An upstart start-up aims to become the FedEx of the online world and put CD-ROM out of business, but is this company's technology up to the task or is it all sizzle and no steak?
Radiance Technologies of Los Altos, California (www.radiance.com) recently released its first product, forged a strategic partnership with TiVo, and secured $13.4 million in Series B financing. Radiance's core product is its TrueDelivery System, a software system that enables enterprises to use their existing IP networks for the guaranteed delivery of "digital packages." Radiance has pioneered an approach it calls managed delivery, in which every delivery is treated as a transaction, subject to a set of business rules. "Our software will do for digital file distribution what FedEx did for package delivery," said Radiance's CEO Ashfaq Munshi. "Through a set of technologies we call ‘digital logistics,' Radiance brings schedule guarantee, quality-of-service, and unprecedented optimization to the delivery of digital packages. This dramatically expands what enterprises can do with their existing network infrastructure."
Radiance defines digital packages as large digital assets, consisting of one or more files of any format (e.g., PowerPoint, digital video, software applications, CAD files), grouped for a business purpose, and wrapped as an item for secure delivery. Currently, large digital files are typically delivered in one of two ways: physically, on tape or disc; or digitally, via the Internet, which—as we all know—is a less-than-ideal conduit.
"The Internet is good at getting small things to where they need to go, but it uses a ‘best-efforts' approach," says John McCrea, senior vice president of marketing for Radiance. "As soon as your files get big—say a hundred megabytes or more—havoc is created. You run into all kinds of bottlenecks and traffic jams." Due to such problems, industry analysts are predicting that a new class of "managed delivery" solutions like the Radiance one will emerge and grow rapidly over the next few years.
"Enterprises face a growing problem when it comes to managing the movement of large files across their extended network to employees, partners, and customers," says Lawrence Orans, senior analyst, networking, at Gartner Research. "In response, the market for enterprise Content Delivery Network (CDN) solutions is evolving rapidly from simple caching approaches to include the management of all aspects of distributing and accessing rich media as well as large static files."
The Radiance delivery system takes a different approach than Content Delivery Networks do, says McCrea. He explains that a Content Delivery Network approach is based on the assumption that you want to deliver to a large, dispersed, non-specific audience, while the Radiance solution is geared toward one-to-one delivery to known parties. "The CDN approach is to put content as close to the end-user as possible or to where you think the end-user may be. With the Radiance approach, you know exactly where your end-user is; you don't have to guess."
McCrea also points out that the Radiance "managed delivery" approach "applies logistics to delivery," to determine the best way and best time to send files. It uses existing infrastructure more efficiently. With TrueDelivery, you can "leverage the precious commodity which is bandwidth," says McCrea.
In that sense, the TrueDelivery approach is quite different from a streaming approach, he notes. "Streaming is the hardest trick for the network to do. Quality is subject to availability of bandwidth end-to-end and during the entire length of viewing," says McCrea. "Streaming video assumes that bandwidth is plentiful, but disc storage space is scarce. Our approach assumes the opposite."
Radiance is currently working with more than a dozen enterprises piloting the TrueDelivery system, including Mercedes-Benz USA, which is using the system to "move video and rich media to dealerships for training," according to McCrea.
"Enterprises are in search of more efficient ways to distribute large, business-critical digital files to employees and partners," says Mercedes-Benz's Richard Thomas, media development and elearning manager. "The Radiance approach of scheduled, guaranteed delivery offers clear advantages over physical delivery on CD-ROM."
By choosing online delivery over CD-ROM-based delivery, you save time and costs associated with development, duplication, and delivery, McCrea says. Indeed, Radiance seems to have singled out CD-ROM as a competitor they aim to best. "Some people view CD-ROM as embodying the promise of technology," says McCrea. "But when I think of CD-ROM, I think: ‘That's so Nineties!' We're in a new millennium now. It doesn't make sense when you're dealing with digital content to have to turn that content into a physical object just to get it from one place to another."
Besides the Mercedes-Benz pilot project, Radiance is also working with an aerospace company that is sending product documentation to customers faster and at lower cost than physical delivery on paper and disc; a software company that is delivering builds its application to remote development teams with less manual intervention and network congestion than via FTP; and a media and entertainment company that is selling digital audio products direct to consumers at higher margin and greater cross-sell than through conventional retail.
The TiVo Connection
Radiance's first major strategic partnership was first announced at the Consumer Electronics show in January 2002. Under the terms of the TiVo Inc. partnership, the companies are working together to integrate the Radiance TrueDelivery client into the broadband-ready TiVo Series2 Digital Video Recorder (DVR) as a foundation for managed delivery services. "Radiance represents a breakthrough in the economics and reliability of digital delivery," says TiVo CEO Mike Ramsay.
Among the advantages that TrueDelivery will give TiVo is the ability to deliver programming at different price points, depending on the level of promptness of delivery demanded, says McCrea. Just as FedEx and the U.S. Mail have different prices for overnight and two-day delivery, TiVo will be able to offer cheaper prices for programs delivered "within a week," versus programs delivered within 24 hours, for example.
The TrueDelivery system employs a set of patent-pending "digital logistics" technologies that optimize delivery management over the Internet or a private IP network. For example, "intelligent scheduling" leverages the differing urgencies of competing deliveries to smooth the peaks-and-valleys of bandwidth utilization. "Content-Smart Selective Caching" minimizes storage costs by caching content only where necessary, rather than all along an arbitrary "edge." And "Adaptive Bandwidth Management" allows the system to respond in real time to unexpected traffic congestion and to get better over time at anticipating usage patterns throughout the network.
The Radiance TrueDelivery System consists of four software components, flexibly deployed as an overlay on the network:
• The Distribution Center enables centralized content management and centralized delivery management. The Distribution Center is where digital packages are created and where the delivery network is administered, monitored, and managed.
• Delivery Servers are semi-autonomous delivery agents that operate according to business rules set at the Distribution Center. The Delivery Servers optimize utilization of network resources and execute deliveries, with schedule guarantee.
• Destination Servers, act as intelligent, remotely administered caches for accelerated, browser-based access to content in server-to-server deployments.
• Clients act as desktop "in-boxes" for receiving and managing digital packages. With an intuitive interface and a small footprint, the TrueDelivery Client is designed for ease of use and ease of administration.
The TrueDelivery System is available on Solaris and Windows. Pricing for the end-to-end system begins at $100,000 and varies by configuration.
Will Radiance Technologies succeed in becoming the online world's FedEx or will it wind up in the online world's equivalent of the U.S. Mail dead letter office? Only time will tell.