By: Steve Vonder Haar
I loved playing with Lego blocks as a kid.
Block by block, a youngster can use Legos to build model houses, airplanes, spaceships – just about anything you could imagine. And – if your imagination happened to outgrow your horde of Legos – you could ask for more at your birthday and just go on building bigger and better creations.
Given my love of Legos, it’s of little wonder that there’s a soft spot in this industry analyst’s heart for the features and functionality offered by streaming solutions that readily embrace open application programming interfaces (APIs).
Open APIs are programming instructions that make it easier for applications developed by different vendors to interact with each other. In a way, they introduce the flexibility and modularity of sprawling Lego sets into the world of software development.
Historically, streaming technology vendors have eschewed such modular design. The process of capturing and distributing online audio and video had been so difficult, end users typically experienced more success deploying an integrated solution from a single vendor. By deploying one end-to-end solution, end users minimized the potential technology failure points capable of ruining a webcast event.
But as streaming and webcasting technologies grow more mature, the opportunities for organizations to look beyond a single-vendor solution are growing as well. The evolution in technology platforms is splitting streaming vendors into two distinct camps: those who are aggressively embracing open APIs and those still actively promoting a single-vendor solution.
Truth be told, many organizations investing in streaming today still opt to deploy an end-to-end platform from a single technology provider. The value of eliminating complexity cannot be underestimated. But – even in the midst of implementing single vendor solutions – more and more executives are (or at least should be) asking tough questions during the purchase process about vendors’ approach to open APIs.
Significant benefits can accrue if an organization makes a specific effort to invest in streaming solutions offering open APIs. The top five benefits are:
- Best of Breed Options Available Across the Streaming Ecosystem: Not all vendors can excel in handling the entire range of programming tasks required to create a state-of-the-art streaming platform. Some developers create great encoders. Others excel in content management. Still others optimize network distribution. With open APIs, organizations using streaming platforms have the option to add in specific feature solutions from outside vendors to address any nagging shortcomings they experience in using an end-to-end platform from a single provider.
- “Future-Proofing” Your Streaming Investment: The ability to swap out solutions at different points of the platform makes it possible for organizations to protect the value of their overall investment in a streaming solution. The growing demand for mobile distribution of streaming content, for instance, may not have been envisioned by many enterprises five years ago. Those that invested in a closed streaming platforms without mobile distribution capabilities at that point may face some significant upgrade decisions today if they want to add mobile options to their existing system. One way to avoid similar upgrade dilemmas in the future is to deploy platforms supporting open APIs now that can make it possible to add-in specific new features without swapping out an entire end-to-end system.
- Insurance in an Uncertain Streaming World: The roadside is littered with streaming technology start-ups that are no longer in business. Organizations that invest in platforms with open APIs will still have options for updating their solutions even if their primary vendor goes belly up.
- Competition Fosters Long-Term Cost Savings: Once an organization implements an end-to-end solution from a single vendor, it is committed to that platform. The costs involved in switching providers after several years can be substantial – both in terms of implementing new technologies and in training employees to use a new system. Vendors know about these switching costs, so incumbent providers may decide to charge premium fees for ongoing service and product upgrades. With open APIs, organizations using streaming platforms can at least use the threat of buying feature options from other vendors as a way to keep the costs of product updates in check from their primary solution provider.
- Riding the Unified Communications Wave: The idea of integrating streaming capabilities into other established communications platforms in the enterprise is growing increasingly popular. Unfortunately, the evolution of the unified communications market remains in a nascent stage. That makes it difficult to know the streaming capabilities that will be most needed in new UC environments. Platforms that embrace an open API sensibility likely will offer more flexibility in meshing with UC solutions as they evolve.
Keep all these benefits in mind next time your birthday rolls around at work. You may want to ask for your very own streaming platform with open APIs. And you just may like it. Just think about what you can build with your shiny new set of Legos.
Steve Vonder Haar is a senior analyst with Wainhouse Research and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org