What FLAME brings to the end user

In previous blogs we’ve discussed the “groundbreaking media delivery platform” that we will build and the benefits that it brings to media providers, but what really is in it for the end users? In many ways, the end users are the most important stakeholders in the experiment, as it’s their experience of the system which will show success or failure.

Faster, better content
FLAME is a media platform, and end users want their content to be delivered quickly and reliably. The FLAME platform can improve their experience enormously by deploying services at the edge of the network (e.g. in a street cabinet), which puts compute capabilities much closer to the user (one or two hops) than the currently. FLAME’s deployment planning tools and reactive systems can deploy compute services at the edge, providing low latency access to compute services as well as having the compute workload distributed across the network. Together with emerging new radio access technology, such as 5G radio or GBit Wi-Fi, we expect to deliver service level latencies of 5ms or less.

Such a fast, local service could also provide benefits when processing video content uploaded by users. Local processing could make use of computer vision techniques to quickly identify interesting content and make it available to other users on the network rather than relying on centralized capabilities for such processing, possibly increasing the needed bandwidth for the transfer of content to such central locations before deciding on the ‘value’ of the content.

How’s it done?
The underlying properties of the FLAME network enable the possible multicast-based delivery of HTTP responses to service request. This is done transparently to the (otherwise unicast) semantic of HTTP transactions. This offers capability at the level of each individual service request for constantly changing user groups. With that, scenarios in which individual users exit the multicast delivery, e.g., when a user watching a video together with many other users pauses the transmission, are supported without any particular penalty to the operation of the platform beyond the obvious additional transmission of the unicast responses, which leads to both efficiency and cost reduction – both advantages to the end user.

FLAME also improves content delivery through improved switching time between service instances by not relying on the DNS for service discovery. In a conventional network, an instance of a (media) service is found using the DNS: the user’s client queries a DNS server to map from a domain name to an IP address. The subsequent service request is then routed through the network between the client and the service. If the server changes, for instance in cases when a user moves or needs to be served content from a geographically closer server, the DNS needs to be updated in order to deliver the new service location to the end users in a new lookup – a process that can take several minutes or even longer. In contrast, FLAME platform provides fast (between 10 and 20ms) switching time by not relying on the DNS for service discovery.
It also doesn’t rely on typical mobility management approaches found in IP networks, which usually lead to inefficient ‘triangular’ routing of requests through a common ‘anchor’ point. Instead, FLAME’s fast and dynamic service routing leads to so-called direct path mobility, where the path between the requester and the responding service can be determined as being optimal (e.g., shortest path or direct path to a selected instance), avoiding the use of anchor points.

FLAME’s improved user experience is also supported by net-level indirection, where the platform provides the capability to indirect service requests at the network level. With this, when a service request is being sent to one surrogate instance but results in a 404 or 5xx error response, the platform can be configured to redirect the original request to another alternative surrogate. Nesting these operations effectively leads to a net-level ‘search’ among all available surrogate instances until the search is exhausted (with a negative result) or the resource is found.

This will play a significant role in distributed media services that create local content, where access is not limited to the local service and could be requested from other places in the network such as user generated content. Such net-level indirection capability could lead to significant reduction of traffic needed otherwise for (possibly unnecessary) state synchronization. This in turn leads to cost reductions which are of direct benefit for both media service providers and users alike.

European privacy
One of the ongoing and very legitimate concerns of the end user is personal privacy, and FLAME is being built from conception to be compliant with the European standards of personal privacy. Some means of assuring this level of privacy comes from FLAME’s underlying network technology, which enables the use of surrogates instead of CDNs.

In the FLAME platform, CDNs morph into surrogate service endpoints with the potential to also hold the necessary security context when serving the desired content, greatly reducing the possibility to mistakenly or wilfully share content not intended for sharing.

This also enables secure end-to-end access to content, by bypassing the difficulties in conventional content delivery networks when serving HTTPS content. By lifting content delivery onto the level of surrogates, the FLAME platform removes the possibility that the CDN can break the secure chain, and exposes CDNs as properly secured endpoints. The necessary certificate sharing between content and CDN provider will then allow for securing the content delivery (again) according to the originally intended end user facing contract, and adding a stronger level of privacy assurance to the end user.

Faster, better, stronger
As you’ve seen, FLAME offers end users an altogether more robust user experience that delivers the content they want in a faster, more secure way. Of course, the average end user won’t appreciate or the technology behind it – they’ll just appreciate the better experience, and through it gain a more positive impression of the city, event or venue running it.

Post from Dirk Trossen, InterDigital Europe