Advanced Hybrid KVM - Part 1

As users return to the studio and office the need to work remotely is more powerful now than ever. Hybrid is the new way of working and computing innovation is rising to the challenge to provide broadcast users with easy to use, and secure operations from their local PC/Workstation.

This article was first published as part of Essential Guide: Advanced Hybrid KVM - download the complete Essential Guide HERE.

Security is at the foremost thoughts of every broadcast professional. With high-value media prevalent in every broadcast facility and cyber criminals desperate to get their hands on the digital media, the need to keep data secure cannot be underestimated. Although the need to be secure whilst maintaining ease of use may seem like diametrically opposed concepts, a new form of KVM (Keyboard, Video, Mouse) is making its mark in computing which is extending to broadcast television.

As broadcasters progress on their IP journey, more and more processes are moving to COTS servers. From video encoding to editing and quality assurance, COTS infrastructures are dominating broadcast production workflows. The massive amount of research and development investment from non-broadcast industries such as finance and medical, are driving data throughput and processing power through the roof. Although we’ve been able to process real-time audio through servers for many years, the progress made in COTS technology, with the associated progress in networks, means real-time video processing is now a reality.

Software processing creates workflows that are much more flexible and scalable, with resource-on-demand being easily achievable. COTS servers facilitate software processing and are proving to be an integral component in broadcast workflow.

Traditionally, COTS servers operated from private datacenters, and this made operations relative straightforward as many of the devices were in the same physical area so were relatively easy to operate. Hardware KVM was often used for convenience allowing multiple servers to be operated from the same local computer.

Due to the complexity of how KVMs operated, they were often restricted to IT professionals, especially as secure VPNs (Virtual Private Network) were often used to maintain high levels of secure access. As hardware KVMs developed, it was possible to operate multiple servers from a workstation for non-IT specialists for applications such as editing, and library ingest. However, they were restricted to working within the same private network as hardware KVM encoders were required at the both the servers and local computer.

Public cloud computing is the next advance from private data centers. Although cloud computing delivers unprecedented flexibility and scalability, the locality of the physical server is often left unknown to the users. Generally, this isn’t an issue but when considering KVM, life becomes a little more challenging as hardware KVMs require encoders to be placed within the vicinity of the servers in the datacenter as well as the user’s computer. Adding a hardware encoder to a public datacenter is virtually impossible.

Software-KVM remote computing solves a very unique challenge, that is, multiple servers can be accessed from a single local PC/workstation. Furthermore, the remote servers do not need to be in the same datacenter, location, or even continent.

Security is further improved as VPNs, and video and audio encryption can be easily achieved using a flexible software solution. From the user’s perspective, each remote server appears as a separate window on their local PC/workstation which is fully encrypted during transit enabling the highest of secure methodologies to be adopted.

Hybrid computing using software-KVM remote desktop is further empowering non-technical users to operate complex broadcast operations. No longer do users need a deep understanding of VPNs and video encryption as all this is taken care of by the software-KVM to provide ease of use from the users local PC/workstation.

The need to seamlessly work remotely and from the studio is becoming evident as broadcasters emerge from lockdown. Advanced software KVMs delivering low latency and high-quality audio are showing that the perfect work-home environment may well be in our grasp.

With the benefit of hindsight, hybrid workflows seem like an obvious solution for many television professionals. Even after lockdown, many are realizing it’s not always necessary to work directly in the studios or control rooms, and the flexibility hybrid working is providing is unprecedented.

Workflows are improving in efficiency as processes are no longer stalled waiting for key people to provide their input and make the necessary decisions to continue the production. Having a hybrid solution allows directors, for example, to review edits from their home, or on the move, as opposed to travelling to the facilities premises to review the latest composition. Traditionally, an editor would have had to wait until the director could be in the same room as them to review a selection of edits, meaning they couldn’t progress with the production until they had the ok.

The transition to remote desktop operation for many of our working practices has enabled hybrid working. Editing, reviewing, and even grading is now possible due to the power of COTS servers and their associated networks as the contributions from other non-broadcast industries has seen massive research and development investment that has improved the data throughput and processing power.

Broadcasters have traditionally relied on custom hardware designs to process video and audio due to the signal bandwidths involved. However, the wave on innovation that has delivered low latency and high data throughput servers is benefiting broadcasters. Other industries, such as telecoms, finance, and medical have ploughed massive amounts of resource into their research and development to deliver readily available flexible hardware that is capable of processing video and audio in real-time, even for 4K.

The combination of COTS, software video and audio processing, and the internet has enabled a new generation of software KVM. Although KVM has been available for many years, software-KVM excels as it does not require custom hardware to convert the keyboard, video, and audio signals to IP for delivery over the internet. Instead, software running on the client device and host environment replaces traditional local PCs and workstations.

Improved Availability

A major benefit of software-KVM remote desktops is that it provides much greater flexibility, especially for cloud and datacenter operations where the provision of additional hardware may not be viable.

The users’ terminal computer, whether Mac, Windows PC, or Linux PC, tablet, zero client or thin client, connects to the internet and then directly to the remote desktop/workstation or virtual desktop if virtualized, in the office, data center or cloud. This means that wherever an internet connection is available, then the user’s computer can connect to the remote computer.

As the software-KVM operates directly on the terminal computer and remote servers, it’s not limited by any custom hardware. Therefore, proprietary video and audio compression can be more easily provisioned to meet the specific needs of the internet link it is connected to. Furthermore, systems can be updated as new software versions are made available.

Pixel video compression facilitates the transfer of high-quality images across the internet allowing for quality assurance monitoring as well as image grading.

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