VOD Rides the Off-the-Shelf Wave

The engines that power television’s video-on-demand services are moving to commercial off -theshelf
hardware — COTS, for short.

Major vendors have already gotten off-the-shelf
religion. That’s because the COTS-based
systems are cheaper and more flexible than
their custom-built kin: more like Toyotas,
say, than DeLoreans.

Motorola still ships a purpose-built VOD
hardware platform, the B-1, which was originally
built by startup Broadbus Technologies
and designed with a high-performance, highcapacity

But Motorola’s flagship VOD family is now
the M3, introduced last summer and built on
COTS hardware.


“Off -the-shelf hardware, because it’s developed
by large companies, clearly provides better economics
than if you design something for a targeted market like
VOD,” Jim Owens, Motorola’s director of product management
for on-demand video, said.

Other benefits of general-purpose platforms include increased
price/performance ratios over time and the ability
to quickly add features in software that run on top of
general-purpose hardware.

The shift to COTS promises to speed up time-to-market,
according to Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers
chief technology officer Daniel Howard. “Developers
can now devote their energies to writing software on
standard platforms,” he said.

SeaChange International touted the fact that its Servers
and Storage business unit had “transitioned
fully to off -the-shelf hardware” during the
course of the quarter that ended Jan. 31,

Now that SeaChange’s
VOD servers are outfi tted
with standard 10-Gigabit
Ethernet cards, for example,
a service provider
can use central storage
to deliver universal media
streaming to multiple
end devices, vice
president of server products
Bang Chang said.
“Customers don’t want to buy something that is either
underprovisioned or overprovisioned for a given usage
scenario,” he said.

Concurrent has delivered COTS-based video-on-demand
servers since 2003 — well before the rest of the vendors
in the space — and continues to invest in running the
software on additional hardware platforms.

Arris released its first Linux-based COTS model in September
2009 and last week debuted its third generation,
the XMS Flex, which provides up to 30 Gigabits per second
of streaming bandwidth per two-rack-unit chassis and
support for up to 384 Terabytes of external storage.

“The Flex is our new high-water mark,” Joe Matarese,
vice president and general manager of Arris’s on-demand
unit, said.

Not all vendors have embraced COTS. Edgeware, a
VOD-server developer based in Stockholm, Sweden, argues
that purpose-built hardware still provides more
power in a smaller footprint.


Proponents feel that COTS-based
hardware is driving VOD’s evolution
toward highly distributed content delivery

Verivue, whose backers include
Comcast and Arris, has shifted focus
from high-scale VOD servers to systems
that let cable operators build and
run their own CDN services. The products are based on
Verivue’s acquisition last fall of CoBlitz, a startup formed
by Princeton University researchers who had developed
advanced network caching software.

“Before, an MSO would build only a video-on-demand network,”
Verivue CEO Jim Dolce said. “Now, you build a CDN in
the center of the network, plug in VOD streaming for set-tops
and caches for IP streaming to connected devices.”