Last week in "Robust Ecosystem Promises that Online Video Will Keep Looking Better and Better," I briefly mentioned a company called Aspera in the last paragraph. Aspera has been on my radar for quite some time, as I've had many industry colleagues mention to me the company's key role in the online video work flow process. Last week I got a chance to talk to Francois Quereuil, director of marketing to learn more.
Aspera addresses a key - and growing - operational problem in the online video work flow process: the time-consuming and resource-intensive step of moving around large video files, whether internally or to third-parties. This step has grown increasingly onerous as the number of files to be moved has expanded due to multiple bit rate encodings and multiple syndication partners. Further, the shift to higher-quality, HD video files has also made the file sizes bigger than ever.
When the company was started 5 years ago, Aspera's co-founders' premise was that the traditional approach for moving files, primarily by using FTP ("File Transfer Protocol"), was inherently inefficient because it was optimized for text and used TCP, the underlying protocol that most Internet traffic relies on. Rather than trying to improve FTP or TCP as others have done, they instead designed their own protocol called "fasp" (Fast and Secure Access Protocol). By installing Aspera's fasp software at the file's send and receive points, large files can be sent over existing network infrastructure. fasp can send files 10 to 100s of times faster than FTP (there are charts here that show Aspera's tests).
Francois explained that Warner Bros. became Aspera's initial customer, and that now every studio, CDN, aggregator, post-production house and many content providers use Aspera. A perfect example customer is Apple, which uses Aspera to ingest most of the HD video content it now makes available in iTunes. The media industry now accounts for 70% of Aspera's revenue, though there are other industries with large files such as government and biotech, for whom Aspera is also very appealing. For example, the oil and gas industry sends seismic data files that are terabytes in size using Aspera.
From the core fasp innovation, Aspera has built out a suite of products, including a web browser plug-in that lets remote users quickly upload their video files, a console product that allows multiple facilities running fasp to be centrally monitored and controlled, and a collaborative solution that allows drag and drop distribution of files to various end-points. Aspera seems well positioned to grow alongside increasing file complexity; the only company focusing on the media industry with file transfer acceleration that I'm aware of (and that Francois noted as competition) is Signiant, which I first wrote about here.
Clearly Aspera has already had a significant impact on powering high-quality video transfers and distribution, but what may still be ahead for the company could be even more interesting. Francois and I discussed the possibility that Aspera software could make its way into consumer devices like set-top boxes, gaming consoles, smartphones, etc. The company is in discussions with device manufacturers and service providers, but it is clearly still very early.
Still, the prospect of having Aspera-enabled devices could create what I think of as a "super-premium" video service, enabling near-instantaneous video-on-demand downloads. For over-the-top service providers this could be a meaningful differentiator. For incumbents like cable operators Aspera could have significant benefits in creating premium revenue opportunities and also capex savings by not having to continually upgrade their networks to deliver faster speeds and more capacity. Francois explained that fasp co-exists well with TCP-based networks and is distance-independent; this suggests that such premium services could be offered to all cable subscribers, not just those in select areas, and also that they could be centrally managed.
Exciting as the consumer-facing opportunity is, for now Aspera is mainly focused on its bread-and-butter business of improving the efficiency of large file transfers that are becoming more and more prevalent. Aspera is another perfect example of how innovative technologies up and down the stack are laying the foundation for an all-broadband future.
What do you think? Post a comment now.