over time.
You can listen to the full 15-minute podcast here.
The full transcript can be found below:
Intro: Welcome to Craft of Code, a podcast brought to you by Linode that explores the stories of developers, entrepreneurs and enterprises of all sizes from all over the world, who share our mission to make cloud computing simple, affordable and accessible to all.
Host: Welcome to this episode of Craft of Code. In this episode, Chris Allen, CEO of Red5 Pro talks to us about real-time streaming video to millions of people in milliseconds. Red5 Pro got its start back in 2005 when it reverse engineered Adobe Flash's real-time messaging protocol, creating an open source alternative to the Flash communication method and eventually productizing and licensing a paid version.
Chris bet early on that people would care about latency more than anything else, so the company set about trying to solve that. And the bet paid off, today Red5 Pro can offer live, interactive and concurrent video experiences at scale. And when the Covid 19 pandemic hit it catapulted Red5 Pro's technology to the fore. Not just limited to broadcasters anymore, Red5 Pro is helping other companies that require low latency and high scale ability for things like drone streaming, live auctions, gambling, sports betting, e-sports broadcasting and more.
Chris gives us some background to Red5 Pro's origins and how Linode has supported their journey. I'm going to bet you'll enjoy this discussion.
Chris tells us how the company got started.
Chris Allen: We were the first group to reverse Flash's video streaming protocol known as RTMP. That was in 2005 where we kind of cracked it through the black box reverse engineering of the protocol. And we created an open source alternative to the Flash communication server which was at the time I think was about $50,000 a seat, so it was cost prohibitive and that was one of the motivators for us to do it, because there was this great feature in the Flash player itself that was essentially locked down and we decided for interoperability sake we should create something that was an alternative. So that open source server, of course, being free compared to what Adobe was charging for it made the thing kind of take off.
And so we started out by creating a company around it, doing consulting and work for hire around the open source product. And so fast forward many years into the future we saw the demise of Flash is sort of an opportunity, and rather than continuing down the services work model for an open source product we decided to productize it and that's where the Pro version comes in, so we have the Red5 Pro, it's a licensed model. It allowed us to scale it out in a way that we couldn't before, we raised venture capital and we shifted our business model from the services to product and licensing.
Host: Chris knew that people would care more about latency in video than anything else. What did that mean for the business?
Chris Allen: We made a couple of bets early on with that; one is that people are going to care about latency. None of the HLS or impact dash, or any of the other approaches that were native in a web browser, were addressing latency, and we thought that was a big mistake to not look at that. We knew this from being a services company that a lot of these guys were relying on that kind of essentially real-time latency we were able to get, like some second. They were building kind of video chat type experiments, other kinds of things, and we thought (1) WebRTC, the protocol that we tend to focus on is really hard to work with so we figured we could simplify that for them, but it's also really hard to scale so that was the other kind of aspect we picked to focus on.
Host: By solving two significant problems - broadcast latency and multiple user interactives in live streams - Red5 Pro was able to create wow moments in real time. Chris explains.
Chris Allen: Basically we're solving two problems with live video streaming, (1) is the latency on a live video stream is typically delayed by quite a bit of time, so from the time it's captured on one end with a camera to somebody seeing it on the other end usually is measured in lots of seconds. And this is causing all kinds of problems with like sports broadcast where people are getting spoilers from the field and people are texting them about what's happening and they haven't even seen the play yet, that's one good example of it. There's all kinds of other examples where broadcast latency is an issue.
And then the solutions that can do real-time latency with live video like what we're doing with the Zoom here can't typically scale out, so one to many to hundreds of thousands of concurrent viewers just doesn't work with a video point-to-point type technology like that. So what we've done is come up with a solution that allows people to build essentially real-time like video chat style latency into live broadcast applications. And the cool thing about that is it starts to introduce all kinds of other possibilities that weren't possible before like live interaction in the live streams, ability to call and bring in an interviewer into a live broadcast kind of like you would do with talk radio, that sort of thing, to collaborative kind of video fan wall type experiences, we're seeing kind of a reverse where you're bringing lots of users into the same environment as a stadium.
Host: Chris tells us how their customer base has expanded way beyond just broadcasting.
Chris Allen: And so we have groups that do like live drone streaming and surveillance and stuff like that, so which have nothing to do with broadcast, right? But they have their own reasons that they need latency down and measured in milliseconds. And we've also got groups that do like live auctions and bidding on items, and you can imagine latency is a really critical thing for that. We do have some gambling kind of customers too. And then there's some that kind of are hybrid now, and that's more of what we're starting to see emerge; a lot of sports betting is playing into the sports broadcast, for example, now. And then interactivity with streams, things like e-sports broadcast where people can actually have an effect on the live video game play - all kinds of interesting things.
So, no, broadcast companies aren't our only target customers, but they're certainly one of them and it's one of the more quickly ... they're starting to wake up to the need for real-time latency in their live streams. So what we're really seeing as the sweet spot is where they want to combine these things - they need their like own live video conferencing solution where then they can also push those all out as a broadcast so everybody else can see it and then having fine-tuned control over it as a developer is also really critical.
Host: Chris explains how the Covid 19 pandemic accelerated the need for live, interactive and concurrent video experiences.
Chris Allen: I can't state how much Covid 19 has had an impact on this. It's terrible for the world but it's really done remarkable things for accelerating some of these live video experiences that people want. And I don't think that stuff's going to go away. What was once kind of a nice to have and on a company's product roadmap has now been like a must-have and they're going really fast, they get these kind of live, interactive video experiences.
Host: For Red5 Pro's cost-conscious customers hosting with a hyper scale provider like AWS, Azure or Google is out of the question mainly because of bandwidth costs. Chris explains why Red5 Pro's customers are better suited for an alternative cloud provider like Linode.
Chris Allen: What we've been seeing is there's certain kind of corporate entities which are much better geared toward the AWS or Azure relationship, and it's because they've got big commits all up front, you know what I mean? So that they're able to drive down the prices. This is a big thing with Microsoft Azure, and they're also a partner of ours by the way as well. And what we're seeing is more of these like very large corporate entities being a much better fit for Azure and then some of these smaller, scrappier use cases are much better for DigitalOcean and Linode, and particularly when you can tie it together to multiple services.
I think there are a few different groups that are kind of taking advantage of this cross-cloud infrastructure. Snapped is another good example of that where they kind of do the load balancing, kind of where it can target multiple cloud providers. Their product, for example, actually works really well with ours too, it's a good combination. But this whole strategy of using multiple cloud providers for their strengths I think is where this comes from. And Linode and DigitalOcean, their strengths come from being smaller, more nimble, more willing to react to different kind of situations and then better price points.
Host: Chris was also attracted to Linode because both companies share a common focus on the developer community.
Chris Allen: We're very much a developer-focused product, we make it so that people can or developers can build out custom apps of their own that they can put together the pieces in any way, shape or form that they believe in. And then they can deploy the solution on top of a cloud network of their choice, and this is where Linode pops in, right? While we don't host it directly on Linode our customers do, and I think one of the important points of that is we are a developer-focused company so is Linode. Linode, like you guys provide really great documentation, you kind of speak the same sort of language that we do. And so I think that consistency of experience for developers is an important one and why they would choose you guys.
Host: Next, we explored how Red5 Pro strives to give developers as much power and flexibility as possible, whether that's based on geography, technology, SDK orientation or customizability.
Chris Allen: So we've been really developer-first-focused and trying to make it as easy as possible while at the same time giving full control. So that's a delicate balance, and I don't know if we always do a good job. I think we've always sided on the side of power like to the user as opposed to ease of use, which is kind of a double-edged sword, but we want to make it so that people can basically build whatever is in their dreams and make it a reality as opposed to like dumbing it down to the common denominator.
Host: In terms of managing their customers' Linode accounts Chris explains that they offer both hands-on and a hands-off approach.
Chris Allen: So our enterprise-level customers they'll basically hire us, I mean, a good way to think of it is they hire us like their dev-ops team to handle the streaming infrastructure. And so usually what that means is they'll give us an account on their Linode account and then we're there managing it for them and being very hands-on and working directly with Linode as well to troubleshoot issues as they come up. The more hands-off approach, kind of self-serve customers, yeah, they have a direct relationship with you guys and it's very hands-off, they're following our documentation and they're playing it in that sense. So we kind of can do either model. And we've seen both actually.
Host: Red5 Pro enables developers to have freedom of choice by supporting Terraform, elasticity is the key feature of this open source infrastructure as code software tool and gives Red5 Pro users the ability to expand. Chris explains.
Chris Allen: We ended up for our stream manager picking Terraform as kind of our interface into the cloud, so that means you can like basically pop on a Terraform provider into our stream manager and then it's able to use that. And we've seen some pretty interesting use cases where they want to go across cloud, and not even just between the public clouds but also people wanted to control some of the content within their own data centers and then either using cloud to kind of expand out to different regions that they may not support or just adding capacity when they really need it. So that elasticity thing is kind of a nice feature of it. But, yeah, I mean our strategy has been to use Terraform in this way so we can essentially target every cloud provider who builds one of those Terraform providers.
Host: Currently Linode data centers support 11 global markets, enabling secure and reliable networking throughout its network backbone. Machines can communicate with one another reducing latency and lowering the friction of scale. Red5 Pro expects to benefit from Linode's ongoing geographic expansion. As for the future, you can bet that Red5 Pro's low latency, high bandwidth use cases for communicating and messaging in real time are only going to become more relevant and widely in demand.
Our thanks to Chris Allen for sharing his insight into ultra low latency video streaming and interactivity that is truly pushing the boundaries of video technology, if you want to find out more about Red5 Pro and its award-winning innovative technology, then head over to red5pro.com.
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