Anybody who has attended one of the major Media / Broadcast trade shows over the last 6 – 12 months would know that most of the large solution vendors are now building solutions designed to take your media workflow into an “All-IP” future state – away from the past infrastructure built on dedicated hardware like video / audio routers and industry-specific cabling such as SDI with embedded audio. The vendors are working hard to adopt standards from SMPTE, VSF and other bodies and to prove system interoperability. The task of replacing the reliable and rugged (but inflexible and single-purpose) SDI backbone in your facility with a robust and interoperable All-IP fabric has been accepted by AIMS – the Alliance for IP Media Solutions. This is an industry-lead collaboration of some of the largest M&E vendors, including:
- Grass Valley (Belden)
- Imagine Communications
- Snell Advanced Media
But more than just replacing your SDI cable and video router with Cat-6 and a network router, this multi-vendor industry alliance is also focused on fully-virtualised software-defined media solutions. What this means is that solution vendors are now re-engineering their applications to “behave nicely” in the virtualised and containerised environment that is commonly adopted in Enterprise IT and Cloud-Scale operations today. This is different to the bespoke engineering of the past that assumed full control over some “bare metal” hardware. Whilst this may be seen as introducing some performance constraints due to the overheads of virtualisation, it actually results in a more robust solution that can leverage the enormous resources of IT scale available today, and has improved features of monitoring & control with graceful failure and rapid service replacement.
The major solution vendors are also starting to re-engineer their commercial business models, because in this new era of well-built & supported converged infrastructure there is no value in having broadcast equipment vendors build generic IT components such as servers, storage and networking. The refresh cycle is only so fast and the investment funds available are only so large as the potential revenue and ROI to that one vendor. As all of these systems are closely tied to Moore’s Law, it makes more sense to procure the underlying infrastructure from IT vendors with the best-of-breed products and support to ensure that all of the “plumbing” in your facility is leveraging the latest advances and efficiencies that the IT industry (with all of its massive R&D investment) can deliver.
In the Enterprise IT industry, vendors like EMC bring to market new solutions every year such as all-Flash storage systems, software defined networking and hyper-converged, virtualised hybrid-cloud solutions. And they can only be successful in the market if they deliver reliable, well-supported and competitively-priced infrastructure solutions. But there are so many IT technology buzzwords it can be a bit disconcerting to sort through and determine what is real, proven and safe to be adopted into a conservative technology environment such as broadcast television with mission-critical services that must be highly reliable and intolerant to even minor glitches.
The good news is that apart from leveraging Workstations and Storage – which have been well-adopted IT categories with proven reliability for many years – we are now seeing real deployments of multi-channel broadcast chains entirely in software running on Converged Infrastructure with a hypervisor such as VMware. During the recent NAB 2016 show, EMC demonstrated an example of this infrastructure which has already been adopted by major broadcasters for these applications – in partnership with Imagine Communications. The Vblock is a pre-built engineered solution for best-of-breed IT infrastructure. You can use it to deploy fairly constant services such as channel playout, but it really shines when you need to spin up new services (such as a new channel, or additional MAM processes) with very short notice.
This helps the media industry which has traditionally been based on quite static service offerings with long lead times to be able to react quickly to changing market conditions and new competition for entertainment. One of the promises of “cloud” and “software-defined” storage is agility, and we certainly had no trouble proving that by using the core infrastructure shown in this picture (combining Isilon storage with a VCE Vblock) to power ALL of the demonstrations on the EMC stand during NAB – including multi-channel playout, real-time bit-perfect native 4K editing, VOD & Network PVR OTT content delivery, collaborative editing and real-time file system insights. Using the power of virtualisation, we could spin up and spin down services on demand.
As a new core technology, CI (converged infrastructure) – and the even more homogenous solution known as hyper-converged infrastructure (where components like SAN storage and network routing are fully integrated into the server software fabric) – will form the future foundation of the media industry. During the next 1-2 years, we will witness many more CI solutions being adopted for real-world media applications. This will start with the cloud-scale entertainment companies (it is already well-adopted by the internet giants Google / Apple / Microsoft), then move into the realm of service providers, Telcos and big VFX shops, but will soon be adopted by most major media companies operating in Australia & New Zealand. The media solution vendors will be helping by delivering real-world applications specific to our industry, and proving reliability and interoperability across competitive boundaries through industry alliances such as AIMS.
The days of the “vertical stack”, “complete turnkey” vendor-branded solutions are fading into the past, as we enter into a more collaborative business environment – delivering innovative operational solutions, rapid application development and best-of-breed technology advances to the vibrant industry we call Media & Entertainment.