Video services

Cisco Gears Up for RS-DVRs

Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) says it's gone to great lengths to settle the technical challenges unique to a remote-storage DVR (RS-DVR), addressing the point that cable engineers and executives are calling the technology's Achilles' heel.

The viability of an RS-DVR is a hot topic, considering Cablevision Systems Corp. (NYSE: CVC) says it's ready to deploy the technology this summer. And Cisco has a role to play there thanks to the acquisition of Arroyo Video Systems three years ago. (See Cablevision Girds for Remote DVRs and Cisco Snatches VOD Vendor Arroyo.)

Ingest capacity is the weakest link of any RS-DVR, many say. Because of fair use rules, the system must write a copy of every recording requested, as opposed to traditional video-on-demand (VoD) systems that are built to deliver thousands of streams from one copy. (See Cablevision Girds for Remote DVRs, and Summer Debut for Cablevision Network DVR, and DoJ: Butt Out of Cablevision RS-DVR Case .)

"When you go from a mode where popular content has to be recorded multiple times, it brings the ingest capabilities of the box to another degree," says Carmelo Iaria, product line manager for Cisco's CDS-TV unit.

Cisco isn't saying whether it's involved in Cablevision's upcoming RS-DVR deployment. But Arroyo, before being acquired, had acknowledged a role in the MSO's original trial work. More recently, court documents noted that Cablevision was using Arroyo for the primary server in a network DVR. (See Inside Cablevision's 'RS-DVR' .)

Regardless of any Cablevision connection, Cisco is outfitting its gear to address the special challenges of RS-DVRs.

In Cisco's view, a VoD system might require less than 1 Gbit/s of simultaneous ingest, while an RS-DVR could need at least four times that. On the storage side, the ballpark for a VoD system would be 12 terabytes to serve 10,000-plus subscribers, while an RS-DVR would need 1,200 terabytes.

Planning ahead
Cisco's video product people say they identified the ingest challenge long ago and have been adjusting their servers accordingly.

The original Arroyo Vault (circa 2006) supported about 100 terabytes per rack, roughly 100 channels of ingest, and one Gigabit Ethernet feed. Cisco claims the newer CDE 420-4A model offers 240 terabytes per rack, eight Gigabit Ethernet ports, and the ability to ingest up to 1,000 channels simultaneously.

A "Next-Gen Content Library," which likely won't be announced until the second half of the year, is shooting for 700 terabytes per rack, two 10-Gbit/s Ethernet ports, and the capability to ingest more than 2,000 channels concurrently.

But until an MSO like Cablevision tries to scale an RS-DVR service, it won't be known whether even those specs are enough to handle the demand. "Some of these new applications are really changing the game," Iaria says.

Cisco has been tight-lipped about deployments involving servers spawned from the Arroyo acquisition. It claims to have server deals with four of the top five North American cable MSOs, but Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC), a pioneer of the Start Over service, is the only one made public so far.

That job has been a learning experience, says John Wheeler, a Cisco director of product marketing and business development. Start Over is a heavy duty processing task that calls for ingesting live channels and sending them to the edge of the network within 300 milliseconds.

Cisco expects RS-DVR interest to grow once Cablevision gets rolling. Several major MSOs, and even several telcos, have been "waiting… and watching Cablevision," Wheeler says.

That goes for operators in Europe and Asia, too. "The rights management issues are sticky in those markets, as well," he adds.

RS-DVRs and Arroyo's servers fit into Cisco's broader Content Delivery System (CDS), which aims to help MSOs and other service operators pipe all forms of on-demand video (Web TV stuff, too) to all forms of end devices -- TVs, mobile handsets, game consoles, to name but three.

That's not just Cisco's idea. Competitors such as Arris Group Inc. (Nasdaq: ARRS), Concurrent Computer Corp. (Nasdaq: CCUR), Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT), SeaChange International Inc. (Nasdaq: SEAC), Edgeware AB , and relative newcomer Verivue Inc. , have similar aspirations. (See Arris Pumps Up Video With Dolce's Verivue , Verivue Flips New Media Switch , Concurrent Sets Multi-Screen Strategy, Moto Unveils Mini VoD Server , and Edgeware Flashes the US.)

Numericable-SFR of France is using Cisco's CDS for VoD and some nDVR apps, and a "major" MSO in China is also using Cisco's system for a "Rewind TV" service that vaults up all of the live channels over a three-day period.

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

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pauleyb 12/5/2012 | 4:03:21 PM
re: Cisco Gears Up for RS-DVRs

Yah I'm more than a little skeptical of Cablevision on this, and not just on a technical level.  Based on their past track record, I'm going to go ahead and say the technology WON'T be ready for rollout by this summer, even if they all of the legal troubles go away (which who are we kidding they're going to cave to Hollywood eventually anyway).  Even if it does rollout I think at best its greeted weakly by customers (i.e. me) who don't like the idea of having to pay for something I used to be able to do on my own.  Cisco's technical support or no, this is a bad idea for Cablevision.

Jeff Baumgartner 12/5/2012 | 4:03:20 PM
re: Cisco Gears Up for RS-DVRs

I'll be surprised if they don't roll out something this summer, given that they had once indicated that we could see the RS-DVR boot up in early 2009 some time, and here we are in June.  It's plastered everywhere that they'll do it this summer, so I just don't see how they can back out of it now.

But I'm curious to find out how they define the rollout...will it be to a few nodes to see how it affects the rest of the network, or will they put it out there like it did with Docsis 3.0 and just have it up and running in all systems?

I still think the thing to watch now is whether the Supreme Court follows the DoJ opinion not to hear the case. If the court ignores the opinion, it could slow it down if there's a chance Cablevision will have to mothball it.

But I am also interested in seeing how popular the RS-DVR is, especially when there are other options out there, as you mention.




Jeff Baumgartner 12/5/2012 | 4:03:16 PM
re: Cisco Gears Up for RS-DVRs

I think Cablevision will try to avoid disabling the FF function, althouth disabling it seems to be the popular speculation -- that Cablevision will do just that to keep the programmers and studios happy and to avoid any further legal entaglements.

But I'm partial to a suggestion from Jim Brickmeier at Concurrent that CVC will try to obtain licenses for the popular programs and rely on the fair use law for the other content.  The big question is whether obtaining those licenses come with a clause that would require Cablevision to disable the FF function. But I do agree that even a partial back down in this area would prevent an RS-DVR from becoming a product that offers features that are at least on par with a traditionlal, local DVR from TiVo or another supplier.

cablemaster222 12/5/2012 | 4:03:16 PM
re: Cisco Gears Up for RS-DVRs

I agree with Paley.  Cablevision is going to end up dropping the ball big time! 

Cablevision is just going to try and lock us into long term network DVR contracts, and then we'll find out that their DVRS don't work like regular DVRs, and instead their service wont allow you to fast-forward through commercials at all!  And, let's admit it, isn't "no-ads" the best part about DVR?!?! 

Check this out:


"Pali's Greenfield observes that Cablevision and the other cable operators who almost surely would follow in their footsteps could handicap the service by preventing consumers from fast-forwarding through commercials or by limiting what programs can be recorded."




cablemaster222 12/5/2012 | 4:03:15 PM
re: Cisco Gears Up for RS-DVRs


I hope you are right about Cablevision first attempting to get licenses, but I fear that Cablevision is just going to do whatever is immediately more likiley to make some fast cash.  All the information I have about Cablevision says that the controlling interest (the rich Dolan family) doesn't give a rip about pleasing customers.

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