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    Categories Networking TechnologyPerformance Monitoring

Streaming Media and Your Internet Performance

It’s a great time to be a connected consumer.  Our favorite audio, video and news products are available from multiple online sources and can be immediately consumed on the nearest connected device.  Sometimes the path to a great viewing experience is painless and it just works.  At other times achieving a quality viewing experience can be a real challenge.  As with traditional broadcast media, this usually has nothing to do with the device configuration and everything to do with successful media delivery to the device.

I’ve taken a trip up the ladder to clean off our satellite dish during the snowy NFL playoffs season, or to fix our HD receiver left hanging from a summer thunderstorm.  In other words, the HD viewing experience is very much affected by weather.  Well, ‘weather’ on the content delivery path, even if you’re using Internet delivered services like those from Amazon Prime, Netflix, or Dish/Blockbuster.

As an Amazon Prime Member, I’m thrilled to have free access to some favorite movies and TV shows.  I sampled some content recently and measured the network usage with PathView Cloud’s FlowView and FlowView Plus modules to understand the performance impact on a typical broadband connected home network.  If you’re new to PathView Cloud, FlowView provides usage analysis of any network link without requiring a Netflow-enabled device, and FlowView Plus provides full traffic capture at any remote location without software or expensive capture equipment.  A short capture taken during a streaming media sample reveals the Adobe Flash content as the “top talker.”

The table below shows the Amazon-recommended network capacities for the two most common instant video formats, along with the actual usage measured by PathView Cloud.

Content Type

Amazon

Recommended

Bandwidth

Actual Bandwidth

Used Over 5 Minute Sample

High Definition (720p) Video

3.5 Mbps

2.65 Mbps

Standard Definition (480p) Video

1.5 Mbps

1.29 Mbps

However, having enough bandwidth doesn’t necessarily guarantee a quality viewing experience.  Network quality can be degraded by a number of factors including ISPs’ traffic management, excessive bandwidth use, normal peak hour congestion, or in-home problems such as poorly performing Wi-Fi or other in-home wired network.  Network managers need to manage capacity, utilization, latency, packet loss, variation in latency (jitter), changes in route, and other indicators to ensure successful application delivery to remote locations.

PathView Cloud is the only performance tool that can accurately measure a network’s total and available capacity and performance without flooding the network with traffic that can itself degrade application performance.  The performance snapshot captured during a broadband performance brownout is included here.

You can see the network capacity, excessive utilization, and corresponding data loss, jitter, and latency graphed in real time. It’s clear the link utilization (dark blue) jumped at the same time packet loss and jitter violated defined performance thresholds (red peaks). So where should the finger point when it comes to root cause identification and resolution? Have you ever tried troubleshooting with an Internet Speed Test? PathView Cloud automatically isolates the source of the issue wherever it is, and we’ll detail this in a future blog entry.

Broadband networks can fail to deliver expected performance just like corporate networks. Applications like Amazon’s instant video suffer in quality like VoIP, IP video conferencing, or VDI. Amazon’s Flash-based player leverages a much larger buffering capability not feasible in most real-time business applications.

Even with this buffer it was easy to observe a disrupted experience during relatively low levels of packet loss and peak utilization. As you can see from the screenshot below content became unavailable after just a few seconds of network impairment.

Whether you’re having friends for a showing of your favorite HD content stream or initiating a corporate IP video conference session with colleagues, be sure your network is ready.

Jocelyn Saurini: