The author is V.P. Sales APAC/EMEA, Tieline Technology.
Cloud technology solutions have been drivers of change in the broadcasting industry for some time, and increasingly station infrastructure and the cloud are further intertwined.
From a content delivery perspective, much has been said and written about how broadcasters can now distribute rich content to consumers through Over the Top IP-based technologies using the internet, instead of traditional channels like terrestrial radio transmitters. So too have broadcasters streamlined broadcast workflows behind the scenes in order to create flexible IP-based studios with scalable routing, storage, management and transmission solutions.
Therefore it was natural for cloud technologies, and in particular Software as a Service, to become more influential as an interface between “the studio” and the multitude of “capture assets” at remote sites; assets employed to ingest news, sports and other content and then transmit IP streams flexibly to affiliates and transmitter sites as required.
SAAS FOR BROADCASTERS
SaaS has streamlined operations in many broadcast facilities. Typically, third party applications are used over the internet to perform a myriad of broadcast tasks like equipment control, mixing, as well as data ingest and storage. In today’s cost-driven environment, SaaS cloud services have many advantages for broadcast networks: These include:
- Pay as you go: Services deliver predictable costs that can be easily managed.
- Scalable: Services can be scaled in size and feature-set to suit the broadcast application.
- Automatic updates: Incremental updates are automatic, reducing IT service requirements.
- Accessibility: Services delivered over the internet provide accessibility from anywhere with connectivity.
- Remote control: Engineers have the ability to control equipment remotely from the studio.
CLOUD MANAGEMENT AND REMOTES
From the broadcast engineer’s perspective, one of the most significant ways in which SaaS has changed broadcast engineering is the ability to remotely control equipment in real-time. In the old days, adjusting equipment at a remote location or transmitter site may have required hours or even days of travel time in some situations. Whereas today, complete remote control of a station’s broadcast equipment is at our fingertips every minute of every day over IP.
These days, hardware manufacturers and countless other suppliers of broadcast technology provide solutions for managing fixed infrastructure at transmitter sites. This equipment can usually be configured using fixed IP addresses, providing a direct IP link into the equipment. It is more complicated to manage ‘mobile’ broadcast contributions from IP devices with changing IP addresses over cellular or Wi-Fi networks. However, there are solutions that now deliver remote control of hardware like audio codecs used to stream news reports and live audio from major and minor league sporting events and other remote broadcast applications.
This connectivity can be provided by cloud-based servers, which detect the presence of devices when they connect to the internet. Tieline’s Cloud Codec Controller is one such service. No longer do engineers need static IP addresses to reach out and interrogate and configure codec equipment. This is done automatically by devices “reaching out” to a cloud-based server to identify themselves as soon as they are connected to the internet.
Devices don’t need to be connected, just present and available to allow secure, real-time monitoring and remote control — even over cellular and Wi-Fi networks. Even apps like Report-IT can be fully accessed and controlled remotely using minimal bandwidth.
The advantages of this level of control are obvious. Technical support staff can be in a main office looking after multiple sites and monitor connection status of many devices simultaneously.
SECURITY AND RELIABILITY CONSIDERATIONS
Carefully consider “privileged user access” to maintain security when using outsourced cloud-based services. These services bring an inherent level of risk, so adequate controls over access to sensitive data and information is critical. Ask providers to supply information about who has oversight and access to this information.
In addition, adequate Tier 1 ISP bandwidth is required to reliably stream audio and video services and integrate SaaS applications and control reliably. It is also important to consider:
- The fine print in ISP and provider Service Level Agreements to avoid pitfalls like bandwidth limiting.
- Whether adequate ISP and provider backups are in place.
- SaaS provider server locations; latency can be affected by server locations.
- SaaS provider redundancy; ask about support and what happens if the closest server crashes.
Whatever the service, the importance of off-cloud backup cannot be underestimated. Always think about how you would recover data in a worst case scenario when designing risk management mitigation strategies.
Remote management of all broadcast assets using the cloud is the future. For many networks it is already happening today, albeit in varying degrees. Engineers should embrace the significant advantages provided by cloud-based assets after mitigating risk and planning carefully for all eventualities.
5G cellular networks will deliver even better connectivity and bandwidth and SaaS opportunities for broadcasters will only grow as a result.