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Synamedia scratches heads with virtual headend in a box

Sometimes convergence can be taken a step too far and that seems to be the case with Synamedia’s latest innovation unfurled at the Anga Com cable show in Cologne next week, billed as a virtual headend in a box. This is no criticism of the product but of the marketing since it creates an oxymoron out of two product categories that have been around for at least two years – the virtual headend and the headend in a box. Both are widely available and have been deployed by a number of operators.

Swisscom in September 2017 became one of the first operators to virtualize its headend as part of a wider migration from in-house legacy broadcasting appliances to COTS (Common Off the Shelf) hardware components. The operator deployed software from Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) to virtualize the headend manager function that processes live TV signals for distribution both to Swisscom’s IPTV and OTT networks.

Then the headend in a box also came in to save on hardware and management costs as part of the trend towards unified headends and again use of COTS hardware for the processing. An early example on this front came in September 2016 when Malaysia’s Arcana deployed software from Paris-based Ateme, best known for compression, to unify video multiplexing and statistical multiplexing functions.

There are also a number of dedicated boxes providing all-in-one headends, so using proprietary hardware configurations rather than COTS. Examples include Dish Network’s Smartbox aimed at some corporate DTH subscribers wanting to distribute programming and local content to their customers in MDUs, bars, enterprise facilities, sports stadiums, convention facilities and other places requiring onward delivery to multiple users.

Another example is the DTV Headend in a Box from Slovakia’s Main Data, which receives signals from multiple sources including IP networks, satellite and DVB-ASI, then encoding as well as multiplexing and other functions for creation of a transport stream for delivery over a legacy broadcast network.

Synamedia has inherited elements of both from its Cisco heritage, notably its Virtualized Digital Content Manager (DCM), designed specifically to virtualize the whole video headend. It has since been working to bring these together and at Anga it will demonstrate its coupling of the virtualized DCM with another existing product, its five-year old cloud CDN.

It was Google that more recently popularized the term with its Cloud CDN, which in this case works with its own infrastructure including globally distributed edge points of presence to accelerate content delivery for websites, Google Compute Engine and Google Cloud Storage with HTTPS load balancing. The role of the Cloud CDN software on top is to reduce serving costs and cut network latency through judicious distribution to the edge points.

We could also mention Amazon CloudFront in this capacity, which again focuses on cost savings and latency reductions by running custom code closer to customer sites, benefiting from deep integration with AWS. Synamedia’s Cloud CDN is designed to work with networking infrastructure owned or selected by customers but the potential benefits are similar. The company is hoping that it will now gain some traction through the integration with virtual DCM to yield a single end-to-end infrastructure.

The reference to the box then is to imply that this is a single package, so in that more metaphorical sense it is not an oxymoron.

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