On ‘Virtualizing’ Cable

This week we delve into yet another vat of softwareside activity intersecting with cable and broadband: Virtualization.

Virtualization, also referred to as the “virtual machine,” is not a new concept. Back in the 1960s, IBM “virtualized” the resources in its mainframe computers, so that different applications could share among them.

Everything we call “the cloud” today began as “virtualization,” defined as creating simulated versions of things from computing to connectivity to storage.

These days, it’s hard to identify things that aren’t being virtualized, including the network itself. Not the physical wires and amplifiers, of course. But slowly and surely, functions that used to be in one physical place get redone in code and moved “into the cloud.” They become “virtual machines.”

The list of common cable plant activities to get “virtualized” includes real-time encoding, trick-play (fast forward/rewind) and even headend video controllers.

Say you have a proprietary video controller, one per headend. Say one particular market comprises 40 headends. Making changes meant hitting those racks of gear one by one, 40 times over. Virtualization enables an instantaneous upgrade of all of them.

This type of “infrastructure virtualization” is happening for two reasons: Pervasive broadband connectivity and entities like Amazon, which rent out general computing resources as needed.

In cable, the first real example of virtualization and cloud is the digital video recorder. If you’re in a Comcast market and have experimented with its recent shift to X2 navigation, you’ve already seen your recorded stuff shift from the box under the TV to the network itself. Is it still your stuff? Yes. Is it sitting as a copy on your box? No. Does it work the same? Yes.

That’s a quickie on “virtualization” as the training wheels to “cloud.”

Stumped by gibberish? Visit Leslie Ellis attranslation-please.comormultichannel.com/blog.