Cable's new cloud-based reality laid bare at NAB: We don't need no stinkin' certification lab

Daniel Frankel, FierceCableCisco's Conrad Clemson says he gets a familiar reaction from his cable-industry clients when he tells them he's about to execute one of his favorite technological principles, "destructive testing."

"I tell them, what we're going to do with you is take the Netflix Simian Army, and we're going to run it on your platform," said the fast-talking, agile-minded Cisco VP of business development, who'd fit in elegantly as an extra on The Big Bang Theory, perhaps as a lovable Jet Propulsion Lab staffer.

The Netflix Simian Army is going to terminate VEMs in the client's production environment, Clemson explained to me at Cisco's NAB booth at the Las Vegas Convention Center this week. But for his clients, it gets worse. "We've also got Drunk Monkey that's going to slow down their connections and corrupt them, and we're also going to run that in their production network."

Basically, Clemson assembles his team of "smart guys" every Friday to try to break the cloud-based video infrastructure he just installed for his clients. But then comes the inevitable question.

"They always go, 'Why would you do that?'"

The answer: You can't fix things until you know how they break. "How do you know it's not going to fail? Because I break it every day in production," Clemson says.

Servicing Tier 1 pay-TV clients including Charter and Cox, among others, embedding staff members on-site, Cisco's participation in the cable space represents a bit of a culture clash, with a lightning-speed, Silicon Valley-borne Western tech religion coming head-to-head with a cable-bred, certification-fueled Eastern engineering philosophy that used to take three years to churn out a single version of DOCSIS.

Once cable companies see the results of processes like destructive testing, they quickly become devout believers, Clemson says, adding, "We didn't invent this stuff. This is stuff that Netflix, Facebook and Google do all the time."

As I dashed from meeting to meeting, panel to panel at NAB, I heard a lot this week about cable's migration of video to the cloud. It's not something that's happening next year for an industry that, like everything else, is becoming increasingly IP-based. It's ongoing.

Listening to Clemson, I got a sense of just what culture shock moving to the cloud entails.

"In some cases, new code hits our customer on a Thursday or Friday night, gets tested across the weekend, and drops into a production environment like Monday, Tuesday morning," he says. "This is way different from the old world, where you're backing the starship out of star dock, and you say, 'You have to go to the certification lab for three months. It's like, no, there's an automated test sweep for that. Fan it out to 10,000 computers. I don't care. It runs in an hour."--Daniel