If you watch the Olympics from your Web browser, the HD video stream will be coming to you live from Vancouver British Columbia with a scant 90 second delay. This feat is orchestrated by iStreamPlanet, and the capabilities to do so were assembled in just twelve days. The company, along with partners like Akamai, Arista Networks, Intel, Microsoft and Switch Communications, put together a fully automated workflow system to stream the Winter Olympics. An operation of this magnitude would normally require hundreds of people for the duration of the event. For example, thirty people were required to stream January's two-hour "Hope for Haiti Now" telethon. Comparatively, iStream is running closer to 1,500 hours using the same number of people.
Two factors play a central role in streaming the Olympic events: automation and a rock solid network. iStreamPlanet integrated its workflow service with NBC's event schedule so that as cameras begin to roll on the Olympic events and the video starts its journey to the Internet, iStreamPlanet's workflow automation system automatically correlates the event stream with the scheduled event.
As the video arrives at iStreamPlanet in Las Vegas from NBC studios in New York, the automation system inserts ads for the Web player and other programming features and simultaneously encodes the video into six formats, from approximately 400Kbps for highly compressed viewing on handhelds and low bandwidth devices to 3.5Mbps HD quality video at 720P.
iStreamPlanet uses Microsoft's SmoothStream technology in Silverlight, which treats video more like a file transfer than a video stream. Once the event is over, the video is pushed to a content management system, where it becomes available on demand.
In Vancouver, twenty-three video feeds are encoded using H.264 HD and multi-cast at roughly 17Mbps each over an OC-12 (622Mbps) to NBC. In addition, five Canadian TV streams are transmitted via satellite from Vancouver to iStreamPlanet, as well as two video streams from Toronto, for a total of 30 HD streams. After iStreamPlanet processes and encodes the video, it's pushed to an origin farm at Switch Communications' SuperNAP in Las Vegas over a 1Gbps dark fiber connection with a backup 1Gbps connection via Cox Communications.