Month: April 2010

The Datacenter and Water Conservation

CRAC tanks

Our prototype Core4 CRAC System may be the most energy efficient CRAC system deployed in the world to date but we didn’t stop there.  It’s notoriously difficult to maintain good water chemistry in cooling towers and it usually involves a combination of harsh and very expensive chemicals to control scale, corrosion, algae and bacterial growth.  Also, towers are typically running with low cycles of concentration to keep the overall TDS low (to prevent scale) so a lot of chemical laden water just ends up going down the drain as ‘blow down.’  Sean McNeil, our Water Conservation Representatives from the City of Santa Rosa’s Utility Department, not only helped us retrofit our building with dual flush toilets and ultra low flush urinals, he also turned us on to a system that promised to control all aspects of water chemistry in our cooling towers without the use of any added chemicals and without any blow down at all.

Thanks to Skasol and WCTI, we now have a ZBT system installed and expect to save more than 12,000 gallons of water a month and have eliminated all of the environmental impact associated with typical water treatment solutions.  The savings in both water and chemicals along with the rebate from the City as part of their Sustained Reduction program also made this a very cost effective solution.  Sometimes you can have your cake and eat it too.


Boxee what's new screen

A coworker recently hassled me for my use of acronyms without explanation. It’s something that I try not to do, but the various acronyms of our industry boil down large concepts into just a few letters, so sometimes it’s unavoidable.

This posting is intended to address the big topic behind the small acronym “OTT”.

OTT is video content delivered “over the top” of Internet access, without association with the Internet access provider themselves.

Examples of OTT video include online services like Netflix On Demand, Hulu, MLB.TV.  The OTT video label can be extended to any video content, so I suppose YouTube might count, but generally OTT refers to episode or feature length content, positioned as an alternative to conventional television.

OTT video is the anathema of those who offer subscription television, and it’s one of the core items that drives the debate around network neutrality and usage and speed caps.

Most service providers have created “triple play” bundles of Internet, telephone and television, and each of these three revenue streams make up an important part of the total revenue stream for these operators. For the video portion, the national average household spending for television is nearly $75 (source: Centris, 2009 data.)  OTT video threatens this, which is particularly painful for system operators because the video component is generally the most expensive of the three components of the triple play.

If your broadband provider is also selling you TV, their concern is that if they provide you with “too much” broadband, that OTT video will flourish and you will stop buying expensive TV in favor of a less expensive broadband only service.

There is an inherent conflict of interest here, and it is clear that industry wide, OTT video influences the choices by providers to limit speed and cap consumption. This is particularly obvious for cable providers, who have the most video customer and revenue to lose.

The debate about network neutrality is quite clear in the dialog about OTT: why would a provider who sells you TV want to give you enough bandwidth to replace that TV service?  This is particularly interesting in light of recent decisions by the Supreme Court, which found that the FCC does not have the authority to censure a major cable provider for tampering with their customers Internet traffic, in this case Bittorrent, which is presumed to be mostly television and movie downloads.

So, all of that aside, is OTT ready for prime time?

The biggest issue in OTT video seems to be delivery to the sofa rather than the desktop. It is getting much easier today, with multiple solutions to address this problem.  A few of of the key enablers:

Faster Wi-Fi. 802.11N appears to finally deliver enough bandwidth for HD content streaming to the living room without cables.

Netflix on demand can now be viewed on a growing list of devices, some of which you might already have connected to your own TV. Samsung Bluray players, the XBox 360, Playstation II, and even the Wii will stream Netflix today.

Dedicated hardware solutions like the Apple TV, Roku, Popcorn Hour, and the new Boxee from Dlink all promise more powerful and easier access to OTT content. Most TVs today also offer a VGA connection for easy hook-up to a laptop, so buying a couple cables (video and audio) to connect your laptop to your television can be a low cost way to get started.

Finally, TVs are becoming far more connected themselves, which in the long run may eliminate the need for an external box. Samsung, LG and Sony all have connected television products today in various states of usefulness.

What about content? Can I watch my shows?


Today there are more and more OTT video offerings, and more mainstream content. For movies and many television shows, there is good availability from Netflix and iTunes (Apple TV). Sports are becoming available, for example the subscription offerings from

Hulu is worth some discussion because it provides some great current television content, but it’s tough to view on your television.  In my household there are five different devices that will stream Netflix (no kidding!), but only the laptop will play Hulu.  This is because Hulu content is licensed for PC playback only, so they are restrictive. This means that one OTT hardware solution won’t let you view all content – you may need to seek out different solutions for different types of content.

Boxee may solve some of these problems – it behaves just like a web browser, and Hulu today can be viewed on Boxee, but that seems to be a constant game of cat and mouse, with Hulu shutting out Boxee playback and Boxee making changes to allow playback again. End-users are the pawns in this game, and it can be frustrating.

As a result of all of this confusion, I think that most users first experience with OTT will probably be Netflix, but once viewers get a taste for content on demand without a $75 cable bill, I suspect that more and more of us will jump through the hoops required for a relatively complete OTT video viewing experience.

Finally, OTT video isn’t always free. There are free services like Hulu, though they announced today that the most recent five episodes of shows will be free, but full access to all archived shows will cost $9.95 monthly. is $19.95 a month. Apple’s iTunes store for Apple TV offers shows ala carte for $2 to $3. You can also buy tv and movies from Amazon as downloadable content.

There is also lots of free content, and solutions like the Roku and Boxee make it easier to find it. You can also play most content that you download to your PC, plus videos you make yourself, because these hardware boxes will play back a multitude of video file types.

Some interfaces to OTT video are also bringing a social component, allowing you to connect with friends, recommend and rate shows and share comments. This may turn television viewing into a much more engaged activity. (Today the theme seems to be watching live TV while fondling a smartphone and reading and writing tweets with others watching the same show live. Tweets fly during live shows; “Can you believe that outfit! #oscars”.  OTT with a social component may make this more useful and interesting.)

So in summary – what’s the “do it all” viewing solution? Today there is not one standalone set top box that will view all content. The upcoming Boxee hardware from D-Link may come close, but meanwhile you’d need at least two or three devices in order to access all the OTT content that is available. A laptop with a video and audio cable is a great start though if you aren’t sure what solution will be a fit for you.

I’ll predict that in five to ten years, subscription television as it is today will be suffering, and content providers will move wholeheartedly to OTT.  The Internet has disrupted industries from retail to travel, and the only barrier to it doing the same to television has been bandwidth.

Fusion Annex M available for testing in Santa Rosa

For Fusion customers served out of the two Santa Rosa central offices (COs), we now support Annex M ADSL2+ profiles, in addition to the standard Annex A. Switching to Annex M can provide higher upstream speeds of up to 2.5Mbps per pair, though generally at the expense of some amount of downstream.

The Annex M profile option is in beta test, and the capability may come and go as we wrap up the deployment, so please do not rely upon it at this time. Your loop may not perform better with Annex M than with the standard Annex A profile. We encourage you to experiment and select the profile that you prefer for stability and speed. Loops which prove not to work well with Annex M cannot be “fixed” to do so, and an Annex A profile should be your expectation if the loop is unreliable with a Annex M profile. Loop performance is influenced by many factors.

Due to the decrease in downstream speed associated with switching from the Annex A profile to the Annex M profile, we anticipate that it will be something users may wish to turn on and off as needed, for example before a really large upload or off-site backup. Today, our customer support group can turn on Annex M in the network, and then you can enable and disable it in your modem in order to turn on and off the Annex M support. In future, we anticipate releasing a member tool that will allow you to toggle the setting in our network, allowing you to avoid changing your modem settings locally each time.

For more information on Annex M and details on how you can enable it, see the Annex M FAQ.

Annex M support will be coming to our other central offices in the near future.

For those interested in details about the technology, you can read more on Wikipedia about Annex M, and about ADSL2+.

Ignite: Community Broadband Alternatives

This is a brief talk I gave recently as the Ignite event in Sebastopol. The topic follows up on the previous posting where we highlighted press coverage about our goal of deploying a fiber to the home (FTTH) test network. If the large number of comments on the previous entry are any indication, there is substantial interest in the fiber topic.

I hope you can find some ideas and inspiration here that will help bring broadband alternatives to your community!

FlexLink Ethernet for Business Promotion

Today we are launching a promotion of our FlexLink Ethernet product, offering discounts on our fastest Ethernet over Copper (EoC) offerings. This promotion offers our maximum speed 30Mbps/30Mbps symmetric business product at a significant discount.

Here’s the deal: For the price of a 20Mbps Ethernet link, we will fully provision and run at the max product rate for your location. This means you can get 25Mbps or 30Mbps, if distance permits it, for the 20Mbps price.

To give you a snapshot of the costs, on a three year term, this means up to 30Mbps/30Mbps business Ethernet Internet or WAN transport for just $1099/mo.

That’s an stellar price for a very fast symmetric carrier Ethernet connection, and we hope you can find some interesting things to do with that much bandwidth.

Contact a account rep via the FlexLink page to get the specific the details for your location. Act quickly, this promotion is available for a limited time.

Major Network Enhancements on the Horizon

If you’ve been paying attention to our Status blog, you may have noticed a good number of network backbone maintenance posts recently. This is because we’re nearing completion on a number of huge network upgrades, and I’d like to take a little time to talk about these milestones for

All of these upgrades relate to’s existing network backbone, which is currently a ring between our Santa Rosa, San Francisco and San Jose POPs. Our San Francisco and San Jose POPs current Juniper M40 core routers are being upgraded to Juniper T320s. The T320s are absolutely beastly, measuring 25x17x31″, capable of drawing nearly 3kW of power, and weighing in at nearly 400lb! The T320s in San Francisco and San Jose will have an 10Gbps transport links between them, and one 10Gbps link apiece to the T320 that will be installed at our new Palo Alto POP. This will create a new, highly redundant 10Gbps backbone for, and allow us to easily expand our backbone capacity as bandwidth needs continue to increase.

We’ve been working tirelessly on these projects for the past few months, and plan to have them completed very soon now. As always, we at strive to keep one step ahead of demand, and provide access to the most reliable network possible. Keep your eyes peeled over the next few weeks for news about our progress on these upgrades!

-Jared, Nathan, Tim, Clay, Monroe, Josh, Juston, Matt, Jacob, and Tomoc