IBC: Startup Aspera takes on bandwidth challenge

Wed, 09/17/2008 - 8:25am
Brian Santo

AMSTERDAM – Aspera, a tiny company revolutionizing the mundane function of large file transfers, has its sights on sparking yet another revolution in bandwidth management.

But first things first. The basic problem Aspera has solved is that of sending extremely large files – digitized films are a prime example – over exceptionally long distances. Delay and packet loss on TCP networks increase over distance, to the point where it is the amount of time required to send a video file on an intercontinental link that is prohibitive.

Aspera has developed an application-layer protocol that takes into account the performance limitations of the connection (including variable noise levels) and compensates for them, with the result that traffic is accelerated to the point where transfer time is reduced and cost is minimized.

Aspera has made it completely practical to transfer enormous files over long distances on TCP networks, allowing the content owners to move their assets without having to resort to satellite transfer or shipping physical media, which can be lost or intercepted. The TCP network transfers are also made safely because Aspera provides its own encryption.

The company started with no venture money, but its solution is apparently so compelling that it has allowed the company to figuratively waltz into potential customers’ offices and walk out with contracts. Customers include most Hollywood studios, Comcast, Time Warner Cable, AT&T, Verizon, BT, DirecTV, Crawford Communications and Ascent.

President and Co-Founder Michelle Munson said the company’s newest customers are Red Bee – the BBC spinoff that is handling content distribution for the BBC and for Virgin Media – and Level 3.

The company was here at IBC 2008 showing how its new Aspera Console – which will be generally available in Q4 2008 – enhances Aspera high-performance file transfer applications with a global management platform, providing centralized monitoring, control and automation of Aspera transfers, within an enterprise and externally with content partners.

Munson said the company also has a software development kit, and said that Aspera just got its first customer (unidentified) that is using Aspera software to replace FTP entirely.

Munson believes the next market is the enterprise market. Although Aspera is working directly with companies like Morgan Stanley, which is relying on the Aspera system for its file backup, Munson allowed there is potential for the Aspera solution to be deployed by service providers such as Time Warner Cable or AT&T on behalf of their enterprise customers.

But there’s potentially enormous value beyond that for service providers, Munson demonstrated. The Aspera tools allow network operators to manage the bandwidth allocated to individual flows. The ability is rules-based, can be fully automated, and is scalable from two flows to numbers well beyond the number of homes in any node, in any of today’s cable networks.

“We can let customers price on bandwidth,” Munson said. “It’s a congestion-based model. You can set it so that all flows are fair and equal.”

Alternatively, you can set it so that flows are treated differently depending on the tier the individual subscriber is in.  Users can activate Aspera transfers between nodes within an enterprise and with Aspera servers at external sites, including transfers to multiple destinations, as well as scheduled and automated repetitive transfer jobs, according to the company.

The Aspera Console allows users to view and control all transfers passing through these nodes, control bandwidth usage and priority for transfers per flow and in aggregate, and report on transfer history.

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