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RealNetworks Announces Content Delivery Solution

On Monday, RealNetworks (www.realnetworks.com) announced the release of RealSystem iQ, its new server technology that helps deliver content across different delivery networks. RealSystems iQ consists of RealServer 8, RealProxy 8 and RealProducer 8.5.

According to Ben Rotholtz, general manager, Media Systems for RealNetworks, the new system will dramatically change how content delivery works. "The world changes with RealSystem iQ," said Rotholtz. "There's no more concept of edge and origin servers, you can insert the content anywhere. Servers are no longer isolated, but interoperate like a collective. If one server goes down, other servers load balance and take over."

He said that the Internet, as it currently exists, still has points of failure. RealSystem iQ is an attempt to change that by allowing each server to deliver almost any content. It also enables Content Delivery Networks, or CDNs, to cover areas that are usually under-represented. For example, a radio station in Los Angeles may still have to send its stream to a CDN's entry point in Ohio. Then that signal must be sent all the way back to L.A.

RealNetworks calls the technology, Neuralcast, because it intelligently links together servers creating a large awareness across the system. In some ways it seems like the Star Trek-like Borg collective, which has one central consciousness. "There are a hundred sci-fi analogies that would work," said Rotholtz.

But Rotholtz makes it clear that RealNetworks is not trying to be a content delivery network. Rather, it's providing the technology. "These are our partners," said Rotholtz. "RealSystem iQ was driven by the needs of CDNs. They've been banging on the door for these capabilities. It targets CDNs, enterprise customers, ISPs, small broadcasters and ultimately media companies and content creators," he said.

Lady Madonna

The recent blockbuster webcast of Madonna's concert was touted as both a success and a failure. NaviSite (www.navisite.com), the company providing streaming solutions for the webcast, took some criticism as many users reported they were unable to access the live event. Rotholtz says the Madonna webcast had excellent timing, showcasing what RealSystem iQ can do. "The one thing that happens with large scale events is that they're not very reliable," he said.

The Madonna webcast was streamed by NaviSite; exclusively in Windows Media format. Christopher Levy, chief technology officer at NaviSite, said that this was a watershed event. "It was a very ambitious thing to do and by no means was this event perfect," he said, "but it will define what we do from now on."

Levy spoke about how the first Victoria's Secret webcast fizzled too, and it later gave Broadcast.com a bad name. "After that event," he said, "InterVU came out with its distributed network and now we have lots of companies doing it. But that's not enough. They have to talk to each other."

And that, Levy says, is where NaviSite's StreamOS comes in. StreamOS is a content platform interface where clients can log in and distribute content on various delivery networks. "This greatly increases their footprint," said Levy. He also states that webcasters don't have to deal with different CDNs separately.

Proxy for Intranets

Part of RealNetworks' new solution targets enterprise customers that want to control streaming media on their networks. "RealProxy 8 works on a pull model," said Rotholtz, "and sits inside the gateway of an enterprise." The first user gets the content, and when a second user requests the same file, it sends a request back to the server to see if it is allowed to receive the stream. "The retrieved content sits once on the cache, and reduces overall bandwidth coming into an organization," he said.

RealProxy also helps with live broadcasts, allowing network administrators to split out content, check who has rights, and help manage events.

Content Delivery Partnerships

Part of the announcement on Monday was about RealNetworks content delivery partners. Customers include Akamai, Deutsche Telekom, Digital Island, Enron Broadband Services, iBEAM, Intel IMS, Madge.web, Mirror Image Internet, NET-36 (a PamAmSat Company), and Speedera.

Rotholtz says RealNetworks is a member of the content alliance backed by Cisco and not a member of the competing content bridge alliance. "The content alliance has a lot more weight behind it," said Rotholtz. But he said having these alliances are a positive step. "My guess is it will take four to six months before most of the world is on RealSystem iQ," said Rotholtz.

One of RealNetworks' partners, Lucent Technologies (www.lucent.com), announced its new beta streaming media caching product called, WebCache S100. "We're excited about becoming an official caching partner of RealNetworks,'' said Ramesh Barasia, president of Lucent Technologies' Internet Content Delivery and Distribution business group. Lucent says its caching product will be available during the first quarter of 2001.

According to a new report by market research company IDC, the caching market will accelerate at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 98 percent, from $514 million in 2000 to $4.5 billion in 2004. IDC believes that static content represents more than three-quarters of caching revenue today, streaming media will grab two-thirds of it in 2004. "Streaming media will fuel the demand for cache devices to scale the Internet," said Lucinda Borovick, manager for IDC's Data Center Networks program.

Support for Multiple File Types

Aside from its newly distributed architecture, RealSystem iQ also supports various media types. Not only does it support all the RealMedia files, it also supports QuickTime, Flash and MPEG. Asked whether it also supports Windows Media, Rotholtz said, "Nothing technically prevents us from supporting it, but we're not announcing support for Windows Media at this time."

Rotholtz cites numbers from Neilsen/Netratings that show usage of Windows Media has been trailing RealPlayer usage. "We've broadened our lead in the last 11 months," he said, "so one can argue it's not worthwhile [to support Windows Media]."

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