Evertz’s Magarelli Discusses IP and Standards

Just before the NAB Show 2016, The Broadcast Bridge spoke with Romolo Magarelli, president and CEO of Evertz Microsystems. With IP technology gaining traction in the broadcast sector, the conversation focused on IP, what it means for Evertz and what it means for users. Days after the interview Evertz announced that they were joining AIMS to support the efforts for harmonized standards

The Evertz EXE-VSR IP switch fabric has 46Tb/s bandwidth, equivalent to 13,800 uncompressed HD-SDI signals

The Evertz EXE-VSR IP switch fabric has 46Tb/s bandwidth, equivalent to 13,800 uncompressed HD-SDI signals

Q. IP seems to be a hot topic, what are the business benefits to a broadcaster?

Magarelli opened “First, IP enables future proofing the facility for new formats With SDI, Broadcasters have been through upgrades to support first 270Mb/s SDI, through 1.5Gb/s to 3Gb/s. With the recent additions of UHD formats (4K and 8K resolutions), broadcasters are handling more formats, higher bandwidths and additional compressed streams. “IP is format agnostic,” continued Magarelli, “additional benefits of IP are scalability and increased bandwidth capacity.”

As an example, Evertz released the EXE-VSR non-blocking IP switch fabric a few years ago. The EXE can replace the core SDI router at the heart of a facility with an IP switch. The EXE has 46 TB/s of switching capacity in the same footprint as an 8K by 8K SDI router. With 2,304 10GbE ports, and using SMPTE-2022-6 format, the EXE switch supports up to 13,800 uncompressed HD-SDI signals. Using compression (J2K, H.264, or MPEG-2) the number of video streams can reach the millions. “The issue of expansion goes away, so scalability is key,” said Magarelli.

“Lastly IP enables agility for the broadcasters. Our customers can take advantage of the advances in IP technology. With the transition to elastic and virtualized architectures customers don’t have to think about owning all the hardware. If they want to expand they can try some of the elastic computing in the cloud.” They can move from the fixed environment of BNCs and hardware to software-defined network technology.

Q. Why build an IP router when companies like Cisco are entrenched?

Magarelli cited the example of Arista “they laser-focused on the financial markets for high frequency trading; they put in features for that market. That’s what we have done for broadcast. We have the features they want like redundancy and hot-swapping . It’s standard IP, but we stripped it right down to what’s needed by our market.”

In the IP world applications can be run on commodity IT platforms in a virtualized environment. Broadcasters have the choice of elastic resources that can be spun up on demand or fixed on-premise hardware. “That’s where control systems are important to orchestrate and manage all of that,” said Magarelli.

“When broadcasters want to start up new channels they have to build new facilities, have long planning sessions, check they have the capacity. What would be nice is to just trial new services. They need to be able to spin resources up and down, to quickly try new things. The new ideas can succeed fast or fail fast. If things go well with a new venture then they can move to an architecture that gives them redundancy and service levels they need for the business. Right now, there is only one way of doing things and it’s expensive.”

Q. Evertz makes SDI glue, is IP going to obsolete that?

“Everyone thinks of us as a hardware company but we have been focused on software development for the last eight years. Some of the glue will go, but it’s only a small proportion of what we sell. We are not wedded to one approach. We are not just hardware focused or software focused; we take a hybrid approach. It’s about the blend that provides the tools for our customers to succeed.

As an example Magarelli cited their playout line. “We have a cloud playout product, Mediator in the cloud. We have a compelling cloud story for playout facilities. I see a hybrid with customer having an on-premise system for their high-revenue channels and lower revenue channels in the cloud."

Cost-effective off-ramps and on-ramps are very important.

Q. Is IP for new builds, or can it cost-effectively exist alongside an SDI system?

“That’s where cost-effective off-ramps and on-ramps are very important. I can see it starting in islands.”

Interestingly, file-based production started in islands—editing, playout—linked by SDI or videotape, so a precedence there.

“We have over 1000 core routers around the world (EQX enterprise video router), controlled by MAGNUM control software which is also our SDN controller. It allows us to control a hybrid system with all-IP islands.”

“As vendors add 10 GbE connections to their products, gateways won’t be necessary on these islands,” continued Magarelli, “we are on our 3rd generation of products and the costs are coming down rapidly.”

Q. Do ASPEN and AIMS compete or complement?

“I see AIMS as a marketing group for some standards. The two vetted standards are SMPTE 2022-6 and AES67.” said Magarelli, “and I see AIMS marketing TR03. A better question is ‘“Does ASPEN compete with or complement TR03, as they are both encapsulation formats?’”

“I think VSF is doing a great job with TR03, and we have been involved with the development over the years. The problem is that the technology and the customer requirements are advancing quicker than the groups can produce vetted standards. The reality is we shipped systems before any of the standards groups were remotely ready. We shipped IP solutions over three years ago, whereas TR03 is started in earnest only a year old.”

Magarelli explained how the ASPEN community had to happen, and it is now 40 members strong. ASPEN has a published document with the SMPTE: RDD-37.

“We are involved with all the VSF interops. We have supplied SMPTE/VSF with an ASPEN to TR03 harmonization profile. It’s a really simple bridge between ASPEN and TR03. Perhaps we will end up with one standard,” he said hopefully.

“When customers need to go, they cannot wait for standards groups to make things work.”

To reinforce the point, at the NAB Show 2016 Evertz showed multiple demos of the ASPEN to TR03 harmonization profile.

Many people have been siding with AIMS or ASPEN but Magarelli takes the view that “contrary to all the banter, there really is no war between ASPEN and AIMS. I’m indifferent; I want to deliver solutions that allow our customers to compete, whether it’s ASPEN, TR03, NMI—whatever it takes. We are not wedded to any particular approach. I think it makes sense to see if we can pull this together.” Just prior to the NAB Show 2016 Evertz joined AIMS.

Of course IP is not new. Playout centers have used an IP infrastructure for non-real time transfer of files around facilities for a decade or more. What is driving the latest initiative is live streaming of video, once the domain of SDI.

Magarelli continued, “We started pushing towards IP about five years ago. People said to me ‘You’re building your own fabric? You’re crazy.’ Either we had some good insight or we were lucky. We spent a lot on R&D in that area and we have helped the industry forward.”

In summary, Magarelli sees IP allowing broadcasters to deploy faster, try new things quicker, and possibly fail fast, all without spending masses of capital.

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