The new systems integration

It is likely that future major systems developments will be based around IP connectivity and software-defined workflows. The logical consequence of that is that the nature of systems integration in the broadcast world has changed beyond all recognition.

In the past, systems integration businesses put together the hardware required to do the job, including the dull but vital elements like distribution amplifiers to ensure that those who need a signal can receive it in good quality. Architectures, once established, were fixed, and could either do a job or not.

The great benefit of software-defined technologies, COTS hardware and IP connectivity is that the core platform becomes flexible, supporting whatever workflows are required and constantly redefining itself. Systems integration, then, stops being a one-stop project that defines and implements a fixed architecture and becomes a long relationship, starting at the moment of project definition and running until long after implementation.

Given that IP networking is inherently flexible, the systems integration proposition is less about how to interconnect the hardware than how the technology will support the business demands of the broadcaster. That will lead naturally to the detailed design, and will raise a number of critical issues.

For a major broadcast project such as playout, the best place to start is with consultancy to define what are the core business requirements and therefore what functionality you need to include in the design. The industry is growing confident that, through emerging standards, interoperability in the IP domain will be practical, so this consultancy stage can identify the products in each category that meet the operational and quality requirements: you should be able to select on a best of breed basis.

Also coming out of this phase will be a definition of the business continuity requirements. What are your redundancy policies? Full mirroring, N+M, N+1?

You should also ask your systems integrator if support is readily available. Major businesses will offer a network of “follow the sun” support centres, so a call to the help line might be answered in Singapore, London or New York to give 24 hour service. You should also carefully audit the supplier to ensure its security procedures are as good as possible: allowing vendors to connect into your system from their offices has become standard practice.

The business case for disaster recovery is framed around the cost of operating a backup site versus the potential loss of revenue and reputation should the primary site become unavailable. Today it is perfectly possible to run a fully-functioning playout service – including live events, 3D graphics, rich branding, automated promo production and more – in the cloud, using Pixel Power StreamMaster™ integrated playout engines under the control of Pixel Power GalliumAutomation™. That means you can spin up a disaster recovery service very quickly indeed, without significant rolling costs “just in case”.

But probably the biggest challenge for broadcasters and their systems integration partners is making the transition from a traditional infrastructure to the new IP connected world. And within that, carrying staff along with the process is the most important challenge.

Humans, generally, are resistant to change. Broadcast engineers brought up with the imperative of keeping the channel on air at all costs are particularly reluctant to move from the tried and trusted. It is critical that every stage of the project plan takes into account how to engage the staff, enthuse them with the benefits of change, and ensure they understand the new platform so that the switchover happens seamlessly. Without the staff on board, a project will clearly have difficulties succeeding.

A key consideration when moving to new infrastructure, whether present or virtualized is maintaining your brand. This is the core of a broadcaster’s personality and therefore a transition will need to be handled extremely well and with great care. Pixel Power has long offered its Creative Services team to help people get started, by designing templates, building campaigns and even creating complete channel brands. We have now expanded the offering with a comprehensive systems architecture consultancy and systems integration team. With COTS hardware and IP connectivity being new territory for many broadcasters, it can be reassuring to have experienced technical professionals who understand the business and creative imperatives on your side.

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