Picture, if you will, a darkened room reminiscent of NASA’s Mission Control. The wall is festooned with giant flat-screen monitors. Dozens of operators and technicians scan the displays and their data, which collectively generate a picture of the health and performance of a company’s workflow.
This is a NOC, or network operations centre. It’s the nerve centre for a video content provider like Bell or Rogers or any other big MVPD, as well as any direct to consumer or OTT, next-gen, internet-based streaming service.
The purpose of the NOC is not only to monitor a company’s video streams – hundreds of them in real time – but to alert the staff on duty to the emergence of problems and help them untangle them.
“Maybe a garbage truck backs into a telephone pole that’s carrying a fiber that carries 10 video services,” says Christopher Kulbakas, Director, Product Strategy, for SSIMWAVE.
“All of a sudden perhaps 10 high-definition, high-value services go black-screen on prime time on a Saturday night. Maybe it’s Leafs versus Habs. Half the nation is watching.”
In the NOC, alarms sound. Technicians are suddenly task-saturated as they attempt to localize, make sense of, and troubleshoot the problem.
“The amount of that information suddenly coming at you is overwhelming,” says Kulbakas, whose career has included many an hour spent working in just such a facility.
“The NOC is being barraged. It’s a total firehose.”
When problems like these occur, staff in the NOC are beset by a phenomenon Kulbakas calls “swivel chair,” as they attempt to scan the various screens and understand and mitigate the outage.
“All this information is funnelling into your NOC but you might have just three or four people dedicated to video on a shift,” explains Kulbakas. “And maybe they’re already overworked. Maybe there is a barrage of other things happening at the same time: security incidents; high-speed internet incidents; fibre cuts; equipment failures; power losses.”
An episode like the one described here would potentially generate dozens of alerts, each demanding an investigation.
“It cannot be consumed or made sense of, or correlated, in an easy fashion,” Kulbakas says.
And that’s where SSIMWAVE comes in.
SSIMWAVE is a Waterloo, Canada-based company that builds technology designed to safeguard and optimize a video delivery chain.
It’s products not only monitor video quality – evaluating video perceptual quality from the standpoint of the human being it’s ultimately intended for – they help staff in a network operations centre distil and make sense of information as it flows into the centre. When problems occur, SSIMWAVE’s products reduce operator swivel chair, buying time and guiding personnel toward solutions by correlating and aggregating data.
“The magic of SSIMWAVE is that ability to shift the correlation burden from the NOC agent, the human, onto the SSIMWAVE platform – the machines,” says Kulbakas. Hundreds of alerts, he says, are reduced to a handful.
“We boil all that information down to the essentials, make it actionable. So for the NOC agent, all that correlation is done for them. It’s prepared. Not only that, the platform tells you where the issue is occurring.”
Kulbakas says SSIMWAVE has a saying: “We embrace the complexity, we value simplicity. We give you distilled, simple, actionable results.”
“That unburdens the NOC.”
For a short-staffed, overburdened operations centre, the value proposition is easy to see.
“You have swivel chair. Our value prop says, ‘Hey, everything can be done within the platform, on a single pane of glass.’ Service-level correlation is baked into the platform.”
The alerts generated by the SSIMWAVE platform are designed as a bundle, allowing an operator to quickly access a high-level overview of an event or an outage, one that can then can be unpacked for a dive as deep as time and circumstances warrant.
“But when we first expose that information to you, we do it in a simple way,” says Kulbakas. “Instead of overwhelming, we simplify, and that’s how we engage you.
“Alert volume reduction is a big value proposition. What does that do? It empowers the NOC and helps to triage.”
Kulbakas offers a recent example of a customer that had 175 outages over a short period of time; 70 of them were shown to be generated by one service.
“That’s a massive insight,” he says.
“Part of the SSIMWAVE vision is we believe that before you can optimize, you need to be able to manage. Before you manage, you need to be able to monitor. This forms the foundation of optimization.”
“Monitoring has to be simple and actionable.”
Monitoring is achieved through the use of a series of probes placed at key junctures of the video delivery chain.
“First you monitor, then you derive insights, and based on those insights you derive recommendations, and based on those recommendations you do your optimizations. That’s the flow we follow.
“This is measurement combined with insight.”
The SSIMWAVE platform is designed to allow the raw data to be “sliced and diced and looked at in all kinds of different dimensions,” says Kulbakas. “This allows you to see patterns, and quickly go to root cause.”
The ultimate benefit is that it allows a content provider to gain control of its network, freeing it up to move on to the next stage – optimization.
“Optimization is the holy grail,” says Kulbakas. “It’s hard for a network to talk about quality of a video when it’s fighting just to deliver the video.”
“We help a NOC diagnose and fix any issue. Once you have a good grasp of that, the next step is, how do you optimize?
“At SSIMWAVE, video perceptual quality and optimization is everything.”
Come and see us at NABShow 2019 to learn how we can help, Booth #SU6924 and the SPROCKIT Innovation Pipeline in North Hall.