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Does Cisco Have the Fairest Video Server of All?

Video servers from Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) have leapfrogged Concurrent Computer Corp. (Nasdaq: CCUR)'s and Edgeware AB 's to take the top spot in Current Analysis 's latest competitive assessment of the sector, which ranked products on criteria such as functionality, scalability, and overall greenness.

Cisco has been quietly building momentum with its Content Delivery Engine (CDE) 250, a server whose lineage can be traced to Arroyo Video Solutions, which Cisco acquired in 2006. (See Cisco Snatches VOD Vendor Arroyo.)

Yoav Schreiber, Current Analysis's senior analyst, digital media infrastructure, says Cisco's been retooling that product every since, outfitting it with an Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC) architecture and optimizing it with higher-density flash drives. Those moves have helped Cisco make significant leaps in stream density, going from 1,250 standard-definition streams per rack unit (RU) with the CDE220, to 4,000 streams per RU in the top-of-the-line CDE 250.

Schreiber says such improvements are becoming more and more common in the sector, which has generally seen streaming densities rise rapidly. Schreiber says the average stream density per RU at the end of 2009 was in the neighborhood of 2,000. "In general, it's more than doubled," he says.

Vendors have been coupling that density with more functionality, outfitting servers with ad insertion capabilities and on-the-fly transcoding so streams can be tailored to go beyond the TV and penetrate PCs and mobile devices, such as iPads and smartphones. Many have also added adaptive streaming to their portfolios, giving operators a way to deliver video smoothly as bandwidth conditions fluctuate. (See Cable Adapting to Video's Streaming Future.)

Schreiber stresses that not many vendors can support all of those elements in one product as operators seek out gear that can help them fulfill their TV Everywhere strategies. Some, he explains, tend to optimize one product for traditional VoD, and outfit another for over-the-top video streaming.

Improvements in all of Current Analysis's ranked criteria allowed Cisco to jump to the top, supplanting Concurrent and Edgeware, which were No. 1 and No. 2 when Current last published its assessment in February. Here's how the crop stacked up in this round:

Server Rankings

Server performance by category
Current Analysis ranked Edgeware’s Orbit-2X (5,400 SD streams at 3.75 Mbit/s per RU, and simultaneous 1.2Gbit/s total ingest bandwidth) atop its scalability rankings. Cisco’s CDE 220 was also among the leaders in the category, producing 4,000 SD streams per RU, coupled with an ingest rate of 7.5Gbit/s.

Concurrent's MediaHawk VX graded highest on reliability, getting marks for system-level fault tolerance and load-balancing for protecting data, and resiliency for preserving stream sessions.

Verivue Inc. , which has a reselling partnership with Arris Group Inc. (Nasdaq: ARRS), has one of the most functional servers on the market because it can support multiple protocols for streaming to TVs, PCs, and mobile screens. Many others support three-screen delivery from the same product platform, but not the same server, Current Analysis says. (See Arris Pumps Up Video With Dolce's Verivue and Verivue Surfaces With Comcast Backing .)

Edgeware was the greenest of the lot, leading with 0.016 watts per stream.

Cisco, though, has been getting the most market traction of late, in terms of visible partnerships, streams shipped, and customer footprint. According to Current Analysis, Cisco has more than 600,000 CDS streams deployed, roughly doubling that total in a six-month period, and helping it gain ground on legacy deployment leaders such as Concurrent, Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT), and SeaChange International Inc. (Nasdaq: SEAC), which ranked near the bottom and has recently tried to sell off its server business. (See Shareholder Puts SeaChange's Feet to the Fire .)

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Light Reading Cable

shygye75 12/5/2012 | 4:22:57 PM
re: Does Cisco Have the Fairest Video Server of All?

The graphic from CA implies that Cisco's main advantage is in "market traction." Can this be a surprise to anyone?

Jeff Baumgartner 12/5/2012 | 4:22:56 PM
re: Does Cisco Have the Fairest Video Server of All?

As surprises go, I suppose I was a bit more surprised to see where Verivue was on the updated list, considering they put themselves into the next-gen camp, even though network switching in CDN is more of their forte.  Were they hovering in that spot in the last analysis, or did they drop down a notch? JB

ycurrent 12/5/2012 | 4:22:56 PM
re: Does Cisco Have the Fairest Video Server of All?

Market traction puts Cisco "over the top," but advances meeting demand-side requirements from operators have enabled Cisco to close video server gaps, driving overall advantage.  And don't forget those with "negative" traction.

Jeff Baumgartner 12/5/2012 | 4:22:56 PM
re: Does Cisco Have the Fairest Video Server of All?

They are looking pretty solid across the board, based on this analysis. As market traction goes, suppose it's not a huge surprise that they are having success with deployments, but they have been making progress quietly... it's not a part of their business they are shouting about from the rooftops. But it looks like they have crept in to steal plenty of thunder from the original big dogs of cable VoD: SeaChange, Concurrent, Moto, and Arris, whose products weren't covered in this round.  JB

ycurrent 12/5/2012 | 4:22:54 PM
re: Does Cisco Have the Fairest Video Server of All?

Poor Verivue.  They benefit from the customer validation in Shaw's deployment, and technical validation with ALU, JNPR, and CSCO all looking to embed video distribution deeper into networking infrastructure.  Yet, while COTS rivals advance, Verivue ends up relatively further behind in terms of scalability.  They purpose designed for distribution scale, trading-off feature/functionality, and now their rivals are topping up scale. Thus,  they are essentially hovering in the same spot.

pdelzio 12/5/2012 | 4:22:40 PM
re: Does Cisco Have the Fairest Video Server of All?

ycurrent illuminates the reality of COTS (Moore's Law in action) and the benfits it provides to the service providers. Cisco is doing a very good job with this acquisition. Yoav does not include the market share in the US so I'll illuninate a little :) -> SEAC (30%), CCUR (24%), CSCO (16.4%), ARRIS (15.7%)

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