Services Global Viewpoint – June 2021

Containers, IP, And Broadcast Innovation

Virtualization forms the backbone of cloud computing, but what is the potential for containers and what impact will they have on broadcast innovation?

As broadcasters advance on their IP journey and public cloud processing continues to accelerate, technologies that were once restricted to IT and enterprise applications are quickly finding their way into broadcast television workflows. Although virtualization has been with us for some time, container technology is making a real impact.

Docker is one of many container platforms that are now available and was launched in 2013 as an open-source solution. It was designed to make containerization deployment easier for cloud or on-prem infrastructures boasting a multitude of tools to enhance and support the agile development methodologies.

Microservices and containers are closely linked. Although microservices are not tied to a specific software model or system, containers are one of the software environments that microservices use for their deployment.

Containers are a form of virtualization but one of their most interesting attributes is that they abstract away the operating system and not the hardware, unlike VMs (Virtual Machines). This often leads to improved flexibility and a much smaller resource footprint. Furthermore, containers not only include the application software, but also all the dependent libraries used to create it. They still use the host computers operating system but provide the specific libraries to improve portability and integration.

VMs on the other hand, include an entire operating system and kernel that sits on top of a virtualization application that provides the hardware input/output arbitration, amongst other functions. In a public cloud environment, when we have access to a server, we spin up a guest instance that interfaces with the host hardware via a hypervisor. This works well for large monolithic applications that require access to an entire host and operating system.

So why bother with microservices when VMs will do the job? The key to understanding this appreciating that a broadcaster must develop their own software workflows if they are to take advantage of the scalability and flexibility of IP and cloud systems. In doing so, they can now interact with multiple vendors who generally specialize in specific areas of video, audio, and metadata processing. Microservices certainly leverage agile methodologies but for me, their biggest asset is that they provide broadcasters with the freedom to mix and match vendor services.

If a broadcaster’s workflow is designed with cloud and microservices from the ground up, there are many opportunities to take advantage of the merits of different vendors. Although it may have been the intention of some vendors to tie-in a broadcaster to their technology as much as is humanly possible, this does not always work best for the broadcasters themselves. Do you think it’s possible for one vendor to supply all the processes and solutions for every broadcast workflow?

For me, the whole concept of microservices working within containers is a utopian ideal for any broadcaster developing their workflows in IP, cloud, and virtualized infrastructures. The pay-as-you-go model combined with the flexible interfacing methods that REST APIs deliver, is empowering broadcasters to vote with their feet and choose the applications that best meet their needs from any vendor they choose (and when).

For new vendors looking to break into the broadcast market, or repurpose their applications from other industries, the world is full of opportunities as the barrier to entry into the broadcast arena has never been lower. And for established vendors, using their immense knowledge and experience of broadcast workflows, providing microservices puts them right in the middle of this massively innovative explosion of creativity.