Transitioning to Broadcast IP Infrastructures; Part 2 - Practical Topologies and Systems

March 2nd 2021 - 09:30 AM
Tony Orme, Editor at The Broadcast Bridge

Our first Essential Insights is a set of three video episodes in which we discuss transitioning to IP with industry experts. We explore the fundamental challenges during the planning stage. The decisions that need to be made, and the long-term thinking needed to maintain flexibility, scalability and resilience.

In this series I speak to senior industry figures who’ve had the opportunity to either build IP networks or who are in the planning stages of major infrastructure projects.

We interviewed three guests and contributions from each of them feature in all three 30 min episodes:

Geir Bordalen, Head of Technology Portfolio at the Norwegian Broadcast Corporation - is in the early planning stages of building a green-field IP broadcast facility.

Paul Markham, Global Technology and Operations Director, and Media Infrastructure Architect for Discovery - discusses broadcast infrastructures from the software perspective.

Dave Schwarz, Managing Engineer for Diversified - has more IP infrastructures under his belt than any of us would care to imagine. Dave discusses the hardware infrastructure and what it means to build IP. 

Part 1: Initial Planning & Scoping (CLICK HERE TO WATCH) - looks at the initial planning stages for a major infrastructure project, software development and mindset changes, and specifying switchers for IP.

Part 2: Practical Topologies and Systems (CLICK HERE TO WATCH) - discusses the practical aspects of building IP infrastructures, the architecture topologies considered during planning, the philosophy & benefits of Agile Development, and making IP systems flexible, scalable and resilient.

Part 3: Delivering Operational Reliability (CLICK HERE TO WATCH) - explains how IP systems work in practice, the operational aspects, the people needed to make them work and the skill set training required.

About Part 2 - Practical Topologies & Systems

Making the decision to move to IP opens the door to many other questions, the principle one being, what type of topology to use. Making systems as scalable as possible is key but maintaining flexibility is needed to truly leverage IP.

One of IPs greatest strengths is that all of the infrastructure decisions do not to be made at the beginning of the design. In fact, much of the network can evolve throughout the lifetime of the broadcast facility. This is particularly helpful as technology is evolving at a massive rate, not just in broadcasting, but in IT too, so we can take advantage of new designs as they become available.

It’s incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to predict broadcast trends for the next five to ten years. As an example, lockdown has provided all kinds of working practices that few would have ever predicted, but the flexibility and scalability IP offers allow us to respond to these changing challenges quickly.

Understanding IP is not just about the technology but also embraces our thinking and mindset. We provision the minimum system required to do the job without trying to build in all the what-ifs and predict future trends. There’s really no point in over specifying an ethernet switch that will keep us going for ten years as the underlying technology will have changed out of all recognition in this time. Instead, we should design for scalability so systems can be improved as we need them with the latest available technology.

Another great technological advance that influences our mindset is that of Microservices. These allow us to move away from the monolithic and cumbersome single application software that has been with us for many years. Instead, we focus on providing smaller manageable code structures that are much easier to maintain and develop.

More focus is placed on the API and data exchange protocols between the various microservices software applications, and this further reduces testing time as software units can be measured in isolation leading to improved reliability and flexibility.

Software is playing a much greater role in IP and how we think about broadcast facilities. This isn’t just about creating real-time media processing applications but also covers infrastructure design and roll out. We now have the ability to spin up and spin down virtualized servers, but we also can apply these software techniques to network infrastructures to improve scalability, flexibility and resilience.

Agile development has been well established in website design for some time and is now starting to find its way into broadcasting. Again, this is as much about developing a change in mindset as it is about programming computers and building infrastructures.

Delivering features quickly so that they can be evaluated and tested by users is key to the concept of agile. It’s much more than a programming and software method, instead, it encapsulates the whole business culture, especially for project management.

Scope creep is one of the most dangerous aspects of product development and is responsible for projects overrunning and blowing budgets, agile development not only alleviates scope creep but nips it in the bud before it starts. Furthermore, it helps to make sure that developers build the products users and product managers have requested.

Monolith and leaf-spine topologies are two of the architectures used in IT installations, but there’s more to this than just deciding on an architecture. We must look at blocking and non-blocking, signal management, and bandwidth allocation to gain the flexibility and efficiencies we need. Although broadcasters are accustomed to working with signal management and bandwidth allocation, the world is completely different when we start to consider asynchronous packet switched systems.

IP, software and agile are giving us the opportunity to rethink how we design broadcast infrastructures, operate and maintain them, and future proof them.

Installations containing ST2022-6, ST2110 and NDI are growing in their popularity. The great news is that there are many experienced engineers, project planners and system implementers who have much experience with planning, designing and making IP systems operate reliably.

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