With broadcasters at various stages of the migration to IP and the widespread occurrence of hybrid environments, it’s not surprising that advanced orchestration tools are much in demand, writes David Davies. 

Nevion VideoIPath_onpc_Sept2020

Nevion: VideoIPath has become a scalable software defined networking orchestration tool

If the methods by which broadcasters and other content creators seek to impose orchestration can be the subject of considerable variation, there is rather more uniformity when it comes to the question of why orchestration is required in the first place.

Step forward Nevion’s chief technologist Andy Rayner, who has a compelling explanation that also outlines why orchestration has become an especially hot topic during the past few years.

“There has been an ever-increasing understanding of the necessity of the orchestration layer to arbitrate things,” he remarks, “and that is being driven by two main factors. Firstly, the sheer scale we have got to [with regards to IP]. The more that you move towards a distributed architecture, the more you need the certainty of knowing where your routing flows so you can ensure that the bandwidth is ascribed correctly and that you can manage [your infrastructure] to enable full diverse routing and have the ability to deal with outages, downtimes and so on.

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”Secondly, there has been the realisation of key people in the industry of the total flexibility you get if you start sharing processing resources, real estate and people in a more dynamic way. Once you have complete interconnect and federation in the use of capabilities and resources, that’s where you can achieve the real cost savings.”

“The more that you move towards a distributed architecture, the more you need the certainty of knowing where your routing flows,” Andy Rayner, Nevion

In which context it is to be expected that solutions that can deliver heightened management, synchronisation and – especially in hybrid environments – interoperability are arguably in greater demand than ever before.

John Mailhot, CTO Networking & Infrastructure at Imagine Communications

John Mailhot, CTO Networking & Infrastructure at Imagine Communications

‘Who are we to argue?’
Imagine Communications’ CTO networking and infrastructure John Mailhot is not alone in observing that “everyone is at a different stage” of the transition to IP. While it might be the case that a broadcaster has implemented a significant level of IP-based production, there could still be areas in which “they are using SDI in and out, and if that is what they need to do the job, then who are we to argue?”

As a result, there has been a continued dual emphasis on allowing individual customers to work the way they wish to, while simultaneously “driving further efficiencies” in production, playout and distribution architectures. For instance, late April brought news of additional functionality for Imagine’s Selenio Network Processor (SNP) relating to SDI/IP conversions, synchronisation, video scan format conversion and more. With an estimated 32,000 video channels and 500,000 audio channels of SNP operational around the world, it has gained acceptance across both IP- and SDI-based systems. Many of these deployments include Imagine’s Magellan SDN Orchestrator Control System, which integrates SDI and IP systems within a common management environment.

Magellan was conceived with the intention of supporting a “managed transition” to IP, and it may be that the nature of this shift will be even more critical post-Covid. “Pre-pandemic there was still a cache around being at the event and the notion of ‘living on the truck’, but the pandemic has broken the back of that idea. Even people who are accustomed to that lifestyle have been able to discover the joys of working from somewhere else,” says Mailhot. Consequently, it is likely that in the future the management of production environments will be driven even more by the fundamental questions, ‘Can I get the production requirements I want, where I want and in a cost-effective way?’

Chuck Meyer 300dpi

Chuck Meyer

Dynamic orchestration and diagnostics
A comparable roll call of concerns surely informed the development of GV Orbit, Grass Valley’s orchestration solution that debuted at IBC 2019. Geared towards broadcasters wishing to adopt open IP connectivity within their video delivery infrastructure, GV Orbit software is built and structured for the “dynamic orchestration” of media networks – be they SDI, hybrid or pure IP. Acknowledging that IP networks are not deterministic like their SDI equivalents, GV Orbit works as an integrated diagnostic set of tools for handling all equipment on the network. This orchestration software layer can also reside on top of GV’s Agile Media Processing Platform, which is Grass Valley’s cloud-based SaaS platform.

Chuck Meyer, Technology Fellow at Grass Valley, says that when many customers now approach orchestration “they are looking at all three of these technologies – SDI, IP and cloud – as well as the opportunities that there can be to do some good things that cannot be done in a different way. So it could be [a requirement for] SDI in and IP out, or SDI in and the capability of hooking up to a network and going to the cloud as an edge device.” He also observes that in the present period of uncertainty there is “more of an emphasis on ‘this is what the budget is and can I do what I need with SDI?’ – while also looking at IP infrastructure and considering how to migrate to a hybrid environment’.”

With features including device discovery and detection, as well as fully featured routing control for SDI, hybrid or IP, GV Orbit can be perceived as an enabler of people becoming “more comfortable” with the IP environment. As Meyer notes: “My experience is that people will tend to define a boundable experiment first before putting all of their eggs in one basket. So, even those customers who are doing IP in a more universal way may also want to keep some of the [older systems] on air too.”

‘A continuous media network’
“For the first time ever, I think everyone is getting the idea of using multiple switches in a managed environment and can see all parts of the production as being a continuous media network,” says Rayner, who goes on to place the progression of Nevion’s VideoIPath solution within the overall context of “distributed production architectures in which [orchestration] makes a lot of sense”.

From its initial base as a “next-generation video matrix controller” 12 years ago, VideoIPath has become a scalable software defined networking (SDN) “control plane or orchestration tool that can manage very high levels of resources both in terms of physical connectivity and end-resources as well”. Designed to manage both ‘traditional’ and IP-based media networks, VideoIPath’s capabilities include connection management for multiple network types; networking inventory of all network resources detected by the system; and service assurance with regard to the monitoring of network services and correlation with ongoing services.

“Interoperability between platforms on and off premises will be key to managing the transition,” Erik Otto, Mediaproxy

For another leading player, Tedial, the focus at present is on boosting interoperability – whatever the workflow environment. Julián Fernández-Campón, Tedial’s CTO, observes that “we are starting to see more movement again in terms of new investments [in the wake of the pandemic], but there are still technical concerns, the main one being about interoperability.” To this end, he explains that the company is evolving towards solutions that can seamlessly manage the workflows that are being executed in the cloud and in hybrid environments. This will allow customers to implement SDI and IP workflows, using ST2110 as well as other IP protocols such as RTMP, SRT, Zixi and WebRTC.

Tedial - Hybrid Cloud IP Architecture Diagram

Tedial: Hybrid Cloud IP Architecture Diagram

These orchestration capabilities will also be applicable to remote and multi-site deployments, where minimum delays and support for partial recovery between sides may be required. “Software-defined workflows will allow customers to define the workflows based on the business requirements and so focus on the creative people – not on the internal technological issues,” says Fernández-Campón.

‘Common references and learning curves’
Erik Otto, CEO of monitoring and logging solutions provider Mediaproxy, provides an ideal summary of the challenges attendant to the present transitory period – not least hybrid environments and their need for “common references between the different standards and equipment used. Interoperability between platforms on and off premises will be key to managing the transition. Another major factor will be the steep learning curve of operators and engineers that have some catching up to do on IP.”

The flexibility and potential long-term cost benefits of IP mean that, sooner or later, most content creators will have commenced the transition. Reassuringly, the vendor community is now providing a wealth of flexible orchestration and management solutions that mean they can develop at a pace which best suits their business and production needs.