Adobe Anywhere didn’t spring out of nowhere

Yesterday a few pieces of the puzzle came together in my head, and I realized that Adobe Anywhere in no way was conceived as a brand new solution, and is in fact a result of a convergence of many years of research and development of a few interesting technologies.

A couple years ago I saw a demonstration of remote rendering of Flash files and streaming the resulting picture to a mobile device. For a long time I thought nothing about it, because Flash has always been on the periphery of my interests. But yesterday I suddenly saw, how relevant this demonstration was. I believe it was a demo of Adobe Flash Media Server, and it was supposedly showing a great way to allow users with devices not having enough power to enjoy more advanced content without taxing the resources too much, and possibly streaming content to iOS devices not running Flash. Granted, the device had to be able to play streamed video, but it didn’t have to render anything. All processing was done on the server.

Can you see the parallels already?

Recently Adobe Flash Media Server – which Adobe acquired with Flash when it bought Macromedia in 2005 – changed its name to Adobe Media Server, proudly offering “Broadcast quality streaming”, and a few other functionalities not limited to serving Flash anymore. The road from Adobe Media Server to Adobe Anywhere Server does not seem very far. All you need is a customized Premiere Pro frameserver and project version control, which in itself perhaps is based on the phased out Version Cue. Or not. The required backbone technologies seem to already have been here for a while.

Mercury Streaming Engine backbone

What follows are a few technical tidbits that came with this realization and a few hours of research. Those of you not interested in these kind of nerdy details, skip to the next section.

To deliver the video at astonishing speed Adobe Anywhere most likely uses the protocol called RTMFP (Real Time Media Flow Protocol) which had its roots in the research done on MFP protocol by Amicima. Adobe acquired this company back in 2006. RTMFP, as opposed to most other streaming protocols, is UDP-based, which means that there is much less time and bandwidth spent on maintaining the communication, but also there is no inherent part of the protocol dedicated to finding out if all data has been sent. However, some of the magic of RTMFP makes the UDP-based protocol not only inherently reliable, but also allows for clever congestion control, and “absolute” security, at the same time bypassing most of NATs and firewall issues.

The specification of RTMFP has been submitted by Adobe in December 2012 to Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), and is available on-line in its drafts repository.

More in-depth information about RTMFP can be found at two MAX presentations from Adobe. One of them is no longer available through the Adobe website, but you can still access its Google’s cached version: MAX 2008 Develop, and another from MAX 2011 Develop, and still available on the site. Note, that both are mostly Flash specific, although the first one has great explanation of what the protocol is and what it does.

It is still unclear what type of compression is used to deliver the footage. I highly doubt it is any inter-frame codec, because the overhead in compressing a number of frames would introduce a noticeable lag. Most likely it is some kind of intra-frame compressor, perhaps a Scalable Video Codec version of H.264 or JPEG2000 and its Motion JPEG 2000 version that would change the quality setting depending on the available bandwidth. The latter is perhaps not as efficient as the former, but even at full HD 1920×1080 JPEG2000 file at quite decent 50% quality is only 126 kB, 960×540 only 75 kB, and if you lower the quality to viewable 30%, you can get down to 30 kB, which requires about 5 Mbps to display 25 frames in real time, essentially giving you a seamless experience using Wireless connection. And who knows, perhaps even some version of H.265 is experimentally employed.

Audio is most likely delivered via Speex codec optimized for use in UDP transmission, and live conferencing.

Ramifications and speculations

There are of course several performance questions, some of them I already expressed – are you really getting the frame rate that your sequence is in (1080p60 for example) or is there a temporal compression to 24 or 25 frames as well – or any number, depending on the bandwidth available. And how is the quality of picture displayed on a broadcast monitor next to my edit station affected? Yes, I know, Anywhere is supposed to be for the lightweight remote editing. But is it really, once you have the hardware structure in place?

When it comes to server, if I had to guess today, a relatively fast SAN, and an equivalent of HP Z820 including several nVidia GPUs or Tesla cards is enough to take care of a facility hosting about half a dozen editors or so. Not an inexpensive machine, although if you factor in the lower cost of editing workstations, it does not seem so scary. The downside is that such editing workstations would only be feasible for editing in Premiere Pro, and most likely little else. No horsepower for After Effects or SpeedGrade. Which brings me to the question – how are the Dynamic Link and linked AE comps faring under Anywhere? How is rendering and resources allocation resolved? Can you chain multiple servers or defer jobs from one machine to another?

Come to think of it, in the environment only using Adobe tools, Anywhere over local ethernet might actually be more effective than having all the edit stations pull required the media from the SAN itself, because it greatly reduces bandwidth necessary for smooth editing experience. The only big pipe required goes between the storage and the server. And this is a boon to any facility, because the backbone – be it fiber, 10-Gig ethernet, or PCI-Express – still remains one of the serious costs, as far as installing the service is concerned. I might even go further, and suggest abandoning SAN protocol altogether, when only Adobe tools are used, thus skipping SAN overhead, both in network access, and in price, although I believe in these days of affordable software from various developers it would be a pretty uncommon workflow.

In the end I must admit that all of it is just an educated guess, but I think we shall soon see how right or wrong I was. Since Al Mooney already showed a custom build of the next version of Premiere Pro running Adobe Anywhere, it is almost certain, that the next release will have Anywhere as one of its major selling points.

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