Everything Changes In (A) Flash

Adobe used the first day of its MAX conference, being held in San Francisco’s Moscone Convention Center, as a way to showcase the newest Flash Media Server family. The company has announced Flash Media Streaming Server 3.5 (FMSS) and Flash Media Interactive Server 3.5 (FMIS) in a beta program with several CDNs.

CDNetworks’ executives said they’re part of the first beta test, which is set to go live immediately, with hopes of rolling to general availability within the first months of 2009.

"The beta will be limited to a handful of customers," said CDNetworks’ VP of Sales Robert Gribnau, "with a go-to-market version available when Adobe releases the final code late this year or early in 2009."

Adobe’s Kevin Towes, product manager for Flash Media Server, confirmed the availability of the FMS 3.5 beta but mentioned release time might be closer to the end of first quarter 2009.

When asked about the key features of the Flash Media Server 3.5 family, two features were mentioned both by Adobe and CDNetworks:

"With Adobe announcing availability of the beta with ourselves and other CDNs," Gribnau added, "we continue the tradition of passing on early adoption opportunities to our customers, allowing a few of them to do an early test ride. Lycos Cinema, which was an early tester of FMS 3.0 in March, and was rapidly rolled to a general availability user within three weeks, is back in the early-adopter program using FMS 3.5 starting immediately."

"In addition," Gribnau added, "the indie film portal Jaman, which also has a deal with TiVo to stream indie films to TiVo boxes, switched from EdgeCast to our FMS 3.0 infrastructure back in June and is now in the 3.5 beta program. They are most interested in the new DVR-like functionality that allows end-users to ‘pause’ live streaming content or record it to their desktop."

This live DVR functionality is designed to allow a viewer who has missed an initial part of a live stream to "catch up" with the content, or to pick up the live stream after a temporary disruption in service. This feature, according to Adobe, is available on FMIS but not FMSS.

A second feature that Adobe’s Towes mentioned is Multiple Bit Rate support. While Microsoft introduced Multiple Bit Rate support several years ago, and has progressed with a beta of what it dubs "Smooth Streaming" after an investment in Move Networks' technologies, Towes notes that existing content can work with the FMS 3.5 Multiple Bit Rate.

"Previously encoded content may work with our Multiple Bit Rate server support," said Adobe’s Towes, "although there may be a brief gap in audio. Re-encoding content with consistent keyframes across all bitrates will ensure the server can switch between different bitrate streams—both uprating and downrating—with no gaps in the audio."

Not to be outdone, Wowza Media Systems, a company that has given Flash Media Server a run for its money each step of the way, with its Wowza Media Server meeting or beating Flash Media Server’s price points, has announced a novel new approach to its Pro version of the Wowza Media Server.

"As a software company solely focused on media servers," the company said in a press release on Friday, "we are announcing the availability of Wowza Media Server Pro Subscription Edition."

This subscription-based version offers what the company calls a "friction-free" monthly subscription licensing. Wowza notes over 14,000 customers use its products, including a number of CDN companies such as T-Systems (Deutsche Telecom), Interoute, Avacast, SimpleCDN, StreamUK, Nacamar, and StreamZilla. Yet the option of a subscription-based server that can serve both Flash media content and H.264 in other wrapper formats, may be attractive to those smaller CDNs have yet to offer streaming services as part of a value-added proposition.

Wowza Media Server Pro Subscription Edition offers service providers the most full-featured version of Wowza Pro and a risk-free, flexible model for managing their licensing costs according to their customers’ streaming demands.

"[The subscription model] is going to help streaming service providers and hosting companies ‘keep a lid’ on capital expenditures," said Jim Davis, Senior Analyst, Tier1 Research, adding that CDNs may very well "pass these cost savings on, enabling them to compete for customers that might not otherwise bother to buy CDN services."

Besides the limitation of upfront capital expenditures, Wowza also notes its subscription users won’t have to worry about a minimum number of server instances or software upgrade charges. The company already does not charge per-GB transfer fees, so the fixed-cost per-server subscription fee actually declines in volume, along for the one-two punch of flexible capacity and cost management, with a CDN paying only for the servers used.

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