VOD Goes Super-Size


Video-on-demand startup Verivue — whose investors include Comcast and Arris — wants to feed Americans' apparently insatiable appetite to watch TV everywhere.

The company this week is planning to launch a “network-centric” system it is claiming will be a far more efficient and scalable VOD platform than other on-demand servers in the market. Verivue also is touting the Media Distribution Switch (MDX) 9200 as the very first video-delivery system designed from the ground up to deliver content anywhere, including on the Internet, on any device.

“At the end of the day, we know people will be just be watching more and more video, at higher quality, in more places,” said Verivue vice president of marketing Tom Rosenstein. “Existing VOD architectures are going to start running into limitations.”

Westford, Mass.-based Verivue claimed the MDX 9200, in a 14-rack-unit chassis — one-third of a standard data-center rack — can provide the same capacity as 10 full racks of PC-based VOD servers equipped with hard disk drives. In addition to taking up less space, the MDX switch consumes 80% less energy than a comparable disk-based VOD setup, according to the company.

The MDX 9200 switch provides between 20 and 200 Gigabits per second of aggregate throughput, and from 2 to 24 Terabytes of storage. Interface options include line cards with 10 Gigabit Ethernet and 1 GigE ports.

Rosenstein said each box is capable of serving more than 50,000 concurrent standard-definition MPEG-2 streams, and has very high ingest capacity — able to simultaneously ingest and store video assets at a rate of 7 Gbps.

The MDX system is currently in several beta trials with Internet portals and large cable providers, according to Rosenstein, who declined to identify them. The first production units of the MDX 9200 will be available in the second quarter.

The 85-employee company has raised $65 million in funding from Comcast, Arris and four venture-capital firms.

Arris, in fact, has signed on as a reseller of the MDX, which that company is positioning as a complement to the VOD product line it picked up with the acquisition of C-COR. Rosenstein described Verivue's go-to-market strategy as “indirect sales with direct touch.”

Besides cable and telco TV providers, Verivue sees an opportunity to sell its VOD switches to content-distribution network providers, such as Akamai Technologies, and major Internet video portals, like YouTube.

The startup's management team mostly hails from two networking firms, Juniper Networks and voice-over-IP switch provider Sonus Networks.

Founder and CEO James Dolce previously headed worldwide field operations for Juniper Networks, and vice president of business development Rubin Gruber was chairman of Sonus. Verivue's chief technology officer, Mike Hluchyj, was formerly Sonus's CTO.

A key architectural difference between Verivue's approach and other VOD servers is in its solid-state storage subsystem. First, solid state is much faster and more reliable than hard-disk drives. In addition, the MDX platform uses flash-memory chips, integrated directly onto storage blades that slide into the chassis, rather than prebuilt flash drives.

Flash memory is far cheaper than dynamic random-access memory (DRAM), which some other high-performance VOD systems use (see “Flash-Memory Servers Make Bigger Splash,” Oct. 27, 2008, page 25). Rosenstein said the price difference between the two is substantial: Flash memory is as cheap as 90 cents per GB, compared with $60 per GB for DRAM.

The Verivue system also incorporates content-distribution features to automatically push content from centrally located regional and national hubs. “You're moving content up and down the network, depending on its popularity,” Rosenstein said.

The product can deliver streams using two different Internet protocols: User Datagram Protocol, used by VOD systems; and HyperText Transfer Protocol, used by most Internet video services.

But the MDX platform does not provide transcoding functions, so if a provider is using the MDX to deliver video to different devices the files need to already be encoded for those target devices. Rosenstein, formerly SeaChange International vice president of product marketing, said Verivue evaluated that feature and decided that it's better handled by other network equipment.

“Transcoding is cheaper if you do it somewhere else,” he said.

Snapshot: Verivue
Multiplatform video-on-demand networking equipment vendor

Headquarters: Westford, Mass.

Employees: 85

Funding: $65 million in two rounds

Investors: Arris, Comcast Interactive Capital, Matrix Partners, Spark Ventures, Accel Partners, North Bridge Venture Partners