Microsoft Launches Transform Manager

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At Streaming Media West 2010 last November, Microsoft launched IIS Media Services 4.0. This HTTP-based media server stack plugs into Internet Information Services (IIS), the web server built into Windows. Unlike traditional streaming servers, IIS Media Services scales out using any HTTP caching server, rather than requiring specific downstream streaming media servers. Today, Microsoft announced it is releasing the beta of a new IIS extension we previously discussed called IIS Transform Manager.

IIS Media Services extensions effectively turn IIS into a media origin server, but because IIS Smooth Streaming can use either IIS caching servers or any other standard HTTP caching servers downstream to scale (rather than requiring specific downstream streaming servers, as traditional streaming servers such as FMS or WMS typically do), the scale-out is not at all locked to any one server solution.

Microsoft sees Transform Manager as an integral part of an Expression Encoder 4 Pro encoding workflow in three areas: converting existing content libraries to other formats, such as Smooth Streaming; constant ingest/ transcode; and converting fragmented MP4 files to Apple HTTP Live Streaming segments for on-demand content delivery.

"Transform Manager is an extensible media transform engine," said Chris Knowlton, senior product manager for the recently-announced Microsoft Media Platform. "It can enable simple 'Watch Folder' job submission, with queuing and management, but the true power lies in its integrated media transcoding/transmuxing and batch-encryption of existing libraries of content, both on-demand audio and video files."

IIS Transform Manager is a free IIS download that has tight integration with Expression Encoder 4 SP1. You can use the free version of Expression Encoder 4 SP1 with Transform Manager for creating VC-1 (Windows Media) content, but to create H.264/AAC content, you will need to upgrade to Expression Encoder 4 Pro, which sells for $199. The tasks, accomplished through "watch folders" or on an ad-hoc basis, can be used to schedule for multiple-bit rate (MBR) encoding to conform versions of library assets to the Smooth Streaming file format.

In addition, Transform Manager can transmux MP4 files for Smooth Streaming, repackaging "appropriately-encoded fragments in .mp4 file containers to Smooth Streaming file containers (.ismv, .isma) without re-encoding," according to the company.

"IIS Transform manager has quickly become a core part of our ‘MediaFreedom’ video services platform," said Iain Ballard, senior developer at Twofour Digital in the UK. "We quickly created complex custom workflows in critical business situations—even in IIS Transform Manager's alpha and pre-beta versions—to build a transcode and video processing farm for a fraction of the price of competing solutions."

Apple iOS devices aren't left in the cold, as existing Smooth Streaming presentations can be batch-transmuxed into MPEG-2 TS (Transport Stream) segments. A manifest file is also created, allowing IIS to deliver to Apple's iPad, iPhone and iPod touch mobile devices.

Finally, IIS Transform Manager has the ability to batch-apply packet-level digital rights management (DRM) and encryption.  On-demand Smooth Streams can have IIS Digital Rights Management or Microsoft PlayReady license servers tied into the appropriate files to batch update client manifests used by Smooth Streaming clients.

How fast is the system? Microsoft says it can be scaled up massively with High-Performance Computing (HPC) clusters using Windows HPC 2008 R2 Cluster services, but even the standard IIS Transform Manager is capable—based on hardware resources—of up to 100 file transcodes per watch folder per minute "to be queued and encoded to the Smooth Streaming file format with the integrated Expression Encoder 4 task," according to the company.

"The compute clustering capabilities of IIS Transform Manager allows us to scale our solutions according to our needs, and have a single point of configuration," said TwoFour's Ballard.

IIS Media Services 4.0 runs on several non-server Windows platforms, including Windows XP Service Pack 3, Vista, and Windows 7. Transform Manager also runs on the same platforms, alongside Expression Encoder 4 Pro SP1.

With all the IIS Transform Manager features noted in today's launch, what's left on the list of the other upcoming IIS Media services

Knowlton named two in a blog post last November:  IIS Smooth Multicast and the IIS Smooth Streaming Client. The former, currently being tested by dozens of large enterprises as an Alpha build, combines efficient multicast delivery with adaptive streaming, and may release in Beta form later this year. The latter is the networking, heuristics, monitoring, advertising, analytics, and advanced playback capabilities module that both Silverlight and other .NET-capable clients call on to play back IIS Smooth Streaming.

Related to the Smooth Streaming Client is the IIS Smooth Streaming Porting Kit, which allows non-Silverlight clients (e.g., Apple iOS, Android, and Linux devices) to use native code to play Smooth Streaming content.  As announced during Alex Zambelli’s Microsoft Media Platform session [See Slide 14] at MIX 2011, the Smooth Streaming Porting Kit is now available for private licensing.

The Smooth Streaming file format is formally known as the Protected Interoperable File Format, or PIFF, and the specification is shared at no charge under the Microsoft Community PromisePIFF is the basis for current Netflix streaming and the upcoming Ultraviolet (DECE) Common File Format (CFF).

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