Cable Operators

Technology Forecast: Cloudy

9/26/2011 12:01 AM Eastern

In the past nine months,
Comcast has introduced about nine
new products, an unprecedented
amount for any cable company,
let alone one with 22.5 million
subscribers in practically every state
in the country.

So how do they do it? The answer
is in the cloud.

Comcast began a concerted effort
four years ago — led by executive
vice president and chief technology
officer Tony Werner and executive
vice president of national engineering
and technical operations John
Schanz — to transform its architecture,
taking the bulk of the functionality
of its products and services out
of devices and onto the “cloud,” servers
connected in part to the public
and private Internet.

The result has been an incredible
improvement in deployment speeds.

INCREASED VELOCITY

“Part of the time to market has to
do with our ability or our velocity
to seamlessly deploy to the customer,”
Schanz said. “In a lot of
cases, things that used to take 18 to
24 months to deploy, with a more
centralized cloud approach that
consistency lets us to deploy what used to be 18 to 24 months in more like two to six months,
across tens of millions of customers.”

The cloud helps facilitate that speed to market by eliminating
steps and processes
along the way.

“Going back four
or five years ago, anytime
you wanted to
launch a new service,
especially one that
hit the TV, you had
to do deep integration,
you had get into
the boxes, you had to
bring all the teams together,”
Werner said.
“By putting together
some of these platforms
it really allows
people to go out and
develop apps without
involving other
groups.”

Werner added that it
also allows for consistency
across platforms,
so if a customer types
in an actor’s name on
a website to get movie
recommendations
they would have
the same information
if they accessed it
through their TV or on
a mobile phone.

“It’s consistency, it’s cross-platform integration and it’s time to market,” Werner
said.

A simpler explanation lies in remote DVR scheduling.

“You want to create a capability that is uniform and consistent,” Schanz
added. “So whether you were on the Web and you wanted to set your DVR,
or you had a tablet or an iPad and you wanted to set your DVR from that
IPad, instead of writing that code 17 different ways, you create a facility in
the cloud that is authenticated that says, ‘here’s how you set a DVR,” and
that anything that is authenticated can use that call in its software to set
the DVR. It makes it a little simpler to bolt on other things.”

WIELDING XCALIBUR

Perhaps the best example of what the cloud can do is Comcast’s Xcalibur
Internet-protocol-based program guide, which chairman and CEO Brian
Roberts unveiled last June at the Cable Show in Chicago.

One of the more interesting aspects of the guide was its integration with
Facebook, where users could select programs based on what their friends
were watching or recommending. Other apps embedded in the guide included
weather, traffic and the Pandora music-streaming service.

And without the physical constraints of set-top boxes and other in-home
equipment, new products at Comcast are only limited by what the engineers
can think up.

“What we can
think up, and
what our customers
are looking
for,” Schanz
said. “We spend
quite a bit of
t ime thinking
about what customer
s want
and doing our
best to meet or
exceed those
needs.”

September