Flash memory, a storage technology usually used in iPods, digital cameras, and other portable consumer electronics, is starting to gain favor among top video-on-demand (VOD) server manufacturers as costs ebb and performance flows.
SeaChange International Inc., a leading VOD server and software supplier, is the first to announce formal intentions for Flash, a technology that end up saving big bucks for cable operators and telcos alike.
But SeaChange certainly won't be the last to enlist Flash, as several of its rivals are also giving the technology a close look and determining how it might fit into their product roadmaps. Motorola Inc., however, has already passed on Flash, in favor of its central strategy to use DRAM (dynamic random access memory).
SeaChange president and CEO Bill Styslinger confirmed in an earnings call in mid-March that his company will introduce a Flash server in the second half of 2007. He also talked up the technology's durability and non-volatile nature.
"Flash is important because it eliminates the need for disk drives," he said, noting that SeaChange had already demonstrated a prototype during a Time Warner Cable Inc. engineering conference. "Operators are anxious to eliminate the spinning disk needed with all disk and current memory servers."
SeaChange, which already populates its VOD architecture with disk- and RAM-based storage, is expected to unveil its Flashy server next month in Las Vegas at The Cable Show. The product is slated for commercial availability by the third quarter.
SeaChange director of server products Bang Chang says the new entrant will find a home at the edge of the VOD architecture. That's where 20 percent of the most popular titles in the on-demand library are typically replicated. Operators tend to use this approach to ensure the quality of the VOD service and to prevent the operator from having to stream all titles from a central location.
Creating a disk-less VOD edge, Bang Chang says, will reduce costs for powering and cooling, as well as the personnel required to maintain those distributed edge locations. He says cable and telco operators have made opex reduction "the number one priority for us."
Each SeaChange Flash server will hold about 300 hours of standard-def video -- probably not enough to contain more than 20 to 30 percent of the larger VOD libraries in use today. But Bang Chang says SeaChange's MediaCluster architecture will remedy this because it can access and manage up to eight, 300-hour Flash server sites.
Other VOD vendors are also putting Flash under the microscope.
"We are investigating it right now," says Tim Dodge, director of marketing and product management for Concurrent Computer Corp. "I think everybody's looking at this technology right now."
Include C-COR Corp. in that exploratory mix, as well. C-COR, according to an email from its VP of on-demand strategy, Basil Badawiyeh, "has looked at Flash as we're considering the short- and long-term storage requirements of our unified video delivery platform that includes VOD, advertising, switched unicast, time-shifted TV, and other low bit-rate storage requirements."
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