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Sun's Big Video Play

MENLO PARK, Calif. -- Sun Microsystems  unveiled an ambitious effort at an event for reporters here this week to improve video-delivery services that might make the popular Netflix movie service sweat a little.

The Sun Streaming System, geared toward cable and telco operators, is designed to address increased interactivity and personalization, as well as the increasing throughput demands that come with broader adoption of high definition. It will offer about 10 times the streaming capacity of competitive platforms at a price of less than $50 per stream.

But analysts said it could be a few years before sales translate into deployment and broad end-user availability.

The system, developed by Sun co-founder Andy Bechtolsheim, includes 32 integrated 10 Gigabit Ethernet optical networking ports that combine multiplexing, switching and routing. Components of the system include Sun Streaming Software, the Sun Fire X4950 Streaming Switch, the Sun Fire X4500 data server and the Sun Fire X4100 systems.

Sun Streaming Software is a single point of control to operate and manage the video-streaming system. It enables operators to reduce time to market for deploying new services by supporting more than 20 video-streaming features, including MPEG-2 and MPEG-4 formats; bit-rate support from 1Mbps to 20Mbps; standard-definition (SD) and high-definition (HD) streaming; encrypted and clear content streaming; and splicing and personalized playlists for permission-based target advertising.

Sun Streaming Server
Serving up video.
Source: Sun

Sun said open software standards, such as CORBA, XML, HTTP and RTSP, will allow operators to easily integrate third-party components.

The Sun Fire X4950 Streaming Switch provides a streaming density at 320Gbps and up to 2 terabytes of memory to enable scalable video streaming with a low cost per stream. And the Sun Fire X4500 server, powered by Dual-Core AMD Opteron processors, delivers the performance of a four-way x64 server, with 24TB of storage in seven inches of rack space for up to 9,400 hours of 2Mbps video content storage.

The market for the kind of advanced services and targeted video advertising Sun Streaming is designed for is just starting to emerge. For 2006, IDC estimated the current video on-demand market was about $350 million.

"I have that growing to about $2 billion in 2011," IDC analyst Eve Griliches told internetnews.com. "The market is going to explode in the next year or two."

Griliches added that Sun is in a good position to become one of the first vendors to deliver a next-generation video-server platform.

"The Holy Grail here is to really be able to produce targeted ad insertions (based on what consumers watch)," she said. "The level of targeted advertising today in video is really in its infancy."

Griliches also noted there will be opportunity beyond the traditional living-room TV, with the increasing use of video on PCs, notebooks and even handheld devices. "In essence, all that video will go through a video server at some point."

Bechtolsheim was asked if the Sun system could eventually put services like Netflix, which mails DVDs to consumers for a flat fee, out of business. While not addressing the business question, he said Netflix has been an inspiration.

"They proved a better delivery method will be adopted," said Bechtolsheim, noting that Netflix made it easier to rent new movies.

Sun expects in the near future to have new, truly personalized video on demand services will bring those movies, and a far broader range of other programming than is currently available, directly to your TV.