Last week, I had the opportunity to go visit TenX Networks to see what kind of network devices they build and how this could apply to UTOPIA. (Disclosure: they bought me lunch, but nothing fancy.) Their basic premise is to build network appliances using off-the-shelf Linux software to keep costs low while providing a high level of functionality. In short, they have an office full of really cool toys. I got a demonstration of their media server appliance powered by Ubuntu and MythTV (with what appeared to be a lot of useful hacks). We also talked about a SMB appliance that was a router, Asterisk PBX and CRM server all in one. I was impressed with how smoothly the media center performed and when coupled with the high bandwidth UTOPIA offers, there is significant opportunity for new hosted services.
The initial intent of the media server was to provide a single point of media storage in the home and then distribute it to sets using STBs or an inexpensive client system. With the kind of bandwidth offered by UTOPIA, however, this opens up the possibility of providing a hosted media server solution for the home with a speed comparable to running it locally. Think of it as the ultimate networked DVR for your CD and DVD collection, one that would be accessible both in your home as well as any remote location. Pop in an over-the-air HDTV tuner and some DVR functions and you have yourself a very compelling product.
So why would you need the kind of bandwidth offered by UTOPIA to provide this service? Because HD signals are bandwidth-hungry. A 1080p movie (Blu-Ray quality) can consume 16-24Mbps. Mutliply that by 2 or 3 sets and you can easily exceed the bandwidth offered on cable, DSL and even FIOS services. Toss in a few heavy-duty file transfers from home to this new media server and you have yourself a terrible bandwidth crunch. Unless, of course, you have a full 100Mbps or 1Gbps link between your home and the media server, soemthing UTOPIA provides that other providers can’t or won’t.
Business services make an even more compelling case. The SMB appliance we talked about is as close to office-in-a-can as I’ve ever heard. Rolling all of the functions of Exchange, SharePoint, CRM software and a PBX into a single box can spell some serious cost savings for small companies that couldn’t afford to buy it all separately. Even better is that an application service provider can buy a system running this software and rent it to interested companies. The downside is, again, the demand for bandwidth, something UTOPIA can provide that others can’t. Word on the street is that even Sen. Howard Stephenson, one of the more outspoken critics of UTOPIA, was wowwed at the possibility of what such a platform can do with UTOPIA’s big pipes.
This just touches the tip of the iceberg. Imagine the possibilities of having an XBox Live, World of Warcraft or Steam server running on top of UTOPIA. Think about having Netflix install a caching appliance on UTOPIA to deliver movies to customers with better reliability and quality. Picture looking at a real-time HD stream of the security cameras in your office when an alarm is tripped, not some grainy black-and-white. The entire UTOPIA footprint is nothing more than a big, fast LAN on which to run whatever cool application you can think of. All we need are companies who see the potential and start selling those services.