Live Streaming Server – How to Build One, and Should You Do It?
Table of Contents
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 video 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. How to build a live streaming server and supporting it can require different skill sets.
If you’re still curious about what it takes, we’ll give you the rundown on how to build your own video streaming server. Then we will highlight some of the risks and pitfalls of creating and operating your own live stream server and provide some alternatives to self-hosting video.
Let’s get to it.
Table of Contents
- How to Build a Live Streaming Server
- 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
Building a streaming video server takes quite a bit of technical know-how. That is why we want to provide you with information on how to build a live streaming server, so you understand what you are getting into.
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 video server.
1. Get Clean on Requirements
Before you learn how to build a live streaming server, it’s important to know what you want out of your live streaming server.
- How big is your audience?
- How important is the streaming quality?
- Are you using Windows, Linux (Ubuntu), or Mac OS? What are your system requirements?
- Who will have access to the stream?
- Will you need to save copies of your video stream?
Knowing the answers to these questions will determine the specific next steps. For example, the steps for how to set up a streaming server on Windows will be different from how to setup a live streaming server on Linux. Knowing these details will help you learn how to build your own video server.
Once you’ve gotten clear on the answers to all those questions, it’s time to learn how to build your video streaming server.
2. 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. There is no need to create your own code when open-source projects exist to help you build your own video server.
A popular and proven pick here is the Nginx web server, which can run on Linux, Windows, and Mac OS. Nginx web server also easily integrates with both HLS and RTMP via the Nginx-RTMP module. For a refresher, HLS and RTMP are two very common video streaming protocols.
You or your developer will use the 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. You can create a live streaming server customized to your needs.
3. Download OBS Studio
Once your server is ready to go, you’ll set up your streaming software. OBS Studio is a free open-source streaming software that you can use for encoding and other live streaming functions.
The correct version of OBS studio to download will depend on your operating system. After choosing the right operating system, you should run the Auto-Configuration Wizard. This wizard will test your system and try to adjust settings accordingly for you.
Many developers recommend using OBS Studio to run with your DIY server to make sure everything is working out properly.
4. Create a CDN
A content delivery network (CDN) addresses issues of latency. In the world of broadcasting, latency refers to the delay in a live stream. In other words, a powerful video stream 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 streaming 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. Building a reliable CDN network is essential for your video streaming server to work.
From there, we recommend downloading Varnish, a CDN building tool, for support in tying everything together.
Pros and Cons to a DIY Live Streaming Server
Now that you know the basic steps to build a live streaming server, the question is, should you build your own 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 some of the most common issues and challenges presented to broadcasters who decide to live stream with DIY servers.
As mentioned earlier, 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.
Video latency also increases with traffic load. With a single server or a small handful of servers, these issues can become burdensome. Your own video streaming servers may not be able to handle the traffic levels to your content.
This can be solved with a professional 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, which is why 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 user whose internet connection 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. Most viewers will not stick around if your content is buffering.
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 content delivery network, 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 privacy and security are 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 secure streaming 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 video hosting 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. . You need to consider the long-term costs of creating your own video servers instead of working with a professional video hosting and live streaming platform. Even if you designed the systems to solve problems, they can end up causing new problems as well.
Over time, the growing amount of video streaming 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 the 24/7 customer support that end-to-end streaming solutions provide. You have to provide your own technical support when you build your own streaming servers.
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
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. You don’t have to troubleshoot building a new server on your own. You can access the knowledge and power of a professional live broadcasting platform.
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.
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 without 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.
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 14 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!
Please note that this post was originally written by Max Wilbert. It was revised in 2021 by Emily Krings to include the most up-to-date information. Emily is a strategic content writer and storyteller. She specializes in helping businesses create blog content that connects with their audience.
Stay up to date with our latest features and product releases