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Why cloud virtualization is taking hold in television

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While the concept of the cloud UI is an interesting innovation in its own right, it is also the most visible example of how television operators are looking at whether they can use shared hardware resources, like processing power or storage, to improve the efficiency of services and reduce their CapEX requirements. In the case of the cloud UI, applications can be executed in servers within the network so there are less demands on the set-top box when it comes to rendering the graphics. In some cases, all the rendering is performed in the cloud so the UI, including an EPG, is simply delivered to the client and decoded locally, like a video stream.

There are other examples of how the ‘cloud’ is being made to work for TV, like cloud transcoding, which is deployed and proven. Transcoding is a perfect example of the principles that underpin the use of cloud resources for television. Where previously you had software married to some dedicated hardware and residing in an operator headend, you can now separate the software and host it on processors that are shared by other applications, still within the operator facility, or you can host the software on processors owned by third-parties outside the operator network, like at Amazon Web Services.

What is starting to happen in television, currently on a small scale, reflects what is occurring in the IT industry. As Nick Thexton, VP and CTO, Service Provider Video Technology Group at Cisco, a company that is pioneering the use of cloud for TV, points out: “There is commoditization of IT infrastructure whether that is storage, network capacity or bandwidth. There is a separation between the resource management and the software residing on it so there is a huge trend towards companies offering to supply those resources without particular reference to the applications running on top of them.

“Those resources can be shared in your private facility or shared in a public facility, and this new granular nature of resource availability means that whether you have a huge demand for them, or only a small demand, there is a whole new way of deploying solutions and services.”

Taking transcoding as the example, companies have been using cloud processing to increase capacity when they need it, using the on-demand, or ‘elastic’ nature of this concept.  So they can transcode a back catalogue of on-demand content to a new multiscreen format, without having to buy racks of new transcoders. Equally, you can scale encoding/transcoding capacity for large but occasional live events. Because you are leasing processing capacity, maybe to complement what is already available on operator premises, there is no need to provision for the occasional peaks, which should reduce CapEx on hardware.

Talking about the principle of separating software and hardware generally, and using shared resources, Thexton, says: “In the past everyone would build their application on an enterprise type platform and find themselves locked into that system. You had to decide what peaks you are going to handle. Now you can request resources on-demand, as you need them. It gives you new choices. The power of separating software and the underlying resources is taking control of the whole IT industry.”

Deutsche Telekom has been studying the benefits of the ‘cloudification’ and virtualization of network functions and services in a telco network, including for IPTV. Dr. Randolph Nikutta, Leader Interactive High End Media, Innovation Development at Deutsche Telekom AG, says network operators are interested in using cloud technology to streamline operations, network architecture and service creation.

“Currently there is a lot of fragmentation; lots of different services acting like stove-pipes in the network and a multitude of network elements, and that adds to complexity and cost,” he says. “It also hinders your flexibility to react quickly to the demands of the market. So we see a general paradigm shift within operators, who are moving to network infrastructures that are defined by the terms Software Defined Network and Network Function Virtualization. At the heart of this is an infrastructure cloud that lets you streamline cost and technology and push services to market faster.”

Videonet hosted a webcast recently called ‘Making the cloud work for TV’ and, responding to a poll, the live audience indicated a widespread belief that cloud virtualization is going to be important. They were asked: ‘How important is virtualization and increased use of private or public cloud resources to the future growth and profitability of TV platform operators?’ The responses were: Essential 37.7%; Important, 31.2%; Quite important, 19.5%; Not very important, 2.6%; Don’t know, 9.1%.

You can listen to the one-hour webcast on-demand (and free) here. Dr. Randolph Nikutta and Nick Thexton tackle, in some detail, what the cloud means for video processing, multiscreen TV, customer premise equipment like STBs and home gateways, and the UI (including the EPG). They consider the macro-drivers behind increasing use of the cloud, including whether we are moving from a CapEx to a more OpEx based model for TV, and they look at how you can make use of the cloud as part of a structured roadmap, in a hybrid cloud/network/device environment that protects existing investments.

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