Setting up your own live streaming server may seem a tempting approach to broadcasting live video streams online. After all, a DIY approach to live streaming should mean that you can do everything you want to do in-house. With the phenomenal growth of cloud services over the past several years, building and deploying such a system can be possible for most IT departments.
However, there are also serious drawbacks to rolling out your own live streaming server. Some of these drawbacks are specific to streaming live video. For example, system admins familiar with standard web content may not be equipped to deal with the common challenges and requirements for streaming live content. Additionally, it’s possible to stream live video on your website via a dedicated streaming service, while maintaining control of your own content.
In that case, you or your business may want to consider professional streaming solutions, such as DaCast, Ustream, or other alternatives. The good news is that, nowadays, live streamers can choose from several video streaming platforms that are both accessible and affordable. The DaCast streaming service, for example, offers live streaming pricing plans affordable for even individual live streamers not affiliated with a business or company.
In this article, we hope to illuminate for our readers the risks and pitfalls of creating and operating your own live streaming server. Our goal is to help you make an informed decision about whether it’s realistic and feasible for you to run your own live streaming server.
6 Potential Drawbacks
There are a number of potential drawbacks when it comes to operating your own live streaming server. These include issues with latency, buffering, fail-safes, capacity security, and more.
Now, let’s review six of the most common issues and challenges for broadcasters attempting to run their own live streaming server.
Latency refers to the time between when a user requests a given resource from a server and when said resource actually displays on their machine. This lag time tends to increase in conjunction with several factors.
First, distance plays a role. Processing data moving across telecommunications networks takes time. Therefore, the further your server is located from your audience, the slower your content will appear to be. Latency also increases with traffic load. With a lone or small handful of servers, these issues can become burdensome.
Network slowdowns or bottlenecks between the server and the viewer cause live video feed buffering. You’ve probably all experienced buffering when trying to stream content online, and you know how frustrating it can be.
Buffering problems can be mitigated through multi-bitrate streaming and an adaptive player. This is called “adaptive streaming.” However, even with adaptive streaming buffering issues can persist. If your video goes viral and a single server or small cluster is hit with a high volume of requests, buffering time will increase rapidly. Streams may even fail to load at all. As a result, you risk losing viewers and opportunities to reach new viewers, among other negative consequences.
3. Lack of redundancy
Our recommended best practice for live streaming is to always have a backup stream. With two streams coming to your viewers via independent paths, you can bypass problems mid-broadcast. This double-stream approach is called “redundancy.”
When using a dynamic server network, such as a live streaming CDN, this issue is generally nonexistent. If one machine goes offline, your backup stream will come online right away.
Redundancy becomes much more difficult and complex with a limited server architecture. A dropout in service caused by equipment failure, a power surge, or other system-wide issues can shut down your entire stream. Even if you have a backup stream, this won’t matter when a problem affects your whole system.
4. Limits to scale
Another issue related to running your own live streaming server has to do with scale of operation. Each server has a finite number of viewers who can stream simultaneously.
Scaling up from one server to two–or more as your audience grows–can be challenging to set up and configure. If you experience even greater growth (or have a broadcast that goes viral), you’ll need to boost infrastructure significantly and often very quickly. The costs and complexity of this can stifle many broadcasters, especially individuals and small businesses. Furthermore, you could end up paying considerably more to resolve ongoing issues of scale than you would if you contracted with a professional platform in the first place.
5. Security vulnerabilities
Running your own server means you have total autonomy. And that means that the security is completely up to you. In a world of constant ransomware, phishing attacks, and piracy, securing a server is a complex and demanding task.
By using a dedicated provider, however, you can bypass the need for security knowledge and investment. Any measures you can put into place on a small scale are likely to be minor compared to a professional OVP (i.e. DaCast).
6. Technical debt
One concept that’s essential for businesses, non-profits, and universities is “technical debt.” Essentially, technical debt refers to the consequences of creating critical technological systems. Once created, you have to maintain these integral systems. Even if you designed the systems to solve problems, they can end up causing new problems as well.
Over time, a growing amount of technology can create a technical debt. Similar to financial debt, technical debt can drag down you and your self-run live streaming server endeavor. These technical obligations interfere with your ability to be nimble and invest time and resources into new technologies. Of course, sometimes the issue of technical debt is simply unavoidable. Nonetheless, it’s an important consideration to keep in mind for anyone building their own servers.[Tweet “6 drawbacks with rolling out your own #LiveStreaming #server: latency, buffering, redundancy, scale, security, and technical debt.”]
Given the six issues outlined above, it often makes sense for broadcasters to consider another method of live streaming. We understand the appeal of a self-run live streaming server! Yet we’ve also witnessed first-hand the complications that can arise. And we know that the average broadcaster can’t financially or technically address all of those issues.
So what’s the alternative to running your own live streaming server? One great alternative is to use an Online Video Platform (OVP). The DaCast service, for example, is linked to the Akamai CDN. With Akamai and DaCast, you are enabling your viewers can access high-quality content via a server closest to them.
Using an OVP combines the Software as a Service (SaaS) business model with Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS). By paying a simple, predictable monthly fee, you gain access to world-class hardware and the software to support it. The bottom line? We recommend considering a dedicated streaming platform to circumvent the risks, costs, and time associated with creating your own solution.
Not yet a DaCast broadcaster? You don’t have to take our word that the DaCast service is feature-rich with pricing plans for every budget! Instead, you can sign up for our free trial to access free live streaming and all our great features for 30 days (no credit card required).
For regular tips on live streaming and exclusive offers, we also invite you to join our LinkedIn group. As always, we love to hear from our readers! If you’ve experienced other issues and challenges not covered in this article, let us know in the comment section below.
Thanks for reading, and happy streaming!
By Max Wilbert.