Hardware Infrastructure Global Viewpoint – February 2021

IP Agile Mindsets

Agile development and DevOps are relatively new concepts for broadcasters. But when I interviewed Paul Markham, from Discovery, in Part 1 of Transitioning to Broadcast IP Infrastructures, it became clear that these disciplines have implications that stretch far beyond software development.

Although broadcasters have used software for many years its application has tended to restrict itself to control systems. It’s only in the past few years that we’ve seen real-time processing of video and audio in COTS environments. This is partly driven by the adoption of ST-2110, NDI and other specialist transport stream protocols, but has also been accelerated by the massive advances we’ve seen in COTS processing speeds and reduced latencies.

Broadcast infrastructures have been traditionally built on hardware systems. This in part was due to the high processing speeds and low latencies required for real-time productions. Consequently, innovation was relatively slow as the simplest hardware solution could take many months to complete and the most advance would require years of development to be ready to use.

These development times have been obliterated by software solutions as the hardware layer they are built on is already proven and known to work. But equally important is the software developers’ attitude to delivery as they’ve mostly shunned the waterfall method of project management in favor of Agile delivery.

Agile development is all about delivering the minimum set of functions quickly so that users and key stakeholders can evaluate the product during its development life cycle, as opposed to evaluation at the end, potentially many years ahead, as with the waterfall method. This is a massive change of mindset as the methodology both optimizes communication between the development team and the stakeholders and greatly improves the probability of the development team delivering the product being asked for.

This might sound like a statement of the obvious but product managers the world over will tell you the challenges they have in communicating their needs to the development team, and developers will tell you the challenges they have in trying to understand our seemingly esoteric working practices.

MVPs (Minimum Viable Products) can be delivered quickly and through methodologies such as Kanban the development team can deliver new features every few weeks. This is great news for the stakeholders as they get to evaluate the features quickly so any misunderstandings can be rectified. Furthermore, allowing users to test the application every few weeks allows them to identify any important feature requests they may have missed.

As I interviewed Paul, it became clear that Agile was not only limited to software but could also be used with hardware installations. This is especially true as the great power of IP networks lies in their flexibility and scalability, and using Agile methodologies greatly enhances these tremendous attributes.

This further leads to the concept of DevOps where the demarcation between hardware and software becomes so blurred, the IT industry has invented a whole new role to describe it. DevOps is again a massive change in mindset and greatly encourages the adoption and flexing of dynamic infrastructures and networks.

Broadcasting is going through unprecedented change and to truly leverage the adoption of IP, cloud and SaaS, we must adopt the Agile and DevOps methodologies. The IP and COTS technology is now available to achieve full flexibility, scalability and resilience, and we should do everything possible to exploit their potential.