Thursday, December 28, 2006

Gigantic Banana over Texas Sky

This is funny! A project to put geostationary banana over Texas. Why didn't they pick a place in Canada? The project leader, Cesar Saez, is based in Montreal, Quebec.

I wasn't impressed with their reasons for picking Texas. They are just making mockery of an experiment that could have been great scientific and engineering adventure in addition to artistic expression.

IMO, the political undertone may alienate people from scientific community.

Success Factors for GridNetworks … closure

Wrapping up my thoughts on prospects of GridNetworks. Continuation from previous post.

The second method, more likely to work for GridNetworks, is to pre-install or embed the player in to as many devices as possible, preferably the type of devices that are almost always on, almost always connected and publicly available to participate in content distribution without compromising owner-user experience.

One of the biggest challenge in my opinion is to get people to install a P2P based player on their computers. I personally started the installation process several times and backed out. The main concern was the impact of a P2P player on my work machine, both performance and security aspects. Pre-installed player and embedded appliances are a good method to overcome such concerns.

Another challenge is to have as many nodes public and participatory in content delivery as possible. Most computing nodes where users install GN player are more likely to be located behind a firewall/broadband router whether in the office or at home. This may result in a disproportionately higher number of nodes acting as freeriders without aiding delivery to others.

Newell claimed that their player is successfully running on Xbox. Embedding in Game consoles is definitely a step in the right direction. Some of the other devices, they may want to consider for embedding are:
  • Network routers - The ones normally used with broadband connections at home from companies such as Linksys and D-Link.
  • TV Set-top boxes - Comcast provided me a Motorola HD cable box with Ethernet port. May be GridNetworks can help set-top box manufacturers utilize this port for some meaningful purpose.
  • Helping NSLU open source community to install player on Linksys NSLU2 storage device.
  • Develop, partner and market NAS and Media PC devices with embedded player for consumer markets.
They need to focus on embedding their player in to any device that has storage capacity and a network port. This may be the differentiation GN needs to stand-out in overcrowded P2P based online video streaming market.

Good luck to Newell and his team at GridNetworks.

Communication using hand/body gestures at dinner table in Hokkaido, Japan. I knew no Japanese and others knew very little English.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Asempra Hiring while Others Firing!

Last week, Eric Herzog sent me an email mentioning that he is looking for Systems Engineer, based in Sunnyvale and NYC, for Asempra. He is also searching for Director of Business Development and Alliances, Senior Technical Support Manager and Director of Product Marketing and Channel Marketing, all based in California. In his words,
All MUST have very, very SOLID storage subsystems knowledge but who know software as well as hardware.
If you are interested in these opportunities, apply through Asempra Career section. Don't forget to mention you came to know of these opportunities through this blog.

Please DON'T email me your resume unless you can write me a note explaining how your resume can make Eric dance in front of Asempra logo and send his dancing picture for me to post!
Excerpts from provided SE position overview:

The Regional SE position is the focal point of technical responsibility within the Sales organization for all pre-sales customer and partner engagements. The Systems Engineer is responsible for opportunity qualification, product demonstrations, technical presentations, on-site product installation, training, and, coordination with support and post-sales resources. Heavy regional travel is required - up to 70% on-site work with customers and partners.

The successful candidate will have a proven track record of working with and directing technical sales teams; The ability to influence and educate prospective customers and partners via demonstrations, technical resources or other methods to more effectively sell technical solutions; a deep understanding of the role of a systems engineer; strong analytical capabilities; a creative problem solver; work well in a dynamic team environment.

Ideal background would include expertise within Windows and Linux Environments, SQL, DR and Recovery Management, Storage Management; and the data protection market (backup, replication, CDP, volume management).
If you didn't like recent Steve's Rant and like Storagezilla wished Steve lump of coal, you may be a good candidate for Asempra.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Success Factors for GridNetworks ... contd.

Continuing my thoughts on success factors for a video distribution infrastructure play like GridNetworks from previous post ...

As Michael Gersh commented in previous post, high quality video distribution will be viewer paid.

Who is going to collect payment from viewers? Will it be a content distribution infrastructure owner like Comcast or content distributor/aggregator like Netflix? Why is it important? IMO, it is the company in value chain that has most viewers captive benefits the most. And this is shown very clearly from some back of the envelope calculations for iTunes and Akamai.

Assuming weekly revenue of $10 million from analyst download estimates of $18.5 million songs per week, annual revenue of iTunes store, a content aggregator/distributor, is over $500 million+. Akamai, a distribution infrastructure provider to iTunes and with near monopoly in CDN, total revenues are barely in $400 million range.

With the success of iTunes, it is assumed that content aggregators/distributors are the ones who will be collecting payment from viewers. Distribution infrastructure owners like Akamai will be a service provider to iTunes for a fee.

Cost-side Success Factor

As GridNetworks (GN) will likely be paid by content distributors, it's profit-side success factor depend on number of content distributors using its delivery infrastructure and the revenue generated from each content distributor.

To attract paying content distributors and be a preferred delivery method, GridNetworks need to have the most expansive hybrid CDN P2P infrastructure. So the cost-side success factor for GN comes down to how quickly they can build 40 million quality nodes contributing to their delivery infrastructure and at what cost.

One method to achieve this goal is to freely distribute software for media sharing and playback. Once there are sufficient nodes established, harness those nodes and the brand recognition to make deals with content developers, owners and distributors. BBC deal with Azureus [pdf] will fall in to this category.

There are already enough high quality video content delivery startups trying to follow this route. Most with very little value differentiation originating primarily from the high profile and visible content deals. The success will belong to the ones with market/brand recognition, deep pockets and influence to make high-profile visible content deals.

Should GN follow the same path or there is another way to succeed? Chime in if you have any thoughts.

To be continued later ...

Housekeeping Notes

Recently, I noticed in Google Analytics stats that some traffic to my blog is coming from penny stock forums where link and text of my entries were posted. A caution note for readers from these forums: My posts are nothing more than personal rants and shouldn't be considered thoroughly researched analysis on prospects of any company, its stock, industry or market. Believe in my rants on your own perils.

This picture of a Pachinko in Tokyo seems quite appropriate after the above housekeeping note.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Success Factors for GridNetworks

Note: For background information on my interest in GridNetworks, please read my previous posts:
Challenges of High Quality Video Delivery

GridNetworks, what's my Interest? Part one.

GridNetworks, what's my interest? Part two
Based on my observations of startup universe, I believe that every startup needs to have at minimum two success factors, one on profit side and one on cost side, to succeed.

Profit-side Success Factor

For GridNetworks (GN), the profit-side success factor is dependent on the number of distributors of high-quality content willing to pay for using GN infrastructure, irrespective of whether they are well-known content distributors with large content library like Disney or niche distributors leveraging long tail phenomena like Reeltime.

Some might argue advertising may be a viable option. I seriously doubt viability of an infrastructure intensive play like distributing high quality video solely based on advertising. Capturing $10 in advertising while paying $28 for delivery doesn't look like a viable business proposition to me. See, Comment on A-List Blog may result in high traffic and Internet Video Business Challenges.

A subscription based viewer model may become viable option for predictable delivery quality once the delivery infrastructure has achieved a critical mass of viewers, content, participatory nodes and content distributors. Most probably, only to be realized in next phase of GN.

To be continued ...

Monday, December 18, 2006

Honorable 'Whatis' Mention

My blog is one of the seven blogs mentioned in Storage section of Our Favorite Technology Blogs at Whatis site of Techtarget. Thank you guys (and, gals!) of Techtarget for including this blog in to your list of favorite technology blogs. The others listed are Who's who of storage!

Dave Hitz
Jon Toigo
Hu Yoshida
Mark Lewis
Marc Farley
Robin Harris

The complete list of technology blogs published by Whatis provides wealth of information on regular basis. I just wish they had an OPML file of RSS feeds for these blogs. With OPML file, it will be a breeze for everyone to import all feeds in to Google Reader and Firefox Live Bookmarks.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Patent Search through Google - How Convenient!

Google makes patent searching easy with Google Patent Search. See Google Launches Patent Search Beta, a TechNewsWorld article for more information.

Results for Avamar through Google Patent Search. Convenient and nifty! Hopefully, one day it will expand to include patents from other countries also instead of U.S. only.

View of Tokyo from Hotel room window

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

GridNetworks, what’s my interest? Part two

Click here for the first part.

Third, GridNetworks piqued my interest with the use of word “Grid” in the company name. Grid is a powerful concept for utilizing idle resources and addressing infrastructure scalability. GridNetworks provides the extra scalability through P2P to fixed infrastructure of content delivery networks for superior user experience at the end of the last mile of Internet.

Few years ago, I researched a company for a client, Bycast and its StorageGRID product. During last bubble, Bycast was positioned as online video streaming startup. With its underlying technology, Bycast was successful in navigating turbulent times by repositioning in healthcare storage. Even though, Newell was quick to shoot down my comparison of GridNetworks with Bycast, I felt that the underlying technology of GridNetworks will find its ways in to other areas and applications too, not discounting its application in storage either.

Fourth, GridNetworks website listed Sujal Patel on its Advisory Board. Sujal is co-founder of Isilon Systems, a storage startup, soon to be public, and a veteran of RealNetworks. This piqued my interest to find out what connection Isilon or storage may have with GridNetworks.

In the end, it turned out to be nothing more than ex-RealNetwork links. Sujal is now acting more like angel investor. So, he doesn’t seem to be a good proxy anymore to find ties with Isilon or storage.

Fifth, the hints of P2P implementation in PowerGrid End User License Agreement piqued my interest as I saw a way to accomplish Distributed Storage Aggregation (DSA). And if you like me scan IEEE and ACM publications regularly, P2P way to utilize unused storage distributed across enterprise has started to become interesting.

Newell claimed about 50,000 nodes currently contributing on, average, 1GB of storage and 200kbps of bandwidth per node. His users are contributing almost 50TB of storage and 10Gbps bandwidth to deliver high quality video. When his vision of 40 million nodes comes to fruition, he may have access to 40 PB of storage without shelling out a single penny to any storage vendor.

The above reasons may explain what encouraged me to initiate contact with GridNetworks. One day, I expect to see the same technology being implemented with in the enterprise for distributed storage aggregation.
Excerpts from PowerGrid EULA:

"Segment" means a small block of encrypted Content data, typically under one megabyte.

Encrypted, managed peer-to-peer "grid" network architecture.

The Content Segments stored on your computer may be portions of files you have viewed, or may be copied to your computer by GridNetworks host systems for later sharing with other GridNetworks authorized users.

The Segments contained therein are only accessible through the GridNetworks PowerGrid application and cannot be individually viewed, altered or deleted through your computer's file management tools.

These Content Segments are periodically removed and replaced with other segments and shall never exceed the maximum capacity of the Data Store, established by you.
City view from Tokyo TV Tower. Mount Fuji is barely visible in the background.

Monday, December 11, 2006

GridNetworks, what’s my Interest? Part one.

As I mentioned in my post, Challenges of High Quality Video Delivery, last week, I spent an hour with Newell Edmond, Co-founder and Amy, Project Manager talking about GridNetworks, its technology and business.

Contrary to what few readers thought and queried, neither I met them for a job nor they rented me to blog about them. I discovered GridNetworks through John Cook’s blog post Getting 'Goodfellas' on the grid. It piqued my interest for several reasons.

First, I have been thinking of ways to highlight startups working on interesting infrastructure solutions. Consumer Internet and Web 2.0 startups are topic of discussion by bunch of bloggers. But the infrastructure startups that enable them are largely ignored.

There was nothing better than a local infrastructure startup to initiate my coverage. Expose your infrastructure startup, you know whom to contact and how!

Second, even though my initial impression was that it is yet another startup trying online video delivery. Further research showed their aspirations are more substantial than just becoming a video destination.

And after meeting with Newell, I am convinced that they are actually a video delivery infrastructure play, combining content delivery network and peer to peer network technologies, than just a torrent player. And this is also confirmed by Michael Gersh, a VP at Reeltime, a GridNetworks customer, in his email.
We are currently using Grid's tools as part of our end-to-end solution that is streaming DVD quality video over the web, to customers all over the world.
Second part coming soon.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Challenges of High Quality Video Delivery

Since Google acquired YouTube, online video sharing and delivery segment has been hot topic of discussion. A good overview of online video viewing is presented by Scott Kirsner in As online viewing booms, the amateurs give way to big media. As more and more big media content coming online, a new technology challenge is emerging for content distributors.
How to deliver a high quality full-length video instantly to multiple viewers on their big screen simultaneously and securely?

The file size for 90 minute full length HD quality video can range from 2 to 6 GB. And it may be easier, convenient and hassle-free for viewer to get it delivered via next day Sneakernet than to wait 3 to 18 hours in downloading it online. There is nothing instant about downloading full-length high quality video.


The next best online alternative is to stream video to viewers in real-time. For smooth playback, video streaming needs to have some buffering and a 12 second buffering of HD quality video requires a 5 to 15 MB of video that need to be always available to user. And, if streaming video is originating from a centralized distribution infrastructure, the number of viewers are first limited by the processing capacity of central system and then available bandwidth.

Content Delivery Network (CDN)

To address the central system processing capacity limitation, the option is to have multiple delivery nodes. And, to address bandwidth limitation, these content delivery nodes should be located as close to the viewer as possible. This is the model used by CDN providers who share the processing capacity of these nodes and available bandwidth among multiple content distributors to maximize utilization of their edge nodes.

Content delivery nodes work great as most viewers reside on the last mile that extends beyond the Internet spiderweb and as long as nodes are not overloaded by too many viewers trying to download and watch the latest video simultaneously.

Peer-to-peer (P2P) Networking

P2P networking is one scalable alternative proposed to deliver high quality video and bring the viewers in to the Internet spiderweb. Among it's other vices, from delivery perspective, P2P is infested with freeriders. You know the ones who want to download content but don't want to allow their system to be used to deliver content to others. And, the whole P2P premise fails if there are not enough P2P nodes participating in content distribution.

GridNetworks – New Kid on the Block

Today, I had the pleasure of meeting and talking with Newell Edmond, co-founder and the technical brain behind a local startup in online delivery of high quality video, GridNetworks. Newell and his team worked hard for last two years to develop a hybrid solution combining the best of Content Delivery Network (CDN) and Peer-to-Peer Networking (P2P) for delivery of high quality video.

More about it next time.

P.S. This is my first effort to reach out and highlight early stage startups in Seattle area working on innovative infrastructure solutions. If you are one of them, get in touch.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Rent - A - Blogger

Last week, NetGear announced contest for a guest blogger who want to blog for them at CES. Contest detail links at Jeremy Toeman blog.

After reviewing the official rules, my impression is that a journalist/media writer who is accustomed to deadlines for articles or someone who blogs often during the day will fit their requirements better. Most probably, NetGear will provide product briefings as their expectation is to blog how they fit in to the other stuff showcased at CES.

Why go outside the company to look for a guest blogger? Other than the marketing buzz about contest announcement, what value does he or she provide? You are unlikely to bag a high profile blogger, like Robert Scoble, with such gimmicks.

Guest blogger gigs can be a good avenue for niche bloggers like me who like to attend few relevant industry events but typically don't get sponsorship by their own organization. I was thinking of attending USENIX Conference of File and Storage Technologies (FAST) San Jose, CA in February. May be I should rent myself out as guest blogger for the event? Anyone interested?

You got any thoughts about guest-blogging and sponsorship, chime in.

Everybody who saw this picture, asked me what it is? I captured this image near Poplar Avenue at Hokkaido University. What is it?