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Seamless Client Onboarding – Hardware and Software Synergy – interview with Kenneth Robinson

A crucial aspect of NETINT’s value proposition is its proactive and holistic customer support, from the pre-purchase phase to onboarding and the post-purchase journey. NETINT streamlines this transition with seamless hardware installation facilitated by compliance with U.2 and PCIe standards and intuitive software integration via tools like FFmpeg and GStreamer, and an SDK.

A recent conversation with Kenneth Robinson, NETINT’s Manager of Field Application Engineering, detailed how he and his team support NETINT customers through the buying, onboarding and implementation process and beyond. By way of background, Robinson joined NETINT in January 2023 and brings substantial expertise from his prior tenure at a video gateway development company. During the conversation, he described how his team’s adeptness with scripting and debugging simplifies and accelerates customer deployments.

The discussion also spotlights the efficiency of NETINT’s transcoder management, GStreamer’s increased usage among NETINT customers due to its hyperthreaded efficiency, and several strategic recommendations for potential server buyers. Robinson’s insights solidify NETINT’s reputation as a client-centric enterprise, leveraging both its technological prowess and dedicated human capital.

From Jan Ozer

This interview is with Kenneth Robinson, NETINT’s manager of field application engineering. We discussed how Kenneth and his team help get NETINT customers up and running, including hardware and software installation and the operation of software like GStreamer and FFmpeg.

Seamless Client Onboarding - Hardware and Software Synergy - Kenneth Robinson from NETINT

Jan:
Kenneth, tell us a little bit about yourself. What’s your background, and how long have been with NETINT?

Kenneth:
I’ve been with NETINT since January of this year (2023). Prior to that, I worked for a company that developed video gateways for big MSOs for installation in hotels and other uses. I ran a team of quality engineers and managed the support team there as well.

Seamless Client Onboarding - Hardware and Software Synergy - Kenneth Robinson from NETINT

Jan:
So, you’re comfortable with video and video-related technologies?

Kenneth:
Oh yes. And familiar with a lot of different ways to deliver video, like streaming and multicast.

Seamless Client Onboarding - Hardware and Software Synergy - Kenneth Robinson from NETINT

Jan:
What’s the typical skillset of your FAE team?

Kenneth:
They are software people. They understand software and debugging software and write scripts to help customers test or debug different issues. So very good communicators. They work with our customers to make sure that NETINT cards benefit them in the way that they are supposed to..

Seamless Client Onboarding - Hardware and Software Synergy - Kenneth Robinson from NETINT

Jan:
What do you see as your role in the company?

Kenneth:
I see it as ensuring that our customers get the support they need in a timely manner and making sure the transition from their current transcoders to NETINT transcoders happens smoothly, quickly, and efficiently. And that any roadblocks are removed in a very timely manner for them.

Supporting New Customer Installations

Seamless Client Onboarding - Hardware and Software Synergy - Kenneth Robinson from NETINT

Jan:
How’s the typical process work? Do you start when customers are evaluating NETINT products, or after they decide to purchase and deploy them?

Kenneth:
Both situations. Often the sales team will include me in a customer call to learn exactly how they want to use our products and to make sure we can deliver what they need. And then the other half is usually after a customer buys one of our products.

Seamless Client Onboarding - Hardware and Software Synergy - Kenneth Robinson from NETINT

Jan:
How does that work? When a customer buys a product, what happens? It gets shipped, and they receive it. How do they get the software and documentation?

Kenneth:

We know they’ve received the product based on the tracking number. Then we’ll reach out to the customer and send links to our documentation portal with the software SDK. This has the installation guide, integration guides, application notes, and everything they need to install and get up and running. And then we’ll usually follow up every couple of weeks or so just to make sure the process is going smoothly.

But, if at any point the customer has a question, they can reach out to us, and we will be happy to help them

Hardware Installation

Figure 1. NETINT offers products in two form factors, U.2 and PCIe.
Seamless Client Onboarding - Hardware and Software Synergy - Kenneth Robinson from NETINT

Jan:
What’s the hardware installation like?

Kenneth:

So, the hardware is very simple. We have two form factors. We have the PCIe form factor, which is just like any network card or GPU that you just install. And then there’s the U.2 form factor, which is the same as a hard drive. So, there’s nothing special required or special tools or knowledge; if you’ve worked on a computer before, you should be able to install either form factor.

 

Seamless Client Onboarding - Hardware and Software Synergy - Kenneth Robinson from NETINT

Jan:
In the nine months you’ve been here, what types of incompatibilities have you seen with the servers in the field?

Kenneth:

We haven’t seen any incompatibilities. Our products have worked on every server that we’ve tried because we follow the different standards for the U.2 and PCIe form factors.

Software Installation and Operation

Figure 2 - The Quadra Server - software architecture for controlling the Quadra Server
Figure 2. You can control all transcoders with FFmpeg, GStreamer, or the API (libxcoder).
Seamless Client Onboarding - Hardware and Software Synergy - Kenneth Robinson from NETINT

Jan:
So, the hardware installation is straightforward. What’s the software installation like?

Kenneth:

The software is relatively easy. We work with FFmpeg and GStreamer, but our software code is not pushed into the repository. So, part of our SDK is a patch that you apply and then compile FFmpeg or GStreamer, though we have installation scripts that will automate that process for you. If you just want to run a quick test, the installation scripts are very good and will get you up and running in a matter of minutes.

We also have an API, so the customer can access the cards directly and not rely on FFMPEG or Gstreamer.

Seamless Client Onboarding - Hardware and Software Synergy - Kenneth Robinson from NETINT

Jan:
If you install multiple cards, how does the software distribute jobs among those cards?

Kenneth:

There are two ways. You can specify the exact card you want to use as the encoder or decoder. Or, you can allow a resource manager to manage that, and it will send each job to whichever decoder or encoder has the capacity.

FFmpeg, Gstreamer, or API?

Seamless Client Onboarding - Hardware and Software Synergy - Kenneth Robinson from NETINT

Jan:
In terms of software control, what’s the typical customer doing? We’ve got GStreamer, FFmpeg, and the API. What percentage are using each alternative?

Kenneth:

The majority is FFmpeg and, after that, the API. Then there’s a small number that use GStreamer, although GStreamer is slowly getting more popular.

Seamless Client Onboarding - Hardware and Software Synergy - Kenneth Robinson from NETINT

Jan:
Why is that?

Kenneth:

We found that when FFmpeg scales multiple files simultaneously, like when creating an encoding ladder, it sometimes would bottleneck. While the capacity was good, it wasn’t great. If we tried Gstreamer, the capacity increased significantly enough that it made sense to use GStreamer for that workflow.

Server vs. Individual Cards

Figure 3. NETINT offers two servers populated with ten Quadras or T408s.
Seamless Client Onboarding - Hardware and Software Synergy - Kenneth Robinson from NETINT

Jan:
Let’s switch gears a bit. What’s your experience with the server? What would you advise someone to buy a server fully loaded with Quadras or T408s versus buying the cards and installing them themselves?

Kenneth:

If you need a custom architecture, like adding GPUs for cloud gaming, you should buy the cards and install them yourself. If you intend to perform high-volume file-based transcoding or live streaming, you should consider either server.

Seamless Client Onboarding - Hardware and Software Synergy - Kenneth Robinson from NETINT

Jan:
So, if you’ve got a set application and you just want to get a device in and start working, the servers are a good option. If you’re going to customize your servers, buy the cards.

Kenneth:

Yes, that’s correct.

Seamless Client Onboarding - Hardware and Software Synergy - Kenneth Robinson from NETINT

Jan:
That’s all I have. Thanks for taking the time today.

Kenneth:

Thanks for having me.

Watch on-demand: Symposium on Building Your Live Streaming Cloud

Cloud services are an effective way to begin live streaming, but once you reach a particular scale, you may realize that you’re paying too much and can save significant OPEX by deploying your own transcoding infrastructure. The question is, how to get started? 

Build Your Own Live Streaming Cloud symposium was a huge hit, with many insights from industry insiders on how to build a live streaming cloud. Here are replays of the event. (For the best viewing experience, please watch from your desktop.)