As the shift to the cloud continues, the cable industry is joining the natural evolution of the widespread adoption of virtualization and service-oriented architecture, continuing the transformation of the traditional TV into a connected technology platform. 

In today’s struggling economy, businesses are realizing they can profit from virtualization. Cable operators are finding the cloud cannot only be a faster method to reach subscribers, but also cheaper, as it enables them to cut back on expenses driven from server and data center equipment.

Cloudy With A Chance Of Rain

Cable companies can now leverage the cloud to develop and deliver apps to targeted audiences.  In fact, some have already begun to deploy dozens of interactive channels, apps and services in the cloud rather than on their subscribers’ set-top boxes.  Not only is it faster and cheaper, but it eliminates the worry about what an app might do on a particular set-top box since all the processing occurs in the cloud rather than on the device.

Challenges that continue to prevent cable operators from advancing in this space fall into two key areas: delivery techniques and bundled offerings.  For delivery, challenges arise from lack of tools available to connect the cloud to cable operators’ customers. And with the high-demand for bundled services, the industry faces challenges in determining how to include cloud-based offerings into unique, cost-effective packages that appeal to a wide audience.
 
While the economy has played a key role in the cloud’s increased momentum, businesses and consumers alike have embraced the cloud due to its flexibility and easy access to resources and IT services.  In addition, ever since over-the-top (OTT) content distributors have come onto the scene, cable operators have begun developing their own versions of such alternative distribution services as TV Everywhere and connected-home delivery, and the cloud greatly aligns with these new themes that such cablecos as Comcast and Time Warner are promoting. Customers want swift interaction; in order to have this be a success, an easily accessible interface will be the home run with users.
  
Cloudy At Home

Moreover, consumers are becoming more reliant on the cloud. Rather than locally storing data, it now is relatively simple to upload all stored information to the cloud, reducing the need for extensive storage devices. Indeed, the cloud makes it quite simple to access content from multiple devices – proliferating the “anytime, anywhere, any place, any device” mantra.

However, with the growing reliance on the cloud, the upstream portion of their networks continues to be a challenge for operators – cable and other providers alike. Inherently, the return path is limited and, yet, the demands placed upon it continue to grow. No longer is it just about capacity; it’s also important to have high performance.

Cable operators have an advantage; more and more of them are deploying digital return as their gold standard. They have seen that this is the only technology that provides both the performance and the future flexibility required in networks. No one wants to deploy a solution today that will need to be “ripped and replaced” when upstream speeds need to be increased. And the latest digital return platforms are truly future-proof, with simple upgrades to support the increased return, 5 MHz to 85 MHz (and even higher), support for 1024-QAM and achieving throughput as fast as 600 Mbps (700 Mbps @ 105 MHz).

The perception sometimes has been that digital return is more expensive than analog. This no longer is true. Recent generations of digital return have driven the link cost down. With a single return digital link now on par with an analog link, and a dual return (for a segmented node) much cheaper than analog, digital return now is a cost-effective solution. Additionally, it’s a “set-it and forget-it” platform, resulting in low ongoing operating costs.
 
Cloudy Skies For The Foreseeable Future

The industry will continue to map out cable’s role in the cloud because it’s a natural evolution for operators to meet customer’s demands for customized content and advanced, multi-screen delivery without having to add extra equipment to the mix. Cable is well-suited to dominate in this space because it carries the advantage of having a solid high-bandwidth broadband infrastructure, which is the result of stringent development and refinement over many years. 

By already having the foundation in place, the cable industry is able to cross-pollinate a variety of service offerings, including broadband, IP telephony, video distribution, unique programming, wireless and device-connectivity. Continuing their network evolution, it will soon be seen that every cloud has a cable lining.

John Dahlquist and Dawn Emms, Aurora Networks

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