Skip to main content

Sun Shines on Huge VOD Server

Streaming headlong into the video-on-demand server market, Sun Microsystems introduced a large-capacity system that the company claimed provides the ability to deliver more than 10 times as many streams as some existing VOD architectures.

The Sun Streaming System is allegedly able to deliver 160,000 MPEG-2 streams simultaneously at 2 megabits per second each, for a total of 320 gigabits per second of throughput.

That’s well past the specs listed by Motorola for its B-1 server, which touts 80 gbps of output per system and a maximum of 20,000 simultaneous MPEG-2 streams, as well as other vendors like SeaChange International, which said its VOD server supports 12,000 in a single cluster.

“This is aimed at the emerging market for personalized television services,” Sun director of engineering Henk Goosen said. “The issue is, existing systems are not scalable enough. The Sun Streaming System is designed to address that.”

Sun lined up Nortel Networks and information-technology consultant Electronic Data Systems to help sell the system and provide professional services to cable and telco operators that want to deploy the VOD system.

IDC telecommunications-equipment analyst Eve Griliches said she wasn’t surprised to see a major server vendor jump into the VOD area, adding that she expected even higher-scale products to be delivered in the next few years.

Sun’s “bigger, badder server” is exactly where the market is headed, she said, adding, “The current generation of VOD servers can only stream in the thousands, and we need to get into the hundreds of thousands.:

The core of the VOD offering is the Sun Fire X4950 Streaming Switch, which provides up to 2 terabytes of dynamic memory and 32 optical 10-gigabit Ethernet ports. The switch is based on technology developed by Kealia, a startup founded by Sun cofounder Andy Bechtolsheim, which Sun acquired in 2004.

The switch is designed for “worst-case distribution of video,” Goosen said, meaning that it could handle 160,000 streams of different content or 160,000 streams playing the same content.

The Sun VOD switch also supports network-based digital-video-recorder features, supporting up to 2,500 trick-play commands per second.

For storage, Sun’s standard Intel-architecture servers connect into the switch. The four-unit-high Sun Fire X4500 -- the primary server to be sold with the VOD system -- provides 24 TB of storage for 9,450 hours of standard-definition video.

Overall, Sun said, the system would cost less than $50 per stream. Goosen said it’s hard to compare pricing directly with other vendors because the 4950 switch includes components not necessarily included with other VOD products, such as 10-GB Ethernet interfaces.

Sun is also hoping to demonstrate that it has a more open architecture than other VOD vendors. The server company is testing and integrating the Sun Streaming System with partners including Advanced Digital Broadcast, Harmonic, Juniper Networks, Minerva Networks, Tandberg Television, Tellabs, Verimatrix and Widevine Technologies.

“Almost all VOD servers today are proprietary,” Griliches said. “That’s been fine so far because those vendors work closely with cable operators and telcos. But now we’re looking at a market where people want to be able to replace their servers if necessary. That does mean you can get kicked out of the network as quickly as you got in.”

Sun is pitching other applications for the streaming system besides traditional VOD. For example, Goosen said, a service provider could build customized channels for individuals out of playlists of on-demand content or let subscribers share playlists with friends.

Goosen said Sun is working with several trial customers. He declined to name them but said they include cable operators, telcos and broadband-content companies that envision partnering with Internet-service providers to deliver Internet-protocol TV to subscribers.