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Wowza Media Server 3: Any-Screen Delivery Done Right
Wowza revamps architecture and adds transcoding and DVR modules, offers free upgrade to Wowza Media Server 2 licensees

Wowza Media is on a roll: Not only has the company been profitable from day one, with no outside funding, but it's also passed the 70,000 license mark. Today, the company hopes to extend its lead by introducing a full-version release, Wowza Media Server 3.

Wowza will preview Wowza Media Server 3 at the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) show in Las Vegas next week, but the company provided an brief overview via slide deck on a recent conference call.

"We know that delivery to any screen—and the workflows surrounding it—are absolutely critical to business strategies," said CEO Dave Stubenvoll during last week's call. "In fact, it has become the most important industry trend, according to Devoncroft Partners."

Stubenvoll's reference to Devoncroft's any-screen delivery finding is based on the recently published 2011 Big Broadcast Survey, in which Devoncroft surveyed broadcasters to find out what their enhanced market strategies would be.

The release of Wowza Media Server 3, which is expected in the third quarter of 2011, will be offered for free to current Wowza Media Server 2 perpetual license holders, marks a move to a major new architecture. The architectural change to the underlying infrastructure allows Wowza Media Server to accept plug-in modules with a variety of functions.

According to the company, the new server "makes hard-to-implement features such as adaptive bitrate (ABR) streaming and time-shifted playback simple and cost-effective."

When asked about these claims, Stubenvoll described a scenario in which a customer started out with the intent of only servicing a particular adaptive bitrate market—such as Apple's iOS-based iPad, iPhone and iPod touch devices—but then sees a growth opportunity in Android-based devices that use Flash Player.

"Rather than relying on a number of discrete adaptive bitrate solutions," Stubenvoll states, "the content publisher or service provider can rely on a single cache of content that will be segmented and transmuxed for delivery to the proper ABR version for the particular player or device."

Stubenvoll says that the new architecture is designed to scale from a small single-license server solution up to a CDN-level solution, all by adding licenses across a growing number of commodity hardware platforms. Media Server 3 will be available as a free upgrade for all current Media Server 2 customers, though there are two new add-on modules for which the company will charge.

“The cost and complexity of fragmented client-specific platform requirements have made feature-rich any-screen delivery practically unattainable for all but the largest service providers,” said  Stubenvoll. “With Wowza Media Server 3, we are attempting to simplifies the complexity, providing anyone from a neighborhood church to a media giant a cost-effective foundation for delivering to a wide diversity of screens.”

Wowza uses the basis of Media Cache, a feature in Wowza Media Server 2, to drive the single-cache for its ABR solutions. In addition, the company is offering a transcoding module to convert content on an as-needed basis, whether assets or live feeds.

"We've wanted to do transcoding for some time," said Stubenvoll, "but we wanted to do it right. The commodity processing capabilities in x86 Sandybridge and GPU solutions available today provide the necessary processing. Our Transcoding AddOn transforms incoming live streams from encoders, IP cameras, IPTV headends, and other live sources into multiple stream sets for H.264-based adaptive bitrate delivery using Flash RTMP and HTTP Dynamic Streaming, Apple HLS, and Silverlight Smooth Streaming."

When asked about WebM capability, given Google's decision to nix native H.264 support within its Chrome browser, Stubenvoll said WebM will be supported when the time is right, although he notes Wowza Media Server 3 will be able to transcode WebM if the Transcoding module is purchased.

The ability to purchase and add in additional modules, one of the main reasons for the architectural shift, doesn't stop with the Transcoding module. Wowza is also offering a network digital video recorder (nDVR) module that Stubenvoll says is generating significant excitement among beta testers.

"The Wowza Network DVR AddOn is also based on our Media Cache interstitial format," said Stubenvoll, "and the nDVR stores content in this normalized format accessible to Wowza Media Server 3 for any-screen playout of the cache. Compared to client-specific nDVR implementations, Wowza Network DVR's single-cache approach significantly minimizes network storage requirements and simplifying the delivery workflow for all screens."

Stubenvoll also notes that the add-on modules can be turned on or off for Wowza licensees using the subscription license.

"We know that the add-on modules—of which Trancoding and nDVR are just the initial offerings—will require a revamp of our licensing process," said Stubenvoll, "but the end result will be an ability by subscription licensees to dynamically choose which modules to use at a given time, and allows Wowza to offer subscription solutions account for the as-you-go nature of market needs."