Microsoft Azure Media Services Cloud Streaming Is Open for Business

Microsoft opens up its digital media delivery platform in the hopes that video and entertainment companies will leverage its Windows Azure cloud to stream video to smartphones, tablets and smart home theater gear.

Microsoft announced that the company is ready to let the public start using the cloud-based platform's video-streaming capabilities of its Windows Azure Media Services offering.

At the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) 2012 conference last April, Microsoft introduced Windows Azure Media Services as a digital media delivery platform that can accommodate complex media workflows at scale. Backed by its massive Azure cloud infrastructure, Microsoft positioned Windows Azure Media Services as a flexible, mobile-friendly alternative to costly, purpose-built media delivery mechanisms.

And as online media consumption rates grow, the company argued, businesses risk missing out on providing delivery robust media services due to high costs.

"Our internal research shows that more than one-third of today's Internet traffic is devoted to video consumption, and we expect that to grow to 80 percent by the end of 2015," Scott Guthrie, corporate vice president for Windows Azure, said in a statement during the application platform's unveiling.

It's a state of affairs that can put a damper on media companies' ambitions. "Not everyone has the expertise or capital required to build a media infrastructure, so Windows Azure Media Services enables companies everywhere to build custom media solutions that easily scale and adapt to meet consumers' needs, wherever or however they consume it," said Guthrie.

Now, the company is announcing the general availability of Windows Azure Media Services, effectively opening up the platform to developers and online media concerns.

"With today's release, you now have everything you need to quickly build great, extremely scalable, end-to-end media solutions for streaming on-demand video to consumers on any device," Guthrie wrote in a blog post. "For example, you can easily build a media service for delivering training videos to employees in your company, stream video content for your Website or build a premium video-on-demand service like Hulu or Netflix."

Windows Azure Media Services supports media streaming to mobile devices, PCs, set-top devices and compatible smart high-definition TVs. Microsoft currently has software development kits (SDKs) and player frameworks for iOS, Windows Phone, Android, Windows 8, Flash Player, Silverlight Xbox and embedded devices, according to Guthrie.
Developers can build media workflows with Representational State Transfer (REST) APIs or .NET and Java SDKs.

Several technology partners have jumped on the Windows Azure Media Services bandwagon. They include ATEME, Digital Rapids and Dolby Labs for content encoding and Wowza Media Systems for video-on-demand streaming. Aspera brings its high-speed transfer technology to the platform while BuyDRM and Civolution offer content-protection services.

Microsoft also used the occasion to unveil an on-demand streaming feature called dynamic packaging that can drastically reduce media storage requirements. "Traditionally, once content has been encoded, it needs to be packaged and stored for multiple targeted clients (iOS, XBox, PC, etc.)," explained Guthrie.

"With dynamic packaging, we now allow users to store a single file format and stream to many adaptive protocol formats automatically," said Guthrie. "The packaging and conversion happens in real time on the origin server, which results in significant storage cost and time savings."

Signaling that Microsoft is eager to erase any doubts about the platform's scale, reach and capabilities, Guthrie offered, "Last year several broadcasters used Windows Azure Media Services to stream the London 2012 Olympics."

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez is a contributor to eWEEK and the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Previously, he served as a managing editor for the network of...