Microsoft Finds Way to Extend Mediaroom into Small Markets

Virtualization Cuts Costs of Entry with Huge Reduction in Server Requirements

The possibility that a phone company like Reservation Telephone Cooperative in Parshall, North Dakota would launch IPTV services using Microsoft’s Mediaroom once seemed about as remote as any point in the little telco’s 5,700-square-mile service area. But the perception that Mediaroom is only for the Tier 1 players has changed dramatically with Microsoft’s introduction of virtualization technology as a way to put its platform in financial reach of the smallest operators.

Server virtualization, widely used in the enterprise IT arena, combines what once were separate server operations systems supporting different functionalities onto a single server, thereby cutting the number of servers required in a given operating environment. Microsoft’s Mediaroom group, by applying Windows Server 2008 Hyper-Vserver virtualization technology to the middleware platform, has reduced the number of servers required to launch IPTV service across a 30,000 user base by six fold to less than 10 physical servers, says Ben Huang, director of product management for Microsoft Mediaroom.

“We’re making Mediaroom available to service providers where the economics of scale weren’t available in the past,” Huang says. “We’ve done this without sacrificing availability of any of the features we offer on the full-blown Mediaroom platform.”

Reservation Telephone Cooperative, serving close to 10,000 customers, is one of many smaller telcos geared up to begin deploying IPTV on the Microsoft middleware by year’s end, Huang says. “We’re also starting to see – and we didn’t initially anticipate this – larger operators who have deployed Mediaroom have less densely populated areas where it makes sense to use virtualization,” he notes.

RTC is the first customer to make known its intentions to use virtualization to deploy Mediaroom. “By adding virtualization support, Microsoft Mediaroom is making the promise of converged entertainment services approachable without the cost and compromise inherent in more piecemeal solutions,” says RTC CEO Royce Aslakson. “The opportunity to sprint ahead of traditional TV services is now within our reach.”

The move to virtualization has important implications for the industry as a whole, says
Vince Vittore, principal analyst at Yankee Group Research. “As IPTV becomes more main stream, the industry must find a way to lower deployment costs,” Vittore says. “Mediaroom with virtualization does just that by reducing the overall number of servers that need to be deployed.

“This development comes at a time when consumers are demanding the ability to access their content regardless of location or device,” Vittore continues. “Mediaroom with virtualization gives service providers of all shapes and sizes a chance to fulfill this demand.”

As Huang makes clear, virtualization is not meant to supplant the original Mediaroom platform. Even though, in situations where tens of thousands of households comprise the target market virtualization vastly reduces the number of servers required, the efficiencies don’t translate to larger-scale deployments owing to the fact that the individual server functionalities aggregated onto the virtualization server scale at different rates.

“Virtualization has its limits,” Huang says, citing a situation where a carrier has already deployed Mediaroom and needs to expand its hardware resources. “You can imagine millions of people where your computation resources are maxed out. So do you add virtualized servers or break the servers apart so that you can scale each component as you want? For example, in a high-density area there may be way more VOD assets, in which case it may make sense to break out that VOD component for expanded deployment.”

Virtualization encompasses five of the six major functionalities supported by Mediaroom, including content acquisition, content protection, asset management, service delivery and subscriber management, which includes billing and subscriber validation. Management of consumer devices is not part of the virtualization process.

With just one server sufficient for providing these capabilities across a 30,000-home footprint the costs of entry are greatly minimized, Huang stresses. And, with expansion, there is less than a direct linear server deployment curve, which results in lower costs per 30,000 going forward, he says. “As you scale past 30,000, you do add servers, but it’s not a doubling of the number for every 30,000,” he says. “The key, though, is we’re bringing down that entry cost threshold with virtualization.”

Microsoft, totally apart from costs of deployment, has been seen as a company with little interest in spending the time marketing and providing support services to small operators. But Huang says it was always the company’s intention to go into all market levels.

Ben Huang, Director of product management for Microsoft Mediaroom

Ben Huang, Director of product management for Microsoft Mediaroom

“Our mantra all along has been around extending this next-generation platform to many types of operators in as many countries as possible,” he says. “Our initial traction has been with large strategic operators. Now we’ve proven lot of things that allow us to extend Mediaroom to others, scaling to millions more households over diverse geographic footprints. We’ll do that working directly with customers as well as through some of the partners we work with.”