Open Sesame: N2’s VOD Server Gambit


Look past the plastic consoles, the panels of blinking red and green lights. Dig through the tangle of wires, the stacks of silicon wafers. Somewhere in the guts of a cable vendor product is an idea, an operating principle, and while you might not be able to yank it out of the box, wriggling and kicking like a new puppy, it’s definitely in there. Servers and boxes and routers aside, this is the most important thing a vendor can sell.

N2 Broadband’s latest offering is built around an idea that informs the company’s entire business philosophy. Principal architect and co-founder Darryl DeFreese has spent the last three years proselytizing the cable space about the importance of adopting open standards for video-on-demand environments, and it appears he’s made a few converts. N2’s OpenStream system – the first open system for cable-based VOD – supports no less than eight leading VOD servers, as well as Scientific-Atlanta and Motorola digital systems.

“OpenStream puts the power of choice in the hands of the MSO,” DeFreese says. “There are a lot of trade-offs among the different VOD servers out there; this gives them the option of mixing and matching” to best serve their individual needs.

One of the principal design flaws of a traditional VOD network is an inherent inflexibility, says MidStream Technologies CEO Ed Huguez. “The trouble was, once you had committed to a particular vendor, you were stuck with them,” Huguez says. “Our take is this is a good thing for the industry. This standard interface should be good for the ops and good for us.”

Besides believing that an open-standards system will free up MidStream to focus on building a better hardware server, Huguez also says that OpenStream might force the “monoliths” (i.e., S-A and Motorola) to slim down their respective platform architectures. “Quite frankly, I don’t see how any one company can deliver the best software and hardware, anyway,” Huguez says. “It’s too R&D-intensive to try and develop both ends.”

The next logical step for N2, whose largest customer is the S-A-networked Time Warner Cable, is to turn its attention to Comcast and its Motorola environments. “We’ve proved ourselves on the S-A side,” says N2 president and CEO Reggie Bradford. “Once we’ve worked out all the kinks, we’ll start looking to address the Motorola side.”

Not everyone in the VOD server space is convinced of the logic behind an open-standards initiative, however. James Kelso, VP/GM of SeaChange International’s broadband division, says that mixing and matching suppliers isn’t cable’s style. “Cable ops really wanna rock and roll and make some money,” he says. “They have no interest in being system integrators.”

Still, N2’s idea has generated buzz. “This opens the door to competition, which is always a good thing,” says IDC analyst Greg Ireland. “The value proposition is appealing.”


*Will the adoption of open-standards tech help light a fire under cable ops’ VOD strategies?

COPYRIGHT 2003 Copyright by Media Central Inc., A PRIMEDIA Company. All rights reserved.

COPYRIGHT 2003 Gale Group

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