Taking a DIY approach to streaming and setting up your own live streaming server may sound like a simple approach to broadcasting live. The fact that everything can be done in-house and on your own terms can be incredibly appealing.
Unfortunately, there are a few serious drawbacks to rolling out your own live streaming server.
Many of these drawbacks are specific to issues that arise while streaming 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.
In this article, we will highlight some of the risks and pitfalls of creating and operating your own live streaming server and provide some alternatives to self-hosting.
To wrap things up, we will give a quick rundown on how to build a live streaming server if you still feel that it’s the appropriate route for you.
Let’s get to it.
Table of Contents
- 7 Pros and Cons to a DIY Live Streaming Server
- Lack of Redundancy
- Limits to Scale
- Security Vulnerabilities
- Technical Debt
- No Tech Support
- Exploring Alternatives to Self-Hosting
- How to Build a Live Streaming Server
7 Pros and Cons to a DIY Live Streaming Server
There are many potential drawbacks when it comes to operating your own live streaming server. These include issues with latency, buffering, fail-safes, capacity security, and more.
Let’s review seven of the most common issues and challenges presented to broadcasters who decide to live stream with DIY servers.
In the world of broadcasting, latency refers to the delay in a live stream. This lag time tends to be affected by 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 single server or a small handful of servers, these issues can become burdensome.
This can be solved with a professional content delivery network (CDN) that has servers spread out nationally, or even globally, to ensure that your intended viewers are always within range.
However, when you self-host, you don’t have access to top-tier CDNs, so you’ll have to build your own. This approach may not be as reliable or effective as a live streaming CDN that is backed by top-of-the-line technology and equipment.
Network slowdowns or bottlenecks between the server and the viewer cause live video feed buffering. You’ve probably experienced buffering when trying to stream content online as a viewer, so 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.
Without adaptive streaming, buffering is very likely for any users whose internet is less than perfect.
You risk buffering issues even more if your video goes viral and a single server or small cluster is hit with a high volume of requests. In this scenario, streams may not even 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 the 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 down the line 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 streaming platform in the first place.
5. Security vulnerabilities
Running your own server means you have total autonomy. That also means that security is completely up to you. In a world where ransomware, phishing attacks, and piracy run rampant, 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 live streaming platform (e.g. Dacast).
6. Technical debt
One concept that’s essential for businesses, non-profits, universities and other organization 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, the growing amount of technology you invest in can create technical debt. Similar to financial debt, technical debt can drag down 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.
7. No Tech Support
It can be quite frustrating when issues arise in the middle of a live stream. When you self-host, you don’t have the luxury of access to 24/7 customer support that end-to-end streaming solutions provide.
If you hire one person or a small team to help you build your video streaming server, you cannot expect them to be available for troubleshooting and tech support around the clock.
Even if you are paying them to be on call, they might not necessarily have access to the tools and information they need to solve your issue at a moment’s notice.
Exploring Alternatives to Self-Hosting
Did you know that it is possible to maintain control of your content while streaming live video on your website via a dedicated streaming service?
One great alternative is to use a video streaming hosting provider. Most platforms combine 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 live broadcasting software to support it.
Since they are much easier to use and they avoid the issues tied to self-hosting, your organization may want to consider professional video hosting software solutions.
The good news is that, nowadays, live streamers can choose from several video streaming software platforms that are both accessible and affordable. The Dacast streaming service, as one example, offers affordable live streaming, secure private video hosting for enterprises, as well as for individual broadcasters not affiliated with a business.
The bottom line? We recommend considering a dedicated platform to circumvent the risks, mitigate the costs of live streaming events, and time associated with creating your own streaming solutions.
How to Build a Live Streaming Server
Even though there are potential drawbacks of using your own live streaming server as opposed to hosting with a professional streaming solution, some people still opt to go this route.
Building a streaming video server takes quite a bit of technical know-how.
Please note that taking the DIY approach and creating your own video streaming server will still require support from existing programs. With that in mind, let’s take a quick look at how to build a live streaming server.
1. Choose an Open-Source Project
In order to build your server, you’ll need access to a library of pre-existing code. Choose an open-source project that supports your preferred video player and delivery protocols.
You or your developer will use this library to build your server that works best for your specific broadcasting needs.
This means that you can integrate tools for security and monetization. You can also customize your video player to match your branding, including special controls (fast forward, rewind, etc.) and set up functions like adaptive bitrate streaming.
2. Download OBS Studio
OBS Studio is a free open source streaming software that you can use for encoding and other live streaming functions.
Many developers recommend using OBS Studio to run with your DIY server to make sure everything is working out properly.
3. Create a CDN
As we mentioned, a powerful CDN is essential for delivering high-quality live streams to viewers both near and far.
To build your own CDN for your video streaming server, you must first decide if your delivery will be pushed through the cloud or physical remote servers. Physical servers are typically more reliable, but a cloud server may be more realistic, depending on what resources you have available to you.
Once you come to a conclusion on a cloud vs. physical, you’ll need to choose technology for ISP and routing. Then, you’ll arrange the placement of your original server and PoPs.
From there, we recommend downloading Varnish, a CDN building tool, for support in tying everything together.
Given the seven drawbacks that come with using your own video streaming server that we’ve outlined above, it makes sense for broadcasters to consider another method of live streaming.
The two most important things to consider are the possible complications that come with building your own server and the lack of support that you’d have access to with a professional streaming solution.
It is totally possible to build your own video streaming server if you have a skilled developer on your team, but it will likely be less cost-effective and more complex than using an established online video host. We’ve witnessed first-hand the complications that can arise, and we know that the average broadcaster can’t don’t have the financial or technical means to address all of those issues. We’ve put together a thorough guide to help you troubleshoot live streaming issues and identify the root of the problems. Use the 10 tips we’ve laid out to get your stream back on track in no time.
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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!