IP, Virtualization and the Cloud - Transforming Broadcast Futures
The broadcast, media and entertainment industry is changing rapidly - driven by viewer demand, trends and improvements in systems and equipment, and the increased focus on monetizing content. Olivier Suard, the marketing director at Nevion, identifies the convergence of IT and broadcast as another force changing the relationship between media producers and media consumers.
The move to IP, one of the current trends in content distribution, involves using a standardized infrastructure and connectivity to transport video throughout the broadcast workflow, from source and studio, to viewers and across facilities. Distributors are familiar with the benefits of flexibility, scalability and cost-effectiveness but, in fact, IP is one among a number of developments with the potential to transform broadcast and media infrastructure. According to Olivier, that transformation is the real goal, alongside virtualized live production and the impact it will have on transforming workflows.
Virtualization for Broadcasters
Virtualization in the broadcast context refers to the use of software to provide functionality that appears to come from a dedicated device. In a general sense, virtualization is the creation of something, such as a computer or platform, in a virtual instead of physical sense. It involves
Oliver said, “Although the term has been used across the IT industry for decades, for broadcast, virtualization can mean one of two things — having equipment that can perform multiple, often varied functions, what Nevion calls media function virtualization, and enabling equipment to be shared more easily, for example between studios or locations, which Nevion calls infrastructure virtualization.”
Media function virtualization means that the functionality required, such as media transport and processing, is performed by software rather than hardware. Initially, this software will be running on specialized platforms, but in time ‘media function virtualization’ will involve software applications running on generic IT hardware platforms, essentially high-powered computers. Oliver’s key point, however, is that the same hardware can run different functionality, and that functionality can be modified on demand and remotely with the help of a virtualization orchestrator.
“Media function virtualization can potentially bring savings as well, through reduced hardware replacements, lower space usage, and lower-cost, maintenance and management,” he noted.
Infrastructure virtualization is a way to enable equipment to be shared more easily for live and file-based production, for example between studios or locations.Of course, equipment sharing is a concept that exists already to some extent in the baseband world. For example, it is possible to route workflows through a piece of signal processing equipment that is shared. “However, infrastructure virtualization takes this a step further by detaching the physical equipment from the production workflow and automating the process to a large degree. Employing IP infrastructure makes this easier,” said Olivier.
“Infrastructure virtualization is achieved by using a software management layer, or virtualization orchestrator, to elevate workflows to a level that does not require users to have any understanding of the underlying connectivity of the network and equipment. The orchestrator is intelligent enough to change the network based on information provided by the network itself, so the network topology is software defined. In effect, virtualization results in a better overview of accessible resources across the infrastructure, as well as easier access to the resources in the network, without relying on a physical setup.”
Live from the Cloud
In time, Olivier sees virtualization extending further as live production using the cloud begins to significantly change the way broadcasters work, though he realises that many in the industry still find it inconceivable that cloud systems could be applicable to live production.
“Traditional views are that equipment should be owned by the broadcaster, just as it always has been, and situated on the site where it is needed, like a campus. However, the advent of cloud and virtualization means these assumptions are no longer necessarily true,” he said.
“The broadcaster’s pooled signal processing and transport equipment – that is, embedders, encoders and multiplexers - could be owned and managed by a service provider. This is particularly conceivable as functionality moves to software running on generic hardware - pooled equipment would become computers, and service providers are already experts in running datacenters.
If the processing and transport equipment can be pooled and properly managed by a service provider, reasons for keeping it on-site become less compelling. After all, the service provider could meanwhile share some of that functionality with other locations the broadcaster operates from, or even those of other broadcasters, effectively making the cost of use much lower.
The fact that modern, dedicated networks can achieve comparatively low latencies over considerable distances, also makes it more possible to locate a live-signal processing datacentre quite far away from a broadcaster’s facilities.
One of the best known aspects of the cloud is that broadcasters may be able to swap capital expenditure in equipment with operational expenditure in pay-per-use processing services. As well as the flexibility this offers them, it also allows them to line up costs with the expected revenue from content creation.
Furthermore, this concept can also give broadcasters a chance to offer their equipment as a service to other broadcasters. In this scenario, broadcasters would be service providers, and transform their equipment from costs to revenue. nevion.com