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The Challenges Of IP Implementation

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The move from traditional baseband SDI towards IP infrastructures using IT and cloud-based platforms presents incredible operational and commercial benefits, but the transitional process is undoubtedly more complex than the switch from SD to HD. The very nature by which content and data is transported over IP is fundamentally different – whereby broadcast-specific systems are replaced with commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) platforms.

Until recently, the IP revolution has been confined to islands within a facility and tasks that naturally lend themselves readily to the transition. Now, the technology allows the use of the basic three elements: storage, computing (servers) and networking, supporting software solutions that can run in a private or public cloud.

For broadcasters, this offers huge opportunities in the longer term. The old toolbox of stand-alone hardware is gone and replaced by a richer and more extensive software toolkit which increases flexibility and workflow efficiencies whist reducing operational costs and generating new revenue streams – as long as the implementation is managed properly. This is why hiring an experienced and imaginative systems integrator should be top of the priority list for any media organisation considering this journey.

IP is happening
We at Megahertz recently facilitated a landmark migration to IP of a South East Asian pay-TV service provider by designing and implementing a media head-end at the organization's new state-of-the-art hub, moving across its 280 channels whilst maintaining 24/7 operations – including the relocation of its MAM, traffic scheduling and playout systems.

The customer required a UHD-capable headend that would allow its operators to manage both its traditional SDI video and new IP systems on a single platform so, in place of potentially two separate SDI and IP systems, Megahertz was able to utilize a single MCR platform built from an upgradable technology (to support future UHD channels and IP-enabled pay-TV services) in line with the future demands of the service provider's subscribers.

But, taking the first steps into this new environment isn't easy and there is much to consider.

Addressing IP trepidation
If you take a network path – perhaps a single network cable, for example – it can now carry tens or even hundreds of compressed video signals, but how do you calculate when it has reached capacity, and what drives that? And other questions; where to use multicast or unicast? How to dynamically route and switch? When signals are put on a network, how do you know where they are going? How is a fault/problem tracked? In the old world, one cable equals one service; in the new, it is not that straightforward.

Monitoring is always of paramount importance. In the new IP environment, tracking the signal path requires more in depth and dynamic monitoring to keep up with the redundancy built into the network and systems. Software that runs on virtual machines, to specifically identify the hardware culprit that failed, could take vital seconds; so, a mix of open source and proprietary tools need to be presented in a simple, readable form, preferably on one display.

In the facility hub referenced above, Megahertz deployed a clever bespoke facility monitoring system that correlates information from multiple signals and systems and uses sophisticated alarm management to ensure that the hub's operators can focus on the big jobs and not on the intricacies that underpin them, including whether a channel is SDI or IP.

Those embarking on a transition to IP should also be aware that existing broadcast solutions may not communicate well with new IT-based control systems and conversely there are IT systems that have no concept of broadcasting – so your systems integrator should be well-schooled on the possibilities that are presented in a hybrid SDI/IP infrastructure.

Then there are concerns surrounding security. Any network needs to be protected, but balancing that with the demands of live production, for example, and the ability to deliver immediate responses during mission critical operations, requires careful planning and design.

Draw on the IP experience of others
Considering all of the above, preparing your organisation to operate in this new environment can be a daunting task, so to avoid the pitfalls, take advantage of the knowledge gained by the early adopters and their technology partners. Don't go it alone. Finding the expertise can be a challenge, however the systems integrators that have been involved with the transition from traditional broadcast to an all-IP world are ideally placed to help. Just as they have supplied support through technology evolutions in broadcasting before, they can provide the foundation of a successful transition into a public or private cloud and help you optimize the use of IP and IT building blocks for your business.

This article also features in the December edition of Broadcast Film & Video.

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