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Whether It’s Called IP Or IT, Media Networks Are Different

Is IT, the acronym for Information Technology, still meaningful when it comes to operating media networks?

What is IP? Just a different spelling for IT? I have a different perspective. I suggest we use the terminology; ET, IT or OT. They are defined as; Enterprise Technology (ET), Industrial Technology (the other IT) and Operational Technology (OT). But, are all these really information technologies? Is all data considered information?

The term IP originated as Internet Protocol partnered with TCP or Transmission Communication Protocol (TCP/IP). Now it is essentially used as the acronym to define Packet Based Switching and Transport, but is that still true? Yes, there remains the old standard IT, but I suggest it may not be the best way to define media networks.

A real world example

This all came to me when I was at a hard core techie gathering and we were discussing cybersecurity and threat protection. The conversation centered around how different systems behave if security is installed and how those security tools could interfere with certain operations thereby compromising performance.

Then the topic of industrial technology popped up and we started talking about how dedicated systems, and even networked attached devices, are sensitive to the running of other services. Those services can interfere with their primary purpose, which typically is to accomplish a specific operational task.

Consider robotic systems. The light bulb went off in my head thinking about the challenges with computer-based systems used for things other than email and word processing.

Introducing a new lexicon

IT or Information Technology was the new world order as computers moved into business environments. Sharing information over communication links needed its own label and Information Technology, or IT was selected. Ask yourself, is 4K as a packet stream really IT, how about Skype? Maybe we need different, and more accurate descriptions. I propose these.

  • ET - Enterprise Technology – network, storage, applications servers integrated to support all business services and communications. Desktops, internet access, interconnecting multiple business sites, remote access, printing, document storage and business protection.
  • OT - Operational technology – Broadcast and production, communications, command control systems security systems, research, scientific, IoT (Internet of Things).
  • IT - Industrial Technology – Transportation, Manufacturing, Exploration aka mining.
  • IP – the media industry’s abbreviation for all packet switched transport of audio, video, communications, file transfer, command and control; and management.

It’s time we differentiate between services and service requirements across the spectrum of network topology. We care deeply about LAN, WAN, WLAN, BLAN and MetroLAN, and there may be more. They all involve packet-based networking. But that’s not where I am going with this proposal.

Media networks are different

We continually bemoan that the enterprise IT people don’t get the media thing. Did you know that car manufacturers don’t allow their enterprise IT database administrators to work on the servers that run the factories’ robotic systems? The car makers rely on a separate engineering and maintenance team that manage the production and manufacturing network. Just because a system runs from a tablet or a touch screen doesn’t mean it can be treated the same as a gaming console or word processor.

I am making the claim that media should be considered Operational Technology. It is time to better understand and define storage and performance requirements for servers, networks and applications and then document those guidelines.

Media systems cannot and should not be treated the same as enterprise systems. It’s time we started doing a better job defining what works, what doesn’t work and what has to work.  Here's a real world example of the problem.

I am working on a project where the IT person is more security conscious than making sure the system works. He has the networks so locked down they struggle to work. He password protected a system that when the vendor was on site couldn’t access it. The vendor’s engineer said he had never seen that before. The network has monitoring agents loaded everywhere, except when a system fails due to reaching a performance threshold. In this case, nobody knew about the failure until the operator said it affected on air programming.

The IT administrator remotes in using Remote Desktop Procedure (RDP), but when he does, it forces the operators off the system. When the admin logs out, the systems do not restore to operation without an operator logging back in. Such seemingly minor glitches are disruptive for on air operations.

While troubleshooting we experienced a network issue were everything appeared good except there was no communication between servers and applications. When I suggested a broadcast storm driven by some application was overburdening the network. The admin responded “No way.”

As it turned out, the network scanning module of the threat protection feature had started all air servers. As each device requested time from the network, the NTP time server responded. Unfortunately, the threat protection feature blocked the time from getting through. In summary:

  1. The systems need to maintain accurate time.
  2. The devices continued to request time
  3. The server sent it back
  4. Protection prevented it from getting there.

Was it network congestion or overload or broadcast storm? It does not matter what you call it, the outcome was the same. The media network stopped operating.

Once the scanning was disabled on each device the system restored to normal operations. 

I propose as a critical part of the IP conversation, that the vendors, engineering groups and anyone brave enough to start a Task Force, establish and then publish the facility’s network optimization parameters. Document them and ensure that they are followed.

Worrying about what transport protocol to use is more important than having to worry that the transport environment properly optimized for the desired task. Assuming that anyone with a CCNE (Cisco Certified Network Engineer) certificate is sufficiently qualified to operate a media network is incorrect. It takes a qualified media network person to experiment and then distribute the default settings that will support media.

I also believe more effort needs to be put into understanding the operating system configurations and compatibility of services like remote access, device drivers and threat protection. While they are inherently necessary in any computer-centric environment, such required features must not hobble on-air or production networks.

Coming soon – Cyber security in the media IP world

More on test and measurement

Stay tuned

Editor’s Note: Gary Olson has a book on IP technology, “Planning and Designing the IP Broadcast Facility – A New Puzzle to Solve”, which is available at bookstores and online.

Editor’s Note: Gary Olson has a book on IP technology, “Planning and Designing the IP Broadcast Facility – A New Puzzle to Solve”, which is available at bookstores and online.

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