If you work in Unified Communications and for a large organisation, it’s almost certain you’ve been asked to support large webinars or town hall meetings with potentially thousands of attendees.
Now while there are lots of products out there that claim to do this, they nearly all have the same problem. They are all “hosted” solutions, meaning your clients will download the content from the cloud provider. So how do you get thousands of attendees to watch a live call without over utilising the network, as each attendee will have its own stream.
Even Microsoft’s current Skype Meeting Broadcast has the same problem… enter Hive Streaming and Kollective.
Both these tools are SCDNs (Software Content Delivery Network) tools, meaning each user has a small client on their PC that means only a single stream will only ever be downloaded per internet breakout.
Let me just explain that. Just say you have three offices (London, Birmingham and Glasgow), and the main internet breakout is only through the London office. Each office has a thousand users.
Using any of the normal hosted providers (including Skype Meeting Broadcast) will see all three thousand users connecting to the internet and overloading not only the internal network but also the only internet link as well. Microsoft’s recommendation of a dedicated Skype for Business pool for those large meeting still won’t get around your internal network utilisation issues.
Now using Skype Meeting Broadcast with either Hive Streaming or Kollective will mean only a single stream enters the London office. That first client then redistributes to other machines in the office and so on. Now one of those machines send it to say, a machine in Birmingham. That client redistributes it to all other machines and so on. Then as before, a machine in Birmingham sends it onto Glasgow and the above happens. All this happens in a blink of a eye so there is no notice of one site getting it before the other.
Both SCDNs do basically the same job. The difference is how they each work and I will do my best to explain the pros and cons of each. I’m lucky enough to have experienced both tools in our company and I think it’s important to explain the differences.
Now I mentioned above that only a single stream is downloaded from Microsoft using Skype Meeting Broadcast. With Hive Streaming this isn’t the case, in fact there are up to three streams. This is very important to understand as Kollective only use a single stream – this in my opinion has a knock-on effect which I’ll explain under their section below.
The reason for the multiple streams is for resilience. If one of the receiving clients become disconnected either by the user turning off the machine or they stop watching the broadcast, they have others they can call upon.
Here’s a quick summary of there product and features:
- Skype Meeting Broadcast Delay – Quick answer here, Hive Streaming introduces no additional delay. By default there is a 30 second delay from Microsoft (every provider has a delay, so 30 seconds is normal)
- Media Distribution – As Skype Meeting Broadcast is part of Microsoft’s Office 365 suite, it fully utilises their Azure CDN. Your users will connect to Microsoft’s nearest ingress point to you, then traverse across Microsoft’s internal network (which is arguably the quickest, or top 3, in the world).
- Simplified installation – The install of Hive Streaming was literally as simple as deploying the client by SCCM, and then…. absolutely NO firewall or configuration changes. It uses port 443 (HTTPS) and falls back to port 80 (HTTP). It does communicate to other clients over UDP, but in a normal network environment this is not a problem and is usually already allowed.
- Client-less support (WebRTC) – Hive Streaming support a client-less version of their software, so you don’t need to install the client at all. Providing your users watch the broadcast using a WebRTC supported browser you’ll get the benefits of Hive Streaming. Just an FYI, Internet Explorer is not WebRTC compliant. You can check here to see what browsers are compliant
- Detailed Analytics – Hive Streaming automatically comes with Hive Insights, this is there analytics and reporting centre. In here you get live call statistics, reporting and monitoring of the calls. It’s easy to use, quick and clear.
- Office 365 Support – Hive Streaming has been built around Office 365 and therefore it’s fully integrated with it. It supports Skype Meeting Broadcast and the soon to be retired Office 365 Video. It will also support Microsoft Stream and Microsoft Teams once Microsoft open their APIs to third party companies.
- Silent Testing – They can simulate a Skype Meeting Broadcast webinar to up to 10,000 machines to test the client and network is working in advance, you don’t have to get users on a call to test it. You will be provided with a full network report detailing any issues you may find.
- ADFS Single-Sign-On – Yes, as this is part of Office 365 this is supported. If you have multiple orgs, then providing you have the contact synced into Azure they can use SSO.
As I mentioned above Hive Streaming uses three streams from Microsoft, Kollective only use one. This sounds better as it’s less initial load on the ingress point on the network. The problem in my opinion is to get around the issue of that stream becoming disconnected, the Kollective client buffers for 30 seconds. Therefore if the stream drops the client has enough time to reconnect to a new one and resume the call without any effect to the call.
- Skype Meeting Broadcast Delay – Due to the above client buffering the Kollective agent adds its own 30 second delay to Microsoft’s inbuilt delay. Combined you will have to wait around 1 minute before your attendees see the stream. It’s up to you if you think this is a problem. Kollective do have an version update which has a “fast start” feature. This reduces their 30 second delay but doesn’t remove it all together.
- Media Distribution – Kollective use their own CDN network to distribute the Skype Meeting Broadcast traffic to your attendees. They take the stream from Microsoft’s Azure CDN and pass it into their own CDN before redistributing it to you. As you can imagine they have introduced an extra hop in this distribution, also it has to be said that Kollective’s CDN network is no match for Microsoft’s. They don’t have as many regional data centres as Microsoft and as a result if you have any clients in the Asia Pacific region, your users will connect into Kollective’s US ingress point, unlike Microsoft who have a few in that region.
- Complex Installation – Be prepared to get your firewall teams involved as they will have to open ports to get Kollective working. Ports do include port 80 and 443 however there are lots more besides. I won’t list them all here but it’s not as simple as Hive Streaming. Kollective do have on their roadmap to simplify their network configuration but its expected to be mid way 2019 before they do this.
- Client-less support (WebRTC) – No, Kollective at this time do not support this. Again this is on their roadmap for 2019 however at this time all attendees will need the client installed to get the benefit of them.
- Detailed Analytics – Recently they have dramatically improved their “basic” analytics you now get. This is a vast improvement to what they had and it’s now pretty good to be honest. They do offer their “advanced analytics” which you have to pay more money for, which allows greater control over access and other enhancements. To be honest you can get away with the basic platform – I do have an issue paying for the advanced platform as let’s face it both Hive Streaming and Kollective are expensive solutions already.
- Office 365 Support – Only Skype Meeting Broadcast is supported at present. They will support Microsoft Stream and Microsoft Teams once Microsoft open up their APIs to third party companies.
- Network Readiness Test – They can simulate a Skype Meeting Broadcast webinar to up to 10,000 machines to test the client and network is working in advance, you don’t have to get users on a call to test it. You will be provided with a full network report detailing any issues you may find.
- ADFS Single-Sign-On – Yes, this is supported. However you can only have one org supported. This is probably not an issue for most of you, but just worth a mention.
Final Conclusion & Personal Thoughts
Let’s face it both products do what they say. As an IT admin I just want an easy life, I don’t want to have to spend a lot of time maintaining it. For me this makes it 1–0 to Hive Streaming, purely on the network installation alone.
The company I work for have lots of users who are based on client sites. Anyone working in IT knows how difficult it is to get your software installed on another companies hardware, therefore having the client-less version available for them is awesome. So it’s 2–0 to Hive Streaming.
On a basis of cost (as let’s face it everything comes down to money), both are very expensive. You can play them off against each other and they are both willing to fight for business, so you can get some very good discounts if you are clever. So for this I’ll give it to both, 3–1 in Hive Streaming’s favour.
From experiencing both Hive Streaming and Kollective on Skype Meeting Broadcast webinars when they have Q&As on them, it certainly is easier to manage with a reduced delay. You still have to get questions asked during the call instead of waiting to the end, but as users are unpredictable you can manage better with Hive. Therefore I have to make it 4–1 to Hive Streaming.
Now Kollective have been around for a very long time and are well known in this space, Hive Streaming are the new kids on the block. They have a very long list of large companies on their books who can validate their experience in live broadcasts and VoDs (Video on Demand).
With this experience they do have their own broadcast tool called Kollective Webcaster – now I must admit I haven’t really used this. I have seen demos of it and been on calls with it and to be fair it’s a good platform. Is it easy to use like Skype Meeting Broadcast, no way, it’s much more involved but it is much more feature rich then Microsoft’s tool. If you are after a more ‘polished’ webinar then it’s much better then Skype Meeting Broadcast, however it comes with a price. There are lots of large customers (banks, engineering companies and confectionery companies without naming them) use the Webcaster tool and produce some extremely impressive webinars. Therefore I have to give it to Kollective on this one, 4–2 now.
Kollective do not just offer support for Skype Meeting Broadcast, their client can support other requirements such as the recently announced SCCM update that redistributes software and updates. Therefore if you are looking for more then just SMB, Kollective have it 4–3.
For a company that has invested millions of pounds into their Office 365 journey you want to get maximum benefit from it. Paying to use Kollective’s own Media Centre to store VoDs makes no sense when you have lots of storage on Office 365. I also cannot see the benefit of offloading the data from Microsoft’s CDN to their own which has less ingress points and is slower. So for that is 5–3 to Hive Streaming.
Final score… 5–3 to Hive Streaming.
TLDR — Final final thoughts…
The way I see these two companies are that Kollective have been around for many many years and are very well established with some large customers. However as with all established companies they have become complacent and are failing to adapt to the modern world. Everything is ‘on the roadmap’ unlike Hive Streaming where it’s there right now and working. I do believe that Kollective offer more services to what Hive do, and maybe as a result should lower their price a bit, however saying that Kollective sell everything as an add-on so they are both priced the same.
If all you are looking for is to use Skype Meeting Broadcast with a traditional webcam and Office 365 to hold your VoDs for users, then in my opinion it’s Hive Streaming. Yes you can buy more advanced encoders and buy hardware to give SMB that professional look but if you vision is to release it to the users and let them get on with it by themselves, the you can do it with Hive very easily.
In this blog post I’m only talking about Skype Meeting Broadcast. If you want to do more professional broadcast with multiple encoders and a higher frame rate then probably Kollective Webcaster is your better choice. Be warned though the Webcaster is certainly not a self service product. It’s involved and your average end user will not be able to operate it without IT support.