NAB 2016: Harmonic Launches Cloud VOS; Touts TVN Acquisition, UHD

At its NAB Show booth, Harmonic will show footage from the NASA UHD channel, a partnership announced last fall.

LAS VEGAS—Coming off the heels of a major acquisition, Harmonic heads to the 2016 NAB Show with expanded video compression technology, new partnerships with NASA and the federal government, additional investment in 4K and UHD, and two VOS platform cloud-based service offerings. 

In February, Harmonic announced that it had acquired Thomson Video Networks, a manufacturer of advanced video compression solutions, for $75 million in cash plus up to $15 million in post-closing adjustments. The resultant merger will offer Harmonic an expanded global R&D and larger sales and support team.

Leading the charge at NAB are 4K and Ultra HD technologies, including a new next-generation media-storage platform, the Harmonic MediaGrid 4000 shared storage solution. The scale-out storage system offers twenty four 6 TB drives in a 4RU chassis, and delivers the performance of a Fibre Channel (SAN) network with the scalability of Ethernet-based network-attached storage (NAS), according to the company. With support for each stage of the media workflow process—including live sports, news and entertainment production in both HD and 4K—the Harmonic MediaGrid 4000 offers storage consolidation features and the ability to scale capacity and bandwidth as needed.

The MediaGrid ContentServer 4000 expands storage capacity incrementally by 48-, 96- or 144-TB with the addition of MediaGrid ContentStore 4240 nodes outfitted with 24 hot-swappable 2-TB, 4-TB or 6-TB SAS drives. For even higher storage density options, ContentStore 5840 nodes can be added to create up to 504 TB in 5RU.

Using the MediaGrid system, “a facility can truly deploy one storage platform to support the entire production workflow,” said Bart Spriester, senior vice president of video products at Harmonic when the MediaGrid 4000 was introduced in March. “Specifically built to support media applications, reduce the costs of storage management, and optimize video production workflows, the MediaGrid 4000 can handle everything from compressed workflows to online digital libraries and uncompressed video.”

According to Spriester, flexible scaling of both bandwidth and capacity enables users to build as a workflow evolves.

The system also allows users to consolidate “islands” of storage and run all workflow steps off a single system, a model that can reduce operational costs and increase workflow productivity by reducing media copy and transfer times.

“Purely focused on media applications, the Harmonic MediaGrid 4000 can handle 4K, 5K and 6K workflows,” said Andy Darcy, senior product manager for MediaGrid. “It is exceptional in providing the performance of a Fibre Channel SAN and the scalability of an Ethernet-based NAS, a combination that enables benefits including optimization of the data stream to clients based on video size.”

MediGrid 4000 also focuses on 4K capability, offering a potential solution to the demanding requirements of UHD storage requirements by leveraging SAN and NAS to facilitate a balance between bandwidth and capacity.

Harmonic is taking its software-based VOS technology into the cloud in two variations. The VOS Cloud media processing platform for use over a public or private cloud infrastructure, and VOS 360, also a cloud-based media platform hosted and managed by Harmonic.

“VOS was introduced during 2014 NAB, when we introduced Electra XVM, a pure software broadcast encoder,” said Yaniv Ben-Soussan, vice president of product management for Harmonic. “We added graphics and playout, all in software. This was the first step toward an IP-based platform.” It was considered more of a virtual appliance, which fit with a capex model. XVM now represents nearly 20 percent of Harmonic’s Electra business, Ben-Soussan said.

“This year, we are introducing VOS Cloud. We’re taking it to a pure software application designed to work in a cloud—public or private. The quantum leap is about the user interaction and experience. We have a new UI, plus, since this is designed to work for a cloud environment, we are using typical cloud configuration. We are also working to a usage-based, opex model,” he said. Harmonic will continue to offer the VOS appliance, since the cloud version is new and doesn’t yet have some of the functions of the appliance version. “We still think we’ll have customers who will prefer to operate it as an appliance, but we believe within 24 to 30 months, people will adopt it in the cloud version,” Ben-Soussan said.

The VOS deployment environment is a Linux OS virtualization layer/hypervisor layer on standard hardware or the cloud. APIs are used for ingest, playout, graphics, transcode, encrypt and delivery—all communicating with the VOS service manager.

Ben-Soussan said the VOS Cloud platform has been in beta testing by “four major telco operations around the world since January,” all running on different OpenStack environments. He said it would be production ready in the “June timeframe.” “’OpenStack’ is really the proof that we can work in a cloud environment,” Ben-Soussan said.

With VOS Cloud, the customer maintains and monitors system. With VOS 360, Harmonic does it.

“We will also leverage infrastructure-as-a-service, so customers who want to launch a channel without developing their own ecosystem,” Ben-Soussan said, referring to 360. “We are bringing it as a turnkey service.” VOS 360 is hosted, maintained and monitored by Harmonic. This is the first time Harmonic will be offering a managed service. It is using an infrastructure-as-a-service model using global CDNs from Akamai, Limelight, Level 3 and Amazon CloudFront, and is compatible with the major cloud platforms, e.g., AWS, Google Cloud and Microsoft Azure.

“It’s a professional cloud service with global presence form day one,” Ben-Soussan said. “It’s self-managed service in an elastic environment. The customer adds and removes channels, but Harmonic maintains the network.” With VOS360, the primary issue is “time,” spinning up a channel in minutes, he said. It also enables the ability to spin up what he called “edge channels,” with “elastic capacity supports new service or peak events.” With regard to cost, it eliminates the labor and HVAC costs associated with a data center footprint. Live event can be leveraged on an as-needed basis.

Every customer gets 30 days free for 10 channels and global content delivery of 50 GB, he said. VOS360 will become available April 12. On-boarded technology partners and have one customer in beta right now, Ben-Soussan said.

Encoding and transcoding functionality on the new VOS cloud offerings is powered by the Harmonic Pure Compression Engine, which offers MPEG-2, MPEG-4 AVC and HEVC as well as are SD, HD and UHD content formats for broadcast, cable, satellite and IPTV delivery — including constant, variable and adaptive bitrate streaming.

Harmonic also plans to showcase its Spectrum X advanced media server and TVN’s ViBE 4K UHD encoder, which include both the HDR-10 and Hybrid Log Gamma (HLG) HDR schemes. Other solutions include Harmonic’s VOS platform, which enables a software-based media processing and delivery infrastructure to be accessed over private and public clouds. Harmonic will also demo TVN’s Ellipse platform that offers multiformat, multicodec support to ease the transition from SD MPEG-2 to HD MPEG-4 AVC to Ultra HD HEVC.

The last six months have been busy for the San Jose-based company, which included the announcement of a million-dollar contract from the federal government for use of Harmonic’s acquisition, playout and storage solutions by the U.S. Naval Surface Warfare Center in California. The company also has been involved with the NASA TV UHD channel, which airs high-resolution images and video generated on the International Space Station and from other current NASA missions using Harmonic encoding and processing equipment.

Harmonic will be booth SU1210.

~ Deborah D. McAdams contributed to this story.

Susan Ashworth

Susan Ashworth is the former editor of TV Technology. In addition to her work covering the broadcast television industry, she has served as editor of two housing finance magazines and written about topics as varied as education, radio, chess, music and sports. Outside of her life as a writer, she recently served as president of a local nonprofit organization supporting girls in baseball.