Hosting Rich Media: Technical Considerations for Success
There are many reasons to deploy "rich media" content. This three-part article is not about the why, but the how. As with all online projects business leaders have to decide what makes the most sense for their company from both a financial and technical perspective. How will you deliver this fancy new content? Do you do this using your current infrastructure, or do you outsource? If the latter, there are a lot of questions you need to ask, starting with, how much will all of this cost? And what happens if delivery fails? After all, a broken media campaign can be far more damaging than no campaign at all. Delivery, availability and performance are three key factors to a successful online campaign of any kind.
When working with internal resources on your own corporate network it is easy to get used to 100Mbps or 1Gbps network delivery speeds. Everything runs fast at the office, right? However, once you bring external resources into a project your end-user experience now becomes dependent upon the weakest link between all participants, more often than not this weak link is your business Internet connection.
Consider the following:
- A 5MB file takes about 27 seconds to transfer across a T-1 line (a common Internet connection for small businesses)
- A 50MB file takes about four and a half minutes to transfer via T-1
- A 500MB file would take more than 45 minutes
If you upgrade your office connection to 10Mbps the transfer times drop to 0:04, 0:40 and 6:45 respectively. Be sure to do the math before signing any contracts. If you plan on adding 250GB of media content to your delivery network every week, the last thing you want to do is commit to a legally binding contract with a T-1 connection that takes more than 16 days to deliver that weekly 250GB update to your delivery partner. A web search for "bandwidth calculator" can help you determine your transfer needs.
Once content has been created you want to be sure people can get to it. If you decide to keep content in-house and deliver it on your own, be sure that you have a fast enough Internet connection as well as a redundant connection. And, despite what your network sales representative might say, having two separate connections from the same provider is not good enough. A single outage upstream can cause both of your 'redundant' connections from that single provider to fail. It is always recommended that you purchase connectivity from separate network providers. Usually, outsourcing your content delivery removes this concern. When choosing a provider, be sure to determine that it a) has multiple network partners, and b) connection to those partners enters their data center from different paths. What good is connectivity to ten networks if all of the fiber enters the data center from a single conduit? One backhoe mistake and down go all ten networks. In addition to eliminating single points of failure in your delivery network you also need to consider removing as many single points of failure from your delivery hardware. Do you have just one server handling everything? Do you have multiple web servers but only a single database or application server? Is your firewall redundant? While we all want 100% availability, the cost of doing so often exceeds project budgets. Knowing your cost of downtime, down to the hour, will help properly quantify and justify your final content delivery configuration.
Nobody wants to suffer through a slow rich media experience. As home network and handheld wireless network performance improves, the attention span of the average Internet user is getting shorter and shorter. If you don't grab their attention in the first few seconds, you may lose your audience. Therefore, fast delivery of content is often vital to the success of any online rich media experience. What controllable factors influence performance? It is often assumed that hardware is the most important part. "Get me a big server so I can deliver lots of content." But, this is just part of the equation. The best hardware can be brought to its knees by bad code, therefore performance testing is always recommended. Delivery of content may also depend on factors such as network throughput, hard drive speed, CPU performance, geographic location of the source content as well as the end user and much more. Does your company network run slow in at the beginning of the business day? This might be a sign that your employees are saturating your connection and it is time to upgrade. If outsourcing, does your provider offer not only connections to multiple providers, but are those connections over-subscribed, or is there plenty of room for unexpected network peaks? A good provider can walk you through these variables to help identify potential bottlenecks based on your specific requirements.
Ask questions early and often. Never assume someone else has thought through all of your needs. The more answers you have, the more likely your project will be successful, technically and financially. In most cases a reputable hosting partner can answer your questions and bring up others that you may not even know to ask. In future articles we will discuss how to deal with and plan for potential surges in traffic.
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