ATOM : a distributed system for video retrieval via ATM networks

Master Thesis


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University of Cape Town

The convergence of high speed networks, powerful personal computer processors and improved storage technology has led to the development of video-on-demand services to the desktop that provide interactive controls and deliver Client-selected video information on a Client-specified schedule. This dissertation presents the design of a video-on-demand system for Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM) networks, incorporating an optimised topology for the nodes in the system and an architecture for Quality of Service (QoS). The system is called ATOM which stands for Asynchronous Transfer Mode Objects. Real-time video playback over a network consumes large bandwidth and requires strict bounds on delay and error in order to satisfy the visual and auditory needs of the user. Streamed video is a fundamentally different type of traffic to conventional IP (Internet Protocol) data since files are viewed in real-time, not downloaded and then viewed. This streaming data must arrive at the Client decoder when needed or it loses its interactive value. Characteristics of multimedia data are investigated including the use of compression to reduce the excessive bit rates and storage requirements of digital video. The suitability of MPEG-1 for video-on-demand is presented. Having considered the bandwidth, delay and error requirements of real-time video, the next step in designing the system is to evaluate current models of video-on-demand. The distributed nature of four such models is considered, focusing on how Clients discover Servers and locate videos. This evaluation eliminates a centralized approach in which Servers have no logical or physical connection to any other Servers in the network and also introduces the concept of a selection strategy to find alternative Servers when Servers are fully loaded. During this investigation, it becomes clear that another entity (called a Broker) could provide a central repository for Server information. Clients have logical access to all videos on every Server simply by connecting to a Broker. The ATOM Model for distributed video-on-demand is then presented by way of a diagram of the topology showing the interconnection of Servers, Brokers and Clients; a description of each node in the system; a list of the connectivity rules; a description of the protocol; a description of the Server selection strategy and the protocol if a Broker fails. A sample network is provided with an example of video selection and design issues are raised and solved including how nodes discover each other, a justification for using a mesh topology for the Broker connections, how Connection Admission Control (CAC) is achieved, how customer billing is achieved and how information security is maintained. A calculation of the number of Servers and Brokers required to service a particular number of Clients is presented. The advantages of ATOM are described. The underlying distributed connectivity is abstracted away from the Client. Redundant Server/Broker connections are eliminated and the total number of connections in the system are minimized by the rule stating that Clients and Servers may only connect to one Broker at a time. This reduces the total number of Switched Virtual Circuits (SVCs) which are a performance hindrance in ATM. ATOM can be easily scaled by adding more Servers which increases the total system capacity in terms of storage and bandwidth. In order to transport video satisfactorily, a guaranteed end-to-end Quality of Service architecture must be in place. The design methodology for such an architecture is investigated starting with a review of current QoS architectures in the literature which highlights important definitions including a flow, a service contract and flow management. A flow is a single media source which traverses resource modules between Server and Client. The concept of a flow is important because it enables the identification of the areas requiring consideration when designing a QoS architecture. It is shown that ATOM adheres to the principles motivating the design of a QoS architecture, namely the Integration, Separation and Transparency principles. The issue of mapping human requirements to network QoS parameters is investigated and the action of a QoS framework is introduced, including several possible causes of QoS degradation. The design of the ATOM Quality of Service Architecture (AQOSA) is then presented. AQOSA consists of 11 modules which interact to provide end-to-end QoS guarantees for each stream. Several important results arise from the design. It is shown that intelligent choice of stored videos in respect of peak bandwidth can improve overall system capacity. The concept of disk striping over a disk array is introduced and a Data Placement Strategy is designed which eliminates disk hot spots (i.e. Overuse of some disks whilst others lie idle.) A novel parameter (the B-P Ratio) is presented which can be used by the Server to predict future bursts from each video stream. The use of Traffic Shaping to decrease the load on the network from each stream is presented. Having investigated four algorithms for rewind and fast-forward in the literature, a rewind and fast-forward algorithm is presented. The method produces a significant decrease in bandwidth, and the resultant stream is very constant, reducing the chance that the stream will add to network congestion. The C++ classes of the Server, Broker and Client are described emphasizing the interaction between classes. The use of ATOM in the Virtual Private Network and the multimedia teaching laboratory is considered. Conclusions and recommendations for future work are presented. It is concluded that digital video applications require high bandwidth, low error, low delay networks; a video-on-demand system to support large Client volumes must be distributed, not centralized; control and operation (transport) must be separated; the number of ATM Switched Virtual Circuits (SVCs) must be minimized; the increased connections caused by the Broker mesh is justified by the distributed information gain; a Quality of Service solution must address end-to-end issues. It is recommended that a web front-end for Brokers be developed; the system be tested in a wide area A TM network; the Broker protocol be tested by forcing failure of a Broker and that a proprietary file format for disk striping be implemented.