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Video services

Edgeware Brings Flash to VOD

A new Swedish video on demand (VOD) server company, Edgeware AB , hopes to convince cable and telephone companies that flash memory (like that in iPods) is the best way to store and stream video. (See Edgeware Raises Funds.)

The company is a late entrant in an already vibrant field where most of the players are using a combination of hard-drive- and RAM-based memory in their video servers. But Edgeware believes its pure flash memory approach represents the next wave in VOD servers. (See Telcos vs. Cable: The Wrong War?.)

The company's CEO and co-founder, Joachim Roos, claims the flash memory servers are more reliable because they are solid state –- no moving parts. “If you use hard disks, power consumption goes up, performance goes down as well as reliability,” says Roos.

“The service providers are not at all happy about having hard drives in their networks,” Roos continues. “The reason is poor reliability -- there are drawbacks when your performance is dictated by the rotation of hard drives.”

The second issue is capacity. The NAND flash memory used in Edgeware servers -- the same stuff used in the iPods and digital cameras -- can store and process more video content more quickly, Roos claims.

He says carriers using hard-drive servers will need 10,000 hard drives (with a maximum of 30 streams per drive) to support 300,000 viewers. “So [the carrier] ends up with many drives; 300,000 viewers might seem like a large installation, but not for television."

Roos says Edgeware’s 20-gigabyte device can serve up to 10,000 subscribers with standard-definition video streams at 2 megabits per stream. For high-definition streams, which require a minimum of 5 megabits per stream, the device can serve 4,000 subscribers, Roos says.

But nothing has been proven in the field. In fact, the Edgeware server only exists in the company’s own labs right now.

When the product emerges, it will compete with those of such companies as Entone Inc. and Kasenna Inc. But Roos identifies Massachusetts-based Broadbus Technologies Inc. as its closest peer, and eventually its toughest competitor. Like Edgeware, Broadbus also makes use of solid-state RAM storage in its servers. (See Kasenna Bags $11M.)

“They popped a little while ago, but all I know is we never come across them,” says Broadbus marketing director Jim Owens. “We have more than 60 deployments, so there’s certainly a huge gap in terms of market presence.” The vast majority of Broadbus customers are cable MSOs.

Entone spokeswoman Van Nguyen says carriers want VOD servers that use a combination of hard disk and RAM storage. RAM storage is used to store and stream high-demand traffic, she says, while hard drives are used to economically store lower-demand video.

Nguyen doubts the viability of a pure flash product. “If that’s their only solution, I don’t think they’re going to do very well,” she says. (See Entone, Verimatrix Team on VOD.)

Edgeware’s Roos is quick to point out that storage of video on flash memory is really no more expensive than on hard drives.

Broadbus also uses a combination hard-drive and RAM solution. Instead of flash memory, Broadbus uses a flavor of RAM called DRAM (dynamic random access memory). "We separate storage from streaming,” says Owens. “We stream from solid state [DRAM], and we store video on commodity hard disks, which is more efficient.” (See C-COR Wins Dutch Deal.)

Whoever has the right combination has a chance at a potentially huge market. What started out as something used in hotels has now grown to a multibillion-dollar industry for service providers. Informa plc projects that operators will collect $10.7 billion in VOD revenues from 350 million households worldwide by 2010.

Edgeware was born in 2004 and received an undisclosed amount of venture funding from local Swedish VC Creandum in late January. Roos says his company hopes to formally launch its product next fall.

In the meantime, the company is holding conversations with various carriers and hopes to announce formal trials with a few of them at the time of its product launch.

Edgeware now has around 10 employees, Roos says. The VC injection from Creandum will be used to grow “here and there."

— Mark Sullivan, Reporter, Light Reading

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