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Tomorrow’s Video Infrastructure is IP-Smart

Wed, 09/30/2009 - 8:50pm
Chris Gordon, senior director of product management at Imagine Communications

Solutions with an IP DNA are more flexible and operationally efficient

For several years, leading system operators have been advocating an open system framework for multi-vendor interoperability within the end-to-end interactive, on-demand video architecture. Examples of this are Comcast’s Next Generation On Demand (NGOD) architecture and Time Warner Cable’s Interactive Services Architecture (ISA). As operators now seek to expand these architectures and specifications to address the next set of opportunities, the challenge is to integrate existing cable infrastructure with new, predominantly IP- and server-based solutions, forming a multi-service framework with massive scale and efficiency.

To ensure the best end-user quality of experience, system operators are looking to simultaneously upgrade and simplify their video processing infrastructure. To pull this off effectively, a new class of advanced video processing products that fully integrate an IP-centric operating model is required.

Dozens of Platforms vs. Single Hardware Platform

There are a number of benefits to an IP-centric solution design. Solutions with an IP DNA are inherently more flexible and can rapidly adapt to an evolving distribution infrastructure. They are many times more operationally efficient and streamline the sometimes complex processes of installation, provisioning and maintenance. Further, solutions that integrate the IP switching function massively reduce the cost, complexity and service-impacting risk associated with cabling.

The recent DTV transition from analog to digital broadcast signals has opened the door for a higher quality of experience and more programming options for consumers. However, this transition is not limited to terrestrial broadcast. The general industry-wide transition to digital enables operators to launch new services and applications over a variety of distribution channels. Services such as HD broadcast, HD video-on-demand, interactive advertising and others are extending from the traditional living room environment to the PC, the smartphone and any number of other connected devices.

A pure IP-based delivery network provides operators with a platform to deliver a richer set of programming options in a broader array of viewing times and locations. With these opportunities now on the immediate horizon, backbone and distribution networks must perform better than ever to support the highest QoE across these additional products and services.

The physical infrastructure that makes up these backbone and distribution networks is also at a transition point. The historic context for these networks was a unidirectional broadcast signal flow deployed on purpose-built hardware systems. As the number of IP-based services grows, these networks are increasingly software-driven, bidirectional, and organized around a central IP routing and switching architecture.

32 HD Video Services

Services such as voice over IP and high-speed data were IP-centric from the beginning and fit well within this new network paradigm. Video services, however, are still in the process of an IP/server migration, and the supporting physical infrastructure has yet to fully embrace the new paradigm. Video processing platforms seem to straddle the fence between form factors and interconnections designed to support the legacy paradigm, while attaching additional IP interfaces to plug in to the emerging IP infrastructure.

While this approach does enable these services to be streamed over the IP network, it does not take full advantage of the flexibility and scalability inherent in IP- and server-based solutions, it drives an over-utilization of Ethernet cabling and IP ports, and it creates an operational complexity that will only grow more challenging as operators roll out the full gamut of advanced video services.

To ensure the best end-user QoE, and to provide a scalable platform for expanding revenue streams, system operators need to upgrade and concurrently simplify their video processing infrastructure. This can be accomplished by embracing a holistic view of video processing requirements and deploying platforms that provide the flexibility, resiliency and scalability benefits of IP, while also proactively addressing the limitations and challenges of today’s bolt-on IP video interconnects.

There is now an opportunity to incorporate IP-centric operating systems, redundancy designs and switching fabric into the video platform. And true to form, these new capabilities are now starting to pop up in the latest generation of solutions from our industry’s more innovative technology vendors. At least two QAM vendors have integrated the IP-centric paradigm, complete with internal switching and interconnects, while another recent entrant into the on-demand storage and streaming space has introduced an IP-centric on-demand solution that also takes advantage of the recent maturation of flash memory storage to benefit from the performance and energy efficiency that it provides.

128 SD Video Services

Imagine Communications deploys its ICE Broadcast System on a blade server platform to leverage the broad benefits of the leading server platform design, while also taking full advantage of IP-based and solid-state product performance.

By integrating IP switching as a component of the solution, the amount of physical cabling can be reduced by up to 90 percent – or even more. Reducing cabling reduces complexity, helps improve service reliability and dramatically cuts the capex associated with core network switch ports.

Additional benefits of blade systems have been detailed in a recent research report from Forrester Research, “The Forrester Wave: Blade Server Systems, Q2 2009.” They include faster setup and deployment; greater overall space, power and cooling efficiency; and simpler configuration and reconfiguration.

The advanced approach taken by Imagine and a small-but-elite group of other vendors takes full consideration into the complexity and cost of the IP- and server-based video network and enables uncomplicated service deployments and a vastly simplified operational model. The flexibility and scalability of these systems position the system operator for continued rapid deployment of new, advanced video products.

Lastly, by simplifying the operational model and preparing the network for the next generation of advanced services, operators can focus more time and attention on maintaining the highest video quality and the ultimate quality of experience that subscribers demand, regardless of the network or device type.

To read Forrester Research’s report, visit http://tinyurl.com/mysmsq.

E-mail: chris.gordon@imaginecommunications.com

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