SkyStream Networks Inc. is expanding from its hardware roots with the introduction of zBand, a software product that lets service providers and companies offer branded streaming media and other content to end users.
Service providers and firms can already deliver rich media over their networks, but the end user may not be aware of their brand. With zBand, organizations can frame the content being delivered into a customized guide, which is an XML-based viewing window that runs in Microsoft Internet Explorer. The guide can contain service provider or corporate branding and can serve up HTML, streaming media and other data types. ZBand is also designed to improve the viewing experience, especially for people with high-speed connections (T-1, cable and DSL) to the Internet, by providing higher-quality content.
The software system is designed to work over any network type, including satellite, broadband and broadcast networks. At the origin point, the zBand server collects content from the Web, caches it, then pushes it out to the zBand client near or at the edge of the network. The client can reside at a service provider's point of presence (POP) or in a remote office, and is used to feed data into an Apache Web server. Residential users can pull down the client to a PC or set-top box so content can be downloaded directly to where it is being viewed, says Ren Finley, SkyStream's zBand product manager.
"We're delivering content right to the IE cache on the local hard drive," Finley says. "This way the user gets the best experience because they're pulling from their hard drive and not the network."
SkyStream is looking for ways that service providers can brand and possibly increase revenues on the services they sell. The company does not intend to build a content delivery network to compete with the likes of Akamai; rather it looks to partner and sell zBand to those types of companies, Finley says.
"SkyStream is coming at the content delivery space from a unique angle by allowing the service provider's content delivery system to be branded," says Jim Penhune, an analyst with The Yankee Group in Boston.
No matter what type of network is being used for content delivery, it must be IP multicast-enabled. Besides streaming and rich-media delivery, enterprise customers can use zBand to deliver large files simultaneously to users throughout the network. This is particularly useful for time-sensitive information such as inventory levels and stock quotes. The software can also be used to build vertical portals by collecting related information, such as news or sports information, at the server and pushing it to the client level.
The ZBand server runs on Windows NT, while the client sits on an NT or Linux machine. For those wanting to do caching in a remote POP or office, Apache is also required. Pricing for the base configuration of zBand starts around US$100,000.