Reliability, Flexibility & Speed to Screen: The benefits of an all-IP infrastructure core to Fox Sports Australia

Facing the impacts of a rapidly changing consumer landscape, increasing HD channel count and the need to relocate to a brand new facility created the perfect storm that allowed Fox Sports Australia to implement an innovative IT-based live television operation in Sydney, Australia. This facility and operation is a great example of the next generation of media facilities – built upon a generic and expandable IT core with all components loosely coupled and abstracted via an Enterprise Services Bus approach.

Fox Sports CTO Michael Tomkins – with a unique background spanning live television, post-production, network design and high-speed radio data systems – reflects on the result of the solution his team has developed to address the needs of a multi-channel HD live sports broadcaster servicing one of the most sports-mad markets in the world.

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The trend to a converged IT infrastructure at the core of media and broadcast facilities is now very clear, with most specialist media application vendors adopting standards-based product designs capable of running on virtualised IT systems. Leading industry analysts Devoncroft Partners recently documented this industry change extensively in their report – IBC 2014 – Observations and Analysis of the Media Technology Industry. A diagram from that report (reproduced below) illustrates very well how companies such as Fox Sports Australia are making the best use of IT technology and creating flexible and efficient content engines for the business operation.

There is still a strong need for specialised equipment (like cameras and vision switchers) and specialised applications (such as editing and media asset management) which the media industry vendors continue to develop, compete with and innovate on. But the process of rebadging server, storage and network solutions and reselling these to the media industry with very little added intellectual property and innovation is becoming unpopular. In many cases also, customers are looking at solutions that are not bound to physical infrastructure but can be virtualised and run in public, private and hybrid cloud environments.

Next Focus

Taking this approach to infrastructure solution architecture allows you to leverage the enormous investment in R&D and the benefits of Moore’s Law that the IT industry can bring to market sooner than would be the case if you were purely dependant on specialist vendors building kit just designed to address the media industry. As long as the technology domains are abstracted but loosely coupled, using well-defined standards, each domain can be upgraded or expanded as the business needs evolve – with fewer future dead-ends requiring a complete “rip and replace” response.

This also leads to an infrastructure solution that is effectively a private/hybrid cloud solution. This helps to balance the cost and control benefits of privately owned & managed infrastructure, with the opportunity for burst compute as required to support special events.

One of the most important infrastructure requirements is reliability. Live sports broadcasting is one of the most demanding environments for continuous up-time and careful change control processes. Any errors or instability can lead to instant loss of transmission or incorrect content to air, which can impact on the business & revenue with immediate effect! Selecting a core storage technology based on fault-tolerant scale-out clustered Isilon nodes is an important step towards an inherently reliable system.

Speed of operations and efficiency is derived from the benefits of using a single volume media content and business information Data Lake, handling the storage and I/O workloads of multiple different processes. We see many customers experiencing the benefits of collaborative editing, where all incoming content is available to all editors (even with live growing clips), and rapid production of highlights, promos and alternate versions can be managed in parallel – with no file locking issues! Having all of the content online, available, and deliverable with scale-out distribution metrics dramatically simplifies origin server design for large-scale content delivery networks (CDN). This opens up the content to monetisation via new distribution platforms, and to capture and store usage clickstreams to derive Data-Driven Business Insights which can open up further revenue opportunities to media companies.

Content Delivery

Isilon’s flexibility led to an innovative solution at Fox Sports Australia when it came time to transition a live broadcast facility and staff from the old location to the new facility. By temporarily breaking the storage cluster into two, maintaining bi-directional synchronous replication across the two sites, staff and workloads could be transitioned in stages with no data jockeying or manual migration processes.

In addition to EMC Isilon NAS storage, Fox Sports Australia also adopted the VCE Vblock Systems converged infrastructure solution for their business-IT core, and EMC Data Domain backup & recovery solutions.

Fox Sports Australia – an efficient and profitable media business keeping Aussie sports fans happy!

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About the Author: Charles Sevior