Despite the seemingly unending sales of broadcast media servers and the piles of them deployed worldwide, this market is one that seldom appears to satiate its appetite for more kit.
In fact, in the last five years, we have only observed more and more growth in this area. With sales growing at the rate of just above 15% a year, we are approaching what will be the billion-dollars-a-year level. The genre has become a powerhouse of the marketplace.
Virtually all industry segments - broadcast TV, cable TV, production/post production (yes, even mobile/OB) and institutional all have larger requirements for server applications of all kinds. And, with the possible exception of Video-On-Demand (VOD and NVOD) that periodically appears to saturate, the prospects for servers seem virtually irrepressible.
So, what is driving all this seemingly unbounded growth? First, starting a few years ago, professional end-users identified that their original media servers, many of them from Tektronix and H-P were rapidly ageing and in need of upgrades or better still, outright replacement. That sparked the current wave and its huge numbers of channels being deployed. Then too, more and more video recorders needed to be retired. Why replace them with more recorders when servers were so much more efficient and frankly, more cost-effective? So, that too fed the frenzy for servers. Then it dawned on users that with High Definition becoming so important, those servers and attenuated gear had better be HD-capable, and another surge in sales was seen. Now, its building out more services, deploying more channels and feeding more eyeballs - the mobile video boom - that may be the largest driving force. Then, there's the accompanying industry-wide trend towards file-based storage and archives. There too, servers play a critical role in the emerging of 'hub and spoke' centralized file distribution. There are so many types of servers today that it is difficult to generalize about their role. While some simply supplant recorders, others act as the core of entirely new workflows.
Then, there's new technology. Although the average server customer does not complain about the use of hard disc drives, they can fail. And, even though evidence of these failures is scarce, it has made some customers for whom uninterrupted play-out is a goal, amenable to alternatives such as the relatively new - at least on a global scale - technology of Flash memory chip-based servers. Originally pioneered by Toshiba, who has sold them in the domestic market for over a decade and enjoy the dominant share of that type in Japan, and more recently by SeaChange which is seeking to find a marketplace edge. Some other companies are also investigating this direction. Then too, software-only servers are beginning to grow and that trend, too, may begin to give HDD-based servers a run for the money.
Douglas I. Sheer is CEO and chief analyst of DIS Consulting Corporation, New York.