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IT and broadcast vendors face-off in our VOD server market review.
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As a growing number of broadcasters look to offer an increasing volume of programming via on demand services, information technology (IT) manufacturers are taking a bigger share of the video server market. Digital Broadcast looks at the options and speaks to broadcast vendors and their IT rivals.

IT or broadcast?

Video on Demand (VOD) has proven to be a particularly challenging service for operators in the Middle East to adopt early in its lifecycle. Networks in Europe and North America currently offer Near-VOD services (broadcasting the same content – such as a movie – from the beginning at regular intervals, typically every 15 minutes).

These offerings were available ten years ago in some markets however the costly price of bandwidth in the region meant the Middle East’s pay TV operators were unable to rollout these services.

The advent of several key technologies – particularly the DVR – has allowed another VOD replacement service based on the operator downloading content onto the users DVR allowing them access to it “on demand”.

Server technology capable of handling video content in large quantities has become more cost efficient.

Improved video compression, increased satellite capacity and alternative delivery mechanisms via IP networks and broadband have given Middle East broadcasters more options in the quantity and variety of VOD services they can offer.

The IT industry has been providing servers on a colossal scale for other industries such as banking and finance. In these sectors the priority may have been on security and resilience. The broadcast industry has been developing servers able to quickly move large and complex video files with an emphasis on speed and ensuring the quality of the signal.

As the scale and complexity of VOD services increases, IT and broadcast technology developers are looking to provide infrastructure that can deliver on demand content to viewers, regardless of the approach.
Digital Broadcast spoke to vendors on both sides of the divide.

Stefan Wolfs, SWD business development manager, HP

“It’s the video software that repurposes the server into a video ingest server.

“The basic components of a VOD server are not different from a general purpose server. It has two or more CPUs, memory, cache, RAID controllers and internal or external storage capacity. In addition it features fast gigabit Ethernet network connectivity.

“However, depending on the heavy streams and typically large file sizes, more memory and or disk capacity is needed to buffer the content as data rates depend on the codec and compression parameters used, frame size and rate, and sampling rate. A server can thus easily be repurposed as a VOD server when it allows upgrades in these areas.

“HP Proliant servers have been the standard choice for media applications for years.

“HP proposes to replace proprietary servers and protocols with IT industry standard servers as much as possible.”

Sherry Zhu, director of product marketing, server and storage, SeaChange International

“Any type of video server, whether it be for VOD or broadcast play to air, has to be optimised to handle sequential, large inputs and outputs to accommodate the real-time ingest and playout of video.

“VOD servers in particular must also be able to support throughput speeds of multiple gigabits per second.

In addition, servers that are used for archival purposes for banking are not subject to these demands and in general have dramatically smaller I/O requirements, for what are typically transactional applications.
“Real-time performance and high reliability for video servers is absolutely critical.

“Even the slightest failure can result in black-to-air, which is why we ensure 99.999 percent reliability for our video servers.

“SeaChange’s FMS 1500 is positioned as a reliable, economical and efficient VOD server. Flash memory-based designs are 100 times more reliable than their spinning disk-based counterparts. It also consumes ten times less power, generating less heat, all of which contribute to lower operational costs. In addition, because the FMS 1500 decouples streaming from storage, the FMS 1500 gives operators the freedom to co-locate flash streaming servers and disk storage or distribute them at geographically dispersed locations.”

Profits on demand

A recent report by market research firm Infonetics estimates that the revenue derived from the VOD server market will triple by 2013.

“All eyes are focused on video on-demand and streaming content servers as more and more programming moves to on-demand,” says Jeff Heynen, directing analyst for broadband and video at Infonetics Research. “VOD is rapidly becoming EOD (everything on-demand) as operators beef up their streaming server capacity to support not only HD VOD, but network and RS-DVR services, targeted advertising, and start-over services, all of which will become standard features for video providers. These changes will lead revenue for VOD and streaming content servers to triple between 2008 and 2013.”

The report found that other related technologies including IP set top boxes and switched digital video equipment will continue to grow despite a slump in sales in Q1 09.

The number of IPTV and hybrid IPTV service subscribers doubled in 2008 to 26 million and is expected to grow at an average rate of 14 percent until 2013 resulting in a total of 155 million by 2013.

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