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Cisco Hands SARA Guide Development To Itaas

Cisco Systems struck a deal with Itaas under which the interactive TV firm will take over ongoing development and support for the Scientific Atlanta Resident Application (SARA) guide for Cisco's Explorer set-top box platform.

Itaas will provide feature updates and product enhancements requested by Cisco as well as those requested directly by cable operators that use SARA. All updates to the guide will still undergo system verification and testing by Cisco prior to release.

"It's a big step for both us and Cisco," Itaas president and CEO Vibha Rustagi said in an interview. "We really become the source for enhancements to the SARA guide."

Cisco would not disclose how many set-tops currently run the SARA guide except to say there are "millions" in use. Customers using the interactive program guide include Cablevision Systems and Cox Communications, although Cox is phasing out SARA in its SA systems and replacing it with a new guide developed by NDS.

Other major operators such as Comcast and Time Warner Cable also run SARA in some capacity, but it is not their primary IPG.

Since its inception in 1999, Duluth, Ga.-based Itaas has provided support and development services for interactive applications running on SA platforms.

"Itaas is a great partner and has been providing support to developers and service providers on SARA, PowerTV and the Cisco headend," Jeff Seebeck, vice president of product strategy and development for Cisco's Service Provider Video Technology Group, said in a statement. "Leveraging Itaas's experience with next-generation platform development is a win for both Cisco and our customers."

Meanwhile, Cisco will continue to push ahead on "Cisco Blue," a guide based on a Web browser aimed at next-generation IP set-tops. That IPG, demonstrated at Cable-Tec Expo 2009 last fall, provides Internet-enabled widgets that can dynamically pull in data and video from any source, along with traditional guide functions like grid listings and DVR support.

Rustagi co-founded Itaas after working for Scientific Atlanta as director of the company's international subscriber business unit. Jatin Desai, Itaas' chief technology officer and co-founder, also hails from SA.

Itaas will not be hiring any Cisco employees as part of the SARA deal. Rustagi said her company has been staffing up over the last year to support the guide as well as other new business. Currently, Itaas has about 130 employees and recently moved into a larger facility in Delhi, India, with an expanded lab for cable and IPTV platforms.

"This is something we've been working on with [Cisco] for some time," she said. "We've been growing in part because of projects like this."

Asked whether Itaas plans to develop a Tru2way-based version of SARA, Rustagi said, "That's something we can't discuss at this stage... There's interest on many different fronts."

Itaas has more than 100 customers worldwide, including Comcast's TVWorks division, Time Warner Cable and Cox. Itaas's istart Developer Program supports eight video platforms: Time Warner Cable's Mystro Digital Navigator, OCAP Digital Navigator and Mystro Application Server (MAS) software; Cisco's SARA/PowerTV and OCAP Axiom; FourthWall Media (formerly BIAP); Cox's NDS-developed Tru2way guide; and Comcast's TVWorks enhanced TV platform.