On “Virtualizing” Cable
This week’s translation delves into yet another vat of software-side activity intersecting with cable and broadband: Virtualization.
It and its sidekick, the “virtual machine,” are not new concepts. Back in the 1960s, IBM Corp. “virtualized” the resources within its mainframe computers, so that different applications could share amongst them.
Everything we call “cloud” today began as “virtualization” — defined as creating simulated versions of things, from compute to connectivity to storage.
These days, it’s hard to identify things that aren’t being virtualized. Including the network itself. Not the physical wires and amplifiers, of course. But slowly and surely, functions that used to be in one physical place get re-done in code, and moved “into the cloud.” They become “virtual machines.”
The list of activities common to cable plant, that are on the list to get “virtualized,” include real-time encoding, trick-play (fast forward, rewind) television, even headend video controllers.
Say you have a proprietary video controller (which advanced-class readers know as “DNCS” and “DAC”), one per headend. Say one particular market comprises 40 headends. Making changes — to add features, or fix bugs — meant hitting those racks of gear one by one, 40 times over. Virtualization enables an instantaneous upgrade of all of them.
This type of “infrastructure virtualization” is happening for two reasons: Pervasive broadband connectivity, and entities like Amazon, which rent out general compute resources as needed.
In cable, the first real example of virtualization and cloud is the digital video recorder. If you’re in a Comcast market, and have experimented with its recent shift to X2 navigation, you’ve already experienced the shift of your recorded stuff from the box under the TV, to the network itself. Is it still your stuff? Yes. Is it sitting as a copy on the box in your living room? No. Does it work the same? Yes.
That’s a quickie on “virtualization,” as the training wheels to “cloud.”
This column originally appeared in the Platforms section of Multichannel News.