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Video streaming without any work done by the CPU? Yes, says Toshiba

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April 10, 2012

Toshiba said this morning that its new NP Engine hardware directly streams video from SSDs (solid state drives) to IP networks without using host server CPU cycles or any RAM memory from the server, greatly accelerating the video content to its users, while imposing minimal loads on host systems.

Toshiba claims that its dedicated hardware concept delivers up to 64,000 x 40 Gbit/sec video streams, a lot more than the 20,000 or so an average mid-range server is said to be able to stream.

The new hardware, a minimalist server card, can replace at least two video-streaming servers and enable its host server to do other work at the same time.

Toshiba says its NP Engine also cuts physical space requirements by 70 percent and power consumption by 77 percent, for SAN and server arrays supporting simultaneous delivery of 1,000,000 video streams in a typical data center.

Toshiba's patented NP Engine solution is fully compliant with HTTP adaptive bit rate streaming and no changes need be made for HTTP streaming apps either, a great advantage for servers that are already up and running.

This use of dedicated hardware flies in the face of general IT assumptions that commodity hardware wins out over specialized processing hardware such as FPGAs and ASICs.

You could imagine a single chip version of this, if such were feasible, being a neat addition to PCs, notebooks, tablets and Ultrabooks, freeing up the host CPU to do other work while a video is being played.

Toshiba plans to demo its NP Engine fitted into a server at the NAB event in Las Vegas, taking place from April 16 to 19, 2012. It will be available to hosting companies and ISPs sometime later this year.

In other mobile news

We just got word that Apple's new iPhone 5 will be released in October of this year, and not June as it was initially anticipated.

The new device will most likely have a unibody construction similar to that of the MacBook Pro, that is, if you believe the latest crop of rumors. And there are many, we can tell you that!

On Thursday, the word on the street outside of the Foxconn iPhone-assembly plant in China's Shanxi province was that the next iteration of Apple's smartphone would appear in June. Now we just learned that it ain't so.

That rumor was voiced by a Foxconn human-resources staffer talking about the 18,000 new employees the company will add to support the huge order they have received from Apple in mid-March.

Worse, today's new rumor – that the release won't be until October – comes from a Foxconn human resources staffer, as well, just like the last time. We have a feeling that there will soon be a few less people working in the HR department at Foxconn...

But its source is a real convoluted one. A report by the gamer-centric website Kotaku that cited an article in the Japanese-language Livedoor which was based on an story in the South Korean Mail Business Newspaper that quoted said Foxconn HR staffer.

Also today comes word from AppleInsider that Brian White – the Topeka Capital Markets wireless industry analyst who recently predicted that Apple stock would hit $1,001 in the next twelve months – sent a note to investors telling them that during his recent trip to China and Taiwan, Apple suppliers said that production of the next iPhone 5 would begin in June with release set for October of this year.

The newspaper also quoted White as providing details on the impending new iPhone. "In our view, this will be the most significant iPhone upgrade with a four-inch screen and a new, sleek look that we believe will require a Unibody case. This sleek new look will be the most important reason that consumers will decide to upgrade," he went on to say.

An even more-compelling reason to upgrade might be the next iPhone's almost-certain LTE capability – but we can't argue with White that Apple's industrial design has frequently been more important to iPhone purchasers than its technical capabilities.

White also propagated the rumors even more by saying that Apple is developing a 7.85-inch "iPad mini", saying that such a device is under development. He added, however, that when or if it would be released still remains unclear at this time.

As the many followers of Apple's product parade will surely remember, the late Steve Jobs savaged such small-screen iPads during an earnings call with reporters and analysts in October 2010. "While one could increase the resolution of the display to make up for some of the difference," he said at the time, "it is meaningless unless your tablet also includes sandpaper so that the user can sand down their fingers to around one quarter of their present size."

White didn't mention any talks with sandpaper suppliers, and as Livedoor reported, any attempt to reach Foxconn's HR manager about the October rumor would be futile. They tried and were rebuffed – he had gone on vacation, they were told.

In other mobile news

For mobile app developers looking beyond Apple's iOS and the Android operating system, the timing could be right to join the Windows Phone fan and dev club. And make no mistake-- Nokia has a lot to do with this.

Overall, the Lumia 900 device launch signals the potential rise of the Windows Phone platform, with Nokia, Microsoft, and AT&T all looking forward in making big waves for the Finnish device.

To be sure, Nokia brought New York's Times Square to a standstill on Friday thanks to a quick concert performance by Nikki Minaj, with the area blanketed in Nokia blue and references to its new flagship phone.

But make no mistake, AT&T is promising its biggest launch ever as well. The phone began selling yesterday. Microsoft, meanwhile, is paying developers up to $600,000 to create new software for its platform.

Beyond that, it may entice mobile app developers to cozy up to Nokia in particular. Despite its diminished role in the smartphone world, Nokia still retains wide distribution capabilities and relationships in many local markets around the globe.

"Nokia still offers more distribution," said Marco Argenti, senior vice president of the developer division at Nokia. "We bring the customer base, and developers see the opportunity," he added.

For the past 2 to 3 years, mobile apps have long been considered a weakness with the Windows Phone platform. The operating system recently surpassed 80,000 apps, although many of the most popular apps typically launch on iOS and Android first.

Microsoft holds several developer outreach events around the world, and plans to run 600 events around the world. Argenti said that in many of those events, Nokia takes the lead because of the company's experience in that region.

And as could be expected, that experience also benefits the developer community. From country to country, Nokia actively prepares the apps marketplace so that it is relevant to local customers. That means a local developer or a group of developers looking to fine-tune an app for a specific market has a better chance of gaining a captive audience.

Nokia already does it in its own Nokia app store, but is also doing it for the Windows Phone platform as well, Argenti was quick to point out.

Additionally, Nokia has a clear set of application programming interface (API) tools that it offers for free, allowing app developers to integrate various capabilities from features like its Navteq GPS navigation service.

Then, Nokia's all new PureView 808 smartphone with a 41-megapixel camera was shown off at Mobile World Congress in February, but a version would be coming to Windows Phone, Argenti said.

He declined to provide additional details to a potential PureView Lumia phone, but said Nokia was working with developers on building apps using the powerful camera technology.

To paraphrase Apple's CEO Tim Cook: "The PureView-powered apps will blow your mind," Argenti said. And these may just be what the platform needs: some killer apps that people love and enjoy everyday.

In other mobile news

AT&T released a statement on Friday that it would now be offering SIM unlocks for iPhones that are no longer under contract.

The process of unlocking the SIM of a smartphone such as the iPhone is simply to allow it to use SIM cards from other wireless carriers as well, therefore expanding the device's use to other mobile service providers.

That feature is frequently used during international travel to allow the use of mobile service from local carriers in those countries.

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The process is very simple, painless and only takes a few minutes to do. The only piece of information required by AT&T is the International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) number, which can be found under Settings>General>About on the iPhone.

Once you’ve completed the procedure, Apple pushes the unlock code during the next 72 hours to your email address, in order that the code comes from Apple, and not from AT&T.

Once the Cupertino device maker completes the unlock request, a customer has to back-up and restore and tether the device to iTunes to complete the unlock process.

Some iPhone users tried to unlock their out-of-contract iPhones last night, with mixed results. Responses from AT&T service representatives were varied, with some seemingly unaware of the whole process.

Other users had better luck and were able to unlock their iPhones 3GS on the first pass. We called AT&T Tech Support and were able to get our iPhone 3GS unlocked with no issues.

In fact, the representative waited on the line to ensure that we received our unlock confirmation email, at which point he told us to backup and restore the device to receive our unlock message.

We did just that and were able to receive the unlock code in less than 30 seconds. Experiences may have improved over the day. Some early callers were told the process would complete on April 16th, while others were told to simply wait 48 to 72 hours for the confirmation email.

In other mobile industry news

Last week, Cisco released some fresh numbers that reveal just how fast data is increasing on today's mobile networks. The volume is hard to ascertain at first glance.

And in terms of predictions for the near future, no less than 10.9 exabytes of mobile data per month will be exchanged by 2016. That's 130 exabytes annually, an amount equivalent to 33 billion DVDs.

But just what does this growth really mean to the mobile network operator and just as important, to the wireless subscriber? Obviously, successfully overcoming the real-world challenges of scaling and maintaining such networks to handle these huge data volumes remains a top priority for wireless carriers.

Mobile network carriers today want their customers to actually increase usage, hoping to keep dependent, loyal, and profitable users, but the overall success of increased utilization is often smeared by the risk of an overwhelmed network’s impact on the customer experience.

And of course, the 'bill shock' dilemma continues to be an issue for many users. Saying goodbye to unlimited data plans requires consumers to fully understand their data usage, and to carefully assess how many gigabytes are really needed to browse the internet, send pictures to friends and stay connected to their favorites social sites.

So how are wireless carriers minimizing the long term impact of dropped calls, slower network usage, and bill shock? Ironically, the answer is in what’s causing the risk: the data itself. The key is turning the 'too much information syndrom' into actionable input that allows you to communicate with your customers when and where it matters the most.

Mobile network operators today have all the information to know exactly what products and services a customer is using, when they use them, how they use them, how long they use them and even why they use them in the first place. What many don’t have are the analytical tools to determine those insights in an efficient and effective real time manner and just as important, take immediate action based on those insights.

By understanding how an individual customer is interacting with their network and products over time – versus how the network is performing as a whole or taking a customer snapshot at a point in time, wireless carriers today are preventing potentially negative experiences and instead, engaging with customers in ways that build trust and loyalty.

Let’s take billing events as an example. Billing events provide information through CDRs, but more importantly, these events can be vital touch points with mobile customers. What operators often underplay is that every interaction adds or detracts from the customer experience.

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Source: Toshiba.

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