COTS Makes Virtualized Video Practical

Consumer off the shelf technology (COTS) is providing broadcast TV facilities an economical foundation for technical growth in all directions.

The Broadcast Bridge recently had the opportunity to question Imagine Communications CTO of Networking, Kerry Wheeles, about the technical future of broadcasting from his perspective. Imagine Communications is an AIMS Alliance founding member.

Q: How are AIMS Alliance members progressing on its stated goal, which is to dramatically cut the costs and time needed to adopt new technologies?

We’re doing great. In fact, the first step to achieving any of the goals is to actually get marketplace adoption. With what we’ve been able to do, almost 60 broadcasters, networks, systems integrators and vendors are now on board and all adopting the same roadmap.

Kerry Wheeles, CTO of Networking, Imagine Communications.

Kerry Wheeles, CTO of Networking, Imagine Communications.

A year ago we had a number of disparate approaches. Over the past year, the whole market has coalesced around the same program. That was the first step. Everybody needs to be using the same roadmap and we have achieved that in less than 12 months.

Q: What about the goal of being able to dynamically move content to new areas of consumption with minimal risk and exposure?

Customers are now consuming content in many different ways: on phones, tablets, laptops and on TV’s using a combination of OTT services and traditional linear broadcast methods. Many of these services are still provided via “appliance or black box” type products. Newer solutions rely on virtualization and can be run on COTS-based computer, storage and network infrastructures or even in a public cloud. For instance, virtualizing these services enables Imagine Communication customers to spin up new services dynamically as needed with less risk and with lower CAPEX investment.


Q: There has been much conversation about competitive standards. Is the industry actually coalescing around common standards?

Actually it has worked out very well for us because Imagine has been involved with the standards bodies and AIMS from the beginning.

SMPTE, EBU, VSF, and the Advanced Media Workflow Association (AMWA) all provided elements that resolve basic issues inherent in using IP technology in broadcast and production operations. SMPTE established the SMPTE 2022-6 and SMPTE 2059 specifications over the past few years, and is incorporating the standards across the board in the draft of SMPTE 2110.

The Video Service Forum (VSF) defined the technical recommendations for VSF TR-03 and TR-04. The Advanced Media Workflow Association (AMWA) defined a uniformed method for Discovery & Registration of devices on a network with Networked Media Open Specifications (NMOS) IS-04.

AIMS has included each of these specifications and technical recommendations into its roadmap and now SMPTE is working on 2110 (currently in draft), which will consolidate all of these into a single standard.

Imagine Communications has been incorporating these standards into our portfolio across the board over the last several years. In most cases updating to the final SMPTE 2110 standard (if required at all) will entail nothing more than a simple software or firmware upgrade.

The big picture

We realize that facilities are trying to move to IP from two different perspectives. One is a facility or system that is largely SDI-based and needs to start incorporating IP and virtualized services without changing the complete workflow or retraining operators. Adopting a seamless migration, if you will. This type of system requires conversion gateways to interface to/from SDI--IP systems and a Software Defined Network (SDN) to isolate the control and management of the system from the underlying signal transport or hardware layer.

The second type of system is a greenfield installation where systems can be designed from scratch in new and innovative ways. Many of the services for these types of systems can be virtualized and run on COTS-based infrastructure or even in a public cloud (or a combination of the two). Regardless of the type of approach, there will be the need to support legacy SDI devices. This means gateways to interface to and from an SDN to provide consistent operator interfaces.

Q: What IP technologies and specific models are selling best today and why?

Products based on SMPTE 2022-6 are on the air today because a large number of solutions are available from multiple vendors.

Q: What are customers asking about and budgeting for next year?

It depends on the customer. Are they adding on or building new? Is it for live origination or programmed playout? This year just about every solution will be virtualized with IP interfaces across the Imagine portfolio. TR 03 and SMPTE 2110 are hot topics.

Q: What are the financial advantages of moving to High-Gig IP?

There’s not a cost savings upfront. It’s about flexibility, addressing new revenue opportunities, and supporting the diversity and flexibility that a move to IP brings. It’s easier to build out a small data center all running on a COTS-based hardware infrastructure than it is to use multiple application-specific appliances. A virtualized platform is is also easier to maintain.

Also, IP is more robust system than SDI. The best SDI systems may be 1/3 to 1/2 redundant. Nearly all broadcast IP systems are fully redundant. They support 2022-7 Seamless Protection Switching with hitless merge resulting in end-to-end redundancy.

Q: What new IP product or technology might we expect to see debut at NAB '17?

I expect we will start to see solutions with support for uncompressed UHD. UHD has already been one of the biggest instigators in the move to IP. Look for COTS routers supporting 25, 40, 50 and 100 Gb/s or faster rates. Such routers will economically support TV’s increasing IP bandwidth and growing sizes of production content files.

Q: Where do you think internet is headed?

It is headed the right direction, with most software services now virtualized and designed to run in the private or public cloud either as an appliance or software license. Customers don’t have to change their workflow. The robustness and redundancies you can get now, and some of the guarantees you can get from companies like Microsoft Azure, Amazon and others are making that more practical.

Q: What could happen to a IP infrastructure during a DoS attack?

I think it is going to happen exactly the same as it does today. Business and enterprise software applications are still exposed, that’s not going to change. Content and distribution networks must be be properly designed. Solutions may require isolated systems or networks protected with VPNs and ACL lists. It’s a cost and design exercise. A well-designed network can buffer attack hacks.

Nothing has changed recently and designs to isolate capabilities are well documented. If you think broadcast is critical, consider that financial markets have been dealing with potential hackers for years. This is not a matter of designing new methods, it’s a matter of taking advantage of the tools that have already been created. The EBU recently published a security recommendation and checklist. A pdf of the document , EBU R143, can be downloaded at the link.

Q: What will be the impact of ATSC 3.0 on the IP video future?

It's simple, the combination represents a great marriage.

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