Sun breaks into U-Verse

A stream runs through it

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Comment Sun has broken into the AT&T IPTV account with its Sun Fire X4600 servers, which are either to be used as part of the U-Verse video-on-demand server system or to offer extra IP services over the top.

In fact, there is little new here, with Microsoft approving IBM and HP servers as long as they run the Windows server operating system. IBM is understood to be getting the lion's share of the server component, and HP has been virtually shut out of the account.

But this is a Sun server using four dual processor AMD Opterons, and although it can run virtually any operating system it likes, including Solaris, Linux, Windows, and even VMware, as we understand it the OS is mandated as Windows for the Microsoft approval that was granted to Sun in April to work with Microsoft MediaRoom. AT&T will also use some X4500 servers.

Sun said its Sun Fire servers and StorageTek storage arrays will be used to offer U-verse video-on-demand services from the super hub offices and IP-video hub offices. To be clear, we are told by insiders that this is not the Sun Streaming System that was also introduced to the world back in April, which is used to carry a multicast from a head end around to multiple IPTV networks.

This was described as the industry's first massively scalable video delivery platform and was unveiled at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York. This definitively runs on Solaris 10 and was built to rival the IBM streaming servers that are in the AT&T account, and aimed at other telcos.

That system was designed by Sun co-founder Andy Bechtolsheim, and can support up to 160,000 simultaneous, unique video streams at the rate of 2Mbps each and a price of less than $50 per stream for a complete video headend, which it claims has 10 times the streaming capacity of competitive platforms.

It offers 32 10 Gigabit Ethernet ports and has multiplexing, switching and routing features bundled in. We previewed the design of this system, back in November 2005 under the code name Sedna, which is the Andes mountain range spelled backwards, based on new multithreading Sparc processors understood to be based on technology Sun gained when it bought Kealia in 2004, a company run by Andy Bechtolsheim.

At the time it was described as a cross between its existing streaming servers and a switch fabric which is created using a proximity I/O system which allows chips to talk to each other using capacitive coupling, with no wiring. This creates 1,000s of tiny couplings, each at 10 Gbps, creating what Sun calls a 10 terabit non-blocking fabric, which fits in the size of a 2 drawer filing cabinet. The only possibility of congestion is in the output, hence the huge amount of connectivity placed on the device.

Sun already has 80 per cent of the world's softswitch market on Solaris and OEM deals with Siemens, Nortel, and Cisco so that's where it would appear to be targeted, as well as at IPTV and naturally messaging and billing platforms.

The streaming servers announced in April were a combination of his switched fabric with its Streamstar video servers, and it sees this as a combination head end and multicast server, using Sun identity management systems and its open source CAS.

It would be far too much of a revolution for AT&T at this stage to be considering the use of such a streaming set up as this, and it would only work with non-Microsoft software. But we would expect Sun, now into the account, to begin making references to how easily its streaming system might replace the existing hardware, more cheaply and more efficiently, in any rethink of the system, if that ever occurs. Certainly, Sun will be pushing this at Verizon which uses Sun hardware for some of its message switching already.

Sun sees the streaming server as a replacement for big public metropolitan switches, with one city sharing a server which both acts as a head end and a softswitch, or even two or three cities sharing one. Sun also believes there would be neighbourhood fiber nodes, in an emulation of a web caching architecture. But it does include the Sun Fire x64 systems which are going into AT&T among other things including the Sun Fire X4950 Streaming Switch.

Sun already has this streaming set up with resellers, EDS and Nortel, but not, as yet, Alcatel. Other partners include set top maker ADB, AMD, Amino, Digisoft.tv, Harmonic, Imake Software, Juniper, Minerva, Tandberg TV, Tellabs, Verimatrix and Widevine.

So if AT&T is NOT planning to use it, because the climbdown from where it is, onto a non-Microsoft system would be too expensive, this monster is likely, after a two year plus gestation, to emerge shortly in one IPTV account or another, so watch out.

Copyright © 2007, Faultline

Faultline is published by Rethink Research, a London-based publishing and consulting firm. This weekly newsletter is an assessment of the impact of the week's events in the world of digital media. Faultline is where media meets technology. Subscription details here.

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