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February 28, 1994

DEC WORKING ON NEW VERSION OF ALPHA CHIP DESIGNED SPECIFICALLY FOR VIDEO ON DEMAND SERVERS

By CBR Staff Writer

Digital Equipment Corp’s success in landing three Baby Bells for its Alpha AXP-based video servers – apparenly besting IBM Corp’s quaint plan to push the mainframe as a video jukebox at Ameritech Corp (CI No 2,363), may not mean too much for years in terms of hard dollars, but it should certainly win the Alpha RISC a deal of very much needed good publicity. Nynex Corp’s plans should be announced any day, and it told the Wall Street Journal that it picked DEC for its initial trials on the strength of its scalable design and the very attractive way it handles storage of video data, enabling the operator to start small grow as large as necessary as requirements grow. The system has a tiered storage architecture that enables the most popular movies to be held in instantly accessible memory, with movies that are less in demand stored on hard-disk arrays, backed up by a larger collection of golden oldie films in a tape library. DEC has revealed a few more details to Newsbytes, claiming that there are four other trials cooking as well as the ones with Nynex, Ameritech and US West Inc. It says it is getting rather more deeply involved than simply to supply the server and sit back and wait for the money to roll in, and will also soon announce a media production centre, to be located in the US Northeast, that will transform content into digital format for transmission over a broadband network. Charlie Christ, vice-president of DEC’s Storage Business unit, told the newswire that the company plans to work with content providers at the media production centre – we’re now expanding beyond just supplying the hardware and getting into offering services as a content integrator. Unlike competing mainframe-based products, DEC’s AXP-based video server technology is based on a distributed client-server architecture that will enable video servers to be installed either at a central site or anywhere else on the network.

New version of Alpha for video servers

We also use a modular architecture that allows us to be very flexible in terms of the ability to deal with the unique requirements of the telephone and cable companies we’re dealing with, said Christ. Importantly, DEC is now doing a new version of the Alpha AXP chip specifically designed for use in video servers, providing much higher bandwidth and the ability to handle anywhere from 100 to 100,000 concurrent video streams, according to Christ. The new chip is code-named Rawhide, and is not the Peripheral Component Interconnect-based DECchip 21030 announced the other day. In addition to the Alpha AXP processor, said Christ, the video server incorporates the company’s StorageWorks disk storage arrays, for hierarchical storage; Digital Linear Tape library subsystems, for archival or bulk video storage of those occasionally-requested movies; hard disks for active storage; and solid state storage, for buffering and video management on the network. Other components include an interactive gateway unit, a server management unit, and the new Gigaswitch high-speed networking switch, first introduced in 1992, that has been used up to now in Fibre Distributed Data Interface networks. The server management unit consists of Unix-based video server management software, written in an object-oriented language that enables users to patch in billing systems, systems administration software, and whatever other applications are required to meet their specific needs. If you use our competitors’ video server software, you get their billing systems, whether you like it or not, he insists. DEC’s AXP-based video server is also built to be able to operate with any vendor’s set-top box, and any type of network interface, including Asynchronous Transfer Mode. At the set-top level, the company is currently partnered with Scientific Atlanta Inc, General Instrument Corp and Zenith Electronics Corp, plus Philips Electronics NV in Europe, Christ reveals.

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