Playout & Transmission Global Viewpoint – June 2020

IP Moving Forward

A catalyst is often needed to move from the status quo as even the most advanced technology cannot progress alone. Is it possible that the lockdown we all now find ourselves in is responsible for the widescale adoption of IP in broadcasting?

Although IP is a well-defined protocol in its own right, it has two distinct workflow applications for broadcasters; studios and distribution. IP studio operations generally use uncompressed video and audio, whereas distribution and delivery require compression to make the most effective use of internet connectivity.

But they both have one common feature that makes them ideal for remote operations. That is, the ability to remotely operate and monitor the underlying systems and equipment. SDI infrastructures can be monitored too, but even these have tended towards IP connectivity for external access.

With its early adoption of datacenters and the proliferation of cloud computing, IT has had the opportunity to use remote IP monitoring for many years and to streamline its operation. The whole system has got incredibly advanced in recent years and servers even have “out of band” access to the outside world. A separate ethernet circuit board, such as HPE’s iLO (Integrated Lights Out), can connect to the internet and access critical components in the server, even if the server has crashed or has had a catastrophic component failure.

We have to be careful though when adopting external monitoring and control. The big elephant in the room I’m sensing many want to pretend doesn’t exist, and one we don’t want to face up to, is not only staring us in the eye but also standing on our foot. But I’m going to expose this elephant and call it Security!

IT administrators have more experience than we can shake a stick at in terms of security. It is often their first consideration and not only includes the hardware infrastructure but also how people will use and interact with the system, as we often find people are the weakest link in any secure system.

Firewalls and VPNs are the first obvious line of defense, but many other barriers are adopted to keep systems secure, that is, to keep the bad people out. But at the same time, we have to let those who need access have access, and to some extent the more difficult we make this then the better.

Remote broadcast operation is more than just distributing video and audio over ethernet lines and the internet. Instead, it’s a complete operational philosophy that should embrace infrastructure control and monitoring. One of the great benefits IP has given us is that we can take advantage of the many solutions already found in the wider IT community, none more so than security.

I believe that one of the benefits of the lockdown has been the speed with which many broadcasters have moved or will be moving to IP. But watch out for that elephant!