Live Streaming Server – How to Build One, and Should You Do It?
Taking a DIY approach to streaming and setting up your own live streaming server may sound simple way to broadcastb. The idea of everything getting done in-house and on your own terms can be incredibly appealing. Plus, you get to save money on private video streaming services. Right?
Wrong. Unfortunately, rolling out your video streaming server has more than a few serious drawbacks.
Many of these drawbacks are specific to issues that arise while streaming video. For example, system admins familiar with standard web content may not be equipped to deal with the common challenges and requirements for streaming live content. Building a live streaming server and supporting can require different skill sets.
Think of setting up and maintaining your own media streaming server as making dinner from scratch. You have to make a list, go to the store and buy all the ingredients. Then you come home, chop everything up, follow the recipe, and hopefully, it’s a success and tastes great. It’s a satisfying feeling but it takes so much time and energy. Plus, there’s always a higher chance of messing it up.
On the other hand, using a live video streaming dedicated platform server is kind of like buying a semi-cooked meal kit from the grocery store. It’s simpler and makes putting together a healthy, home-cooked meal so much easier on busy weeknights. But in a quarter of the time and with much less effort.
So what do a meal kit and a live-streaming platform have in common? They both handle some of the work for you to focus on more important jobs. In the case of broadcasters, that’s creating engaging video content.
If you’re still curious about what it takes, we’ll give you the rundown on how to build your own video streaming server. Then we will highlight some of the risks and pitfalls of creating and operating your own live stream server and provide some alternatives to self-hosting video.
Let’s get to it.
What is a Video Streaming Server?
With video streaming, the video has to be encoded and converted into a data format. Then, the information must be sent as a data stream from your server to your viewer’s computer. With streaming, the viewer doesn’t need to store the video file on their computer on their hard drive. Instead, they can stream and watch the video while the file is in progress.
Who Needs a Video Streaming Server?
Anyone who wants to share videos online and allow end-users to watch those videos needs a streaming server. A streaming server is a required piece of equipment for broadcasting live or on-demand videos over the internet.
You can make your own streaming server, use a third-party server, or work with a video hosting platform that provides you with access to servers along with other tools.
How to Build a Live Streaming Server
There are some drawbacks to creating and using your own live streaming server instead of using a server hosting through a professional streaming solution.
Today, we are going to provide you with the technical information you need to build a live-streaming server. You need a degree of technical knowledge and troubleshooting skills to be able to build and maintain your own server.
Creating your own video streaming server will require you to use other existing programs. Making your own video server doesn’t free you from using other people’s programs; it does free you from specifically paying for video hosting.
Let’s quickly look at how you can build your own live server streaming video.
1. Get Clean on Requirements
Before you learn how to build a live streaming server, it’s important to know what you want out of your live streaming server.
- How big is your audience?
- How important is the streaming quality?
- Are you using Windows, Linux (Ubuntu), or Mac OS? What are your system requirements?
- Who will have access to the stream?
- Will you need to save copies of your video stream?
Knowing the answers to these questions will determine the specific next steps. For example, the steps for setting up a streaming server on Windows will be different from how you set up a live streaming server on Linux. Knowing these details will help you learn how to build your own video server.
Once you’ve gotten clear on the answers to all those questions, it’s time to learn how to build your video streaming server.
2. Choose an Open-Source Project
To build your server, you’ll need access to a library of pre-existing code. Choose an open-source project that supports your preferred video player and delivery protocols. There’s no need to create your own code when open-source projects exist to help you build your own video server.
A popular and proven pick is the Nginx web server, which can run on Linux, Windows, and Mac OS. Nginx web server also easily integrates with both HLS and RTMP via the Nginx-RTMP module. For a refresher, HLS and RTMP are two very common video streaming protocols.
That allows you to integrate a wide range of tools and features into your video streaming server.
- Security tools
- Monetization tools
- Video controls (fast forward, rewind, etc.)
- Custom video player configurations to match your branding
- Adaptive bitrate streaming
These are just a few of the customizations you can make using the library feature on an Nginx web server.
3. Download OBS Studio
Once your server is ready to go, you’ll set up your live-streaming software. OBS Studio is a free open-source live-streaming server software that you can use for encoding and other live-streaming functions.
The correct version of OBS studio to download will depend on your operating system. After choosing the right operating system, you should run the Auto-Configuration Wizard. This wizard will test your system and try to adjust settings accordingly for you.
Many developers recommend using OBS Studio to run with your DIY server to server to ensure everything works out properly.
4. Create a CDN
The next item on the list is a Content Delivery Network. CDN addresses issues of latency. In the world of broadcasting, latency refers to the delay in a live stream. In other words, a powerful video stream CDN is essential for delivering high-quality live streams to viewers both near and far.
To build your own CDN for your video streaming server, you must first decide if your delivery will be pushed through the cloud or physical remote servers. Physical servers are typically more reliable, but a cloud streaming server may be more realistic, depending on your available resources.
Once you come to a conclusion on a cloud vs. physical, you’ll need to choose technology for ISP and routing. Then, you’ll arrange the placement of your original server and PoPs. Building a reliable CDN network is essential for your video streaming server to work.
From there, we recommend downloading Varnish, a CDN building tool, to help tie everything together.
Pros and Cons of a DIY Live Streaming Server
Now that you know the basic steps to build a live streaming server, the question is, should you build your own streaming server?
There are many potential drawbacks when it comes to operating your own live-streaming server. These include issues with latency, buffering, fail-safes, capacity security, and more.
Latency is the delay in a live stream from when it is recorded to when your viewer experiences it on their screens. Two primary factors impact latency:
- Distance: The main factor is distance. It takes time to process data. The further your server is from your audience, the more processing time it requires. That can make the delay or latency appear greater to your viewers, especially those located further away from your servers.
- Traffic Load: The second factor that impacts video latency is your traffic load, or how many people are watching your live stream simultaneously. A single server or a few servers will only be able to handle a small amount of traffic. If your content is successful and you pull in a larger audience, your servers may not be able to handle it.
When that happens, the video will be delayed for everyone, and you could lose your audience.
Both distance and traffic load are problems that are easy to solve by using a professional CDN network. A professional content delivery network has servers spread out both nationally and globally, depending on where your target audience is located.
That way, your viewers are always close to a server, and there are more than enough servers to handle the traffic your live streams generate.
Buffering can hinder a viewer’s experience.
Network slowdowns or bottlenecks between the server and the viewer cause live video feed buffering. You’ve probably experienced buffering when trying to stream content online as a viewer, so you know how frustrating it can be.
Buffering problems can be mitigated through multi-bitrate streaming and an adaptive player. This is called “adaptive streaming.” However, even with adaptive streaming buffering issues can persist.
Adaptive bitrate streaming (ABR) is built into most online video platforms, but this feature may not be accessible to those who are self-hosting. Adaptive bitrate streaming provides viewers with the best quality video based on their internet connections. It is one of the best tools for producing a quality experience for your viewers.
Without adaptive streaming, buffering is very likely for any user whose internet connection is less than perfect.
You risk buffering issues even more if your video goes viral and a single server or small cluster is hit with a high volume of requests. In this scenario, streams may not even load at all.
As a result, you risk losing viewers and opportunities to reach new viewers, among other negative consequences. Most viewers will not stick around if your content is buffering.
3. Lack of Redundancy
Our recommended best practice for live streaming is to always have a backup stream. With two streams coming to your viewers from separate paths, you can bypass problems mid-broadcast. This double-stream approach is called “redundancy.”
When using a dynamic server network, such as a live streaming content delivery network, this issue is generally nonexistent. If one machine goes offline, your backup stream will come online right away.
Redundancy becomes much more difficult and complex with a limited server architecture. A dropout in service caused by issues like equipment failure, a power surge, or other system-wide glitches can shut down your entire stream.
Even if you have a backup stream, this won’t matter when a problem affects your whole system.
4. Limits to Scale
Another issue related to running your own live streaming server is the scale of operation. Each server has a finite number of viewers who can stream simultaneously.
As your audience grows, you will need to scale up and incorporate more media streaming servers into your setup. Adding new servers can be challenging.
If a live stream goes viral, you are not going to be able to just add more servers at the moment to support the sudden increase in traffic. Going viral could cause your live stream to crash.
The costs and complexity of this can stifle many broadcasters, especially individuals and small businesses.
Furthermore, you could end up paying considerably more to resolve ongoing issues of scale than you would if you contracted with a professional streaming platform in the first place.
With a professional streaming platform, if you suddenly go viral and get a lot of traffic, you will have access to their entire network of servers.
5. Security Vulnerabilities
Running your own server means you have total autonomy. That also means that privacy and security are completely up to you. Securing a server is a complex and demanding task in a world where ransomware, phishing attacks, and piracy run rampant.
By using a secure streaming provider, however, you can bypass the need for security knowledge and investment. Any measures you can put into place on a small scale are likely to be minor compared to the security measures in place that a professional video hosting platform has (e.g. Mslive).
6. Technical Debt
One concept that’s essential for businesses, non-profits, universities, and other organizations is “technical debt.”
Essentially, technical debt refers to the consequences of creating critical technological systems. Once created, you have to maintain these integral systems.
Investing in high-end equipment and software is one thing, but will you be able to maintain its running costs? That’s why you need to consider the long-term costs of creating your own streaming video servers instead of working with video hosting and live streaming platform. Even if you designed the systems to solve problems, they could end up causing new problems as well.
Over time, the growing amount of video streaming technology you invest in can create technical debt. Like financial debt, technical debt can drag down your self-run live-streaming server set-up. These technical obligations interfere with your ability to be nimble and invest time and resources into new technologies.
Of course, sometimes, the issue of technical debt is simply unavoidable. Nonetheless, it’s an important consideration to keep in mind for anyone building their own servers.
7. No Tech Support
It can be quite frustrating when issues arise in the middle of a live stream when you use a streaming media server on your own. You don’t have the luxury of access to the 24/7 customer support that end-to-end streaming solutions provide. You have to provide your own technical support when you build your own streaming servers.
If you hire one person or a small team to help you build your video streaming server, you cannot expect them to be available for troubleshooting and tech support around the clock.
Even if you are paying them to be on call, they might not necessarily have access to the tools and information they need to solve your issue at a moment’s notice.
Exploring Alternatives to Self-Hosting
Many platforms serve as viable alternatives to secure private video hosting.
One great alternative is to use a video streaming hosting provider. Most platforms combine the Software as a Service (SaaS) business model with Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS).
By paying a simple, predictable monthly fee, you gain access to world-class streaming server hardware and the live broadcasting software to support it. You don’t have to troubleshoot building a new server on your own. You can access the knowledge and power of a professional live broadcasting platform.
Since they are much easier to use and they avoid the issues tied to self-hosting, your organization may want to consider professional video hosting software solutions. Here are the top reasons why you too should consider video-streaming software platforms for your broadcasting needs:
- Better security
- Saves time
- API customization
- Monetization options
- Analytics and feedback
- Content Delivery Network CDN
- Digital rights management DRM software
The bottom line? We recommend considering a live video streaming dedicated server. That helps circumvent the risks and mitigate the costs of live-streaming events that come with creating your own streaming solutions.
The two most important things to consider are the possible complications that come with building your own server and the lack of support you’d have without access to when using a professional streaming solution.
It is possible to build your own video streaming server if you have a skilled developer on your team. Still, it’ll likely be less cost-effective and more complex than using an established online video host. We’ve witnessed first-hand the complications that can arise, and we know that the average broadcaster doesn’t have the financial or technical means to address all of those issues.
We’ve put together a thorough guide to help you troubleshoot live streaming issues and identify the root of the problems. Use the 10 tips we’ve laid out to get your stream back on track in no time.