Value of KVM in Broadcast-IP Infrastructures

KVM is more important now for broadcast-IP systems than it ever has been. As manufacturers turn to server based architectures private cloud installations have become more mainstream, requiring us to configure systems through traditional server control inputs, that is keyboard, video and mouse.

Vendor Specific Control

Servers are not as standardized as we would like them to be with Linux and Windows being two obvious differences, further separated into server and desktop versions, and servers may have several different versions of operating systems that work with some versions of remote desktop utilities but not others.

Controlling servers and the applications they run becomes vendor specific especially with different operating systems. Broadcast engineers can control and log into servers from their own PC, either on their desk or home through VPN’s if the network administrators allow. Examples of remote desktop control are Remote Desktop Connection for Windows, Remmina for Linux and CoRD for MAC.

Although they provide full video, keyboard and mouse control, they rely on the user having a deep understanding of the underlying infrastructure to know which software is running on which IP address and operating system.

Rip and Replace

Diagram showing how managed KVM can control diverse IT and Broadcast equipment.

Diagram showing how managed KVM can control diverse IT and Broadcast equipment.

To fully embrace virtualization we have to abstract software from the underlying hardware almost separating the two completely. Virtualization allows us to take advantage of concepts such as “rip and replace” where a virtual machine instance is deleted and a new server created should a corruption in the server occur removing the need to fault find at a hardware level. In virtualization we cluster servers together to form redundancy and resilience.

Tracking Hardware

Disk images of an entire server with its application software can be easily created and stored, deployed when a VM needs to be created providing an exact copy of the VM and increasing resource capacity as the dynamics of the business demands. However, in doing so we could well change the IP address causing later access problems, especially if an adequate domain name system (DNS) has not been utilized.

All this makes tracking hardware through IP and MAC addressing difficult and cumbersome, especially in times of high stress when a channel has gone off air. The new generation of KVM switches from companies such as Black Box not only provide keyboard video and mouse access for a single machine, but goes one stage further and abstracts the control away from the underlying hardware and operating systems.

Systems Integration

A managed KVM infrastructure can be configured so that particular inputs are mapped to specific services. For example, if a graphics program was running within a VM cluster the user would have to know which server and IP address it was running on to be able to access it. With managed KVM we access the service directly and follow the software as it moves between VM servers.

The true power of managed KVM is demonstrated when we look at integration of systems. Broadcast engineers are known for being cautious in their approach to change and with good reason, especially as studios and playout systems become linked as we integrate IP networks into broadcast workflows. 

Conflict

IT and broadcast systems continue to integrate but generally speaking they are going slowly and cautiously leaving legacy systems and new installs to work together. The full integration of an established studio may take many years to complete. During this time we have two different architectures with different control and configuration systems.

Virtualized clustered servers provide redundancy and resilience.

Virtualized clustered servers provide redundancy and resilience.

Rather than having an IT system of unified networks and well-defined servers we find ourselves confronted with having to control hardware on diverse and sometimes conflicting operating systems.

Managed KVM provides us with a standard interface to allow easy simultaneous control of legacy and new systems.

RDP

A graphics department may have state of the art Adobe software running on virtualized servers and a legacy slide-file system on a 386PC with a non POSIX version of UNIX. The legacy system is too old to work on modern operating systems, is too expensive and risky to re-write the software, and so the Chief Engineer took the decision to buy five hardware spares off eBay to get through the next few years.

RDP software probably wouldn’t even run on the 386PC and if it did it would be clunky and command line based. The one person who remembers how to modify the config UNIX file has long departed and we have to resort to SSH to try and login to the machine. Managed KVM successfully integrates and abstracts this level of control from the system administrator so they don’t have to be too concerned with where the application actually is in the system.

Security

As the number of servers we need to control increases the tendency to simplify usernames and passwords becomes more extreme to the point where “admin-1234” is in regular use, even in supposedly secure systems. Managed KVM provides a security manager to authenticate the user providing another level of security especially when system administrators and broadcast engineers login from home.

Integration of legacy and new systems will be with us for many years in the broadcast industry as we move to IP workflows. Managed KVM eases this transition and provides legacy standard interfaces for control.

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