Challenging The Cloud with Linear TV Workflows

Challenging The Cloud with Linear TV Workflows


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Challenging The Cloud with Linear TV Workflows

Journal Article from Techex

Mon 15, 08 2022

Russell Trafford-Jones


Like many powerful technologies, the list of benefits from moving to the cloud is long and varied. It starts with the familiar cries of scalability, flexibility and cost reduction but continues with advantages that not all companies need such as moving to remote production workflows or reduced time to market. The total list may be more than 20 entries long and to newcomers can seem vague and overwhelming. As an open and honest partner, it’s our role at Techex to ensure everyone we work with understands exactly how they will benefit and, most importantly, the ways in which they won't.

Moving linear TV into the cloud is a great example of the need to fearlessly cross out some advantages and underline others. The oft-touted reasons to move to cloud like 'cost reduction' can seem like keystone benefits which, if not realised, mean you've done something wrong. Of course, this is not the case, so as a cloud specialist, we look at each design and emphasise the real benefits. You can think of it like this: is a trip abroad full of sight-seeing a bad holiday just because you feel exhausted as you relax in the hotel bar paying for an overpriced drink? The move to cloud, as the Opex pricing implies, is a move to the long term and some of those benefits it brings, like the photographs, relationships, and timeless memories of your trip to Vienna, will be with you long into the future and are more valuable than your financial outlay.

At first blush, linear TV seems to be the enemy of cloud workflows. The channel count is fixed, so there is no need for scalability. Data needs to be delivered every few milliseconds so there is no time for any fancy processing. With a static 24x7 line-up, flexibility is not needed. The cheapest compute option known as 'spot instances' is ephemeral so can't be used and reducing the cost by reserving a cloud server for a year or more can evoke inconvenient memories in some stakeholders of on-premise installations. Perhaps most importantly, broadcasters who need to get their channel down to the ground for transmission need to contend with egress fees on top of the connectivity required, such as AWS' Direct Connect. Things are looking a bit bleak now that we’ve struck four big-ticket items off the list. However, looking below the surface we start to see the real value and value that’s worth paying for.

At Techex, we help many broadcasters get video into, out of, and around the cloud. These are top tier broadcasters who pride themselves on deep understanding and are on a multi-year journey to maximise their use of the cloud, an endeavour which was well underway before the pandemic. Developed in-house, MWEdge is a software gateway for live broadcast content which is designed for tier-one broadcasters to provide resilience and protection to any media streams. Having spent so much money on rights and producing programmes, broadcasters need cloud workflows to be just as reliable as those on-premise which is where MWEdge highly integrated use of SRT, RIST and ST 2022-7 is foundational to the systems we deploy.

The terms 'reliability' and 'resilience' aren't softened by the move to the cloud but they do change. With SDI systems you know exactly which cables were carrying content at any time in the past, as long as you have telemetry from your switching and routing fabric. You can still do root cause analysis down to the connector in the cloud, but only when you understand how the system is abstracted. When delivering over the internet or between cloud data centre server, things can go wrong: a switch can be overloaded or an RJ45 can go faulty. But just as we have let the cloud provider manage the physical layer and its security, we must content ourselves with treating all of that infrastructure as a single cable. If an SDI cable is damaged, at the BNC or even inside the coax cable itself there is little more to do than swap the cable. Similarly in the cloud, our hunt for a problem ends when we discover this virtual cable was broken.

Post-event analysis is hugely important for any serious broadcaster as it feeds into the iterative designs and drives continual service improvements. MWEdge delivers constant telemetry both in the GUI and externally to Dataminer, Grafana, and InfluxDB, for a full understanding of the state of the system in real time and perform root cause analysis after the fact when necessary. Moreover, we took the step of integrating ETSI TR 101-290 measurements and thumbnailing on all inputs as well as inter-packet arrival time (IAT) monitoring. These measurements are vital to track the health of streams through the system and when handing off between companies or departments. Being able to know that there were know ETR 290 errors at the time of a problem being found allows any investigation into the cause to be focused at the right place and a straightforward set of metrics to monitor for any hand-off point.

Infrastructure as Code (IaC) comes baked-in to the concept of reliability when we talk about the cloud. Due to the fact that creating cloud infrastructure demands no physical actions, every part of your system design can be created by a click of the mouse or, more importantly, an API call. Scripting your API calls means that every time a part of your workflow is either created or torn down it will happen the same way. Removing engineer error or oversight is an important part of increasing reliability in operational workflows and automation becomes essential when working at scale due to the sheer quantity of actions required.

Many Linear TV workflows start or end outside of the cloud as part of delivery from production or distribution. Fortunately, Infrastructure as Code is not limited to the cloud and while it can't move a network cable for you, it can configure a server in the cloud A, cloud B or on-prem. When it comes to resilience, broadcasters face a challenge deploying in multiple geographies as inter-region data transfer fees quickly mount. Core to the values of broadcasters is high uptime so we expect to see an increasing desire to deploy infrastructure in multiple clouds, preparing for the day that cloud provider has a major incident. Although fully cloud-diverse deployments in the contribution space are few and far between, partly driven, again, by data costs, we’ve seen first-hand this demand for MWEdge to be fully cloud agnostic and is frequently deployed on-premise as one end of a cloud-ground or ground-cloud link.

We are proud, at Techex, to be working with some of the brightest brains in the industry who are clear on the benefits they enjoy from their cloud or hybrid workflows. IaC is just a part of a culture of deployment and development which goes hand in hand with cloud workflows. We've learnt that flexibility in our software and the way we work with our broadcast partners is essential for the continued success of cloud deployments.

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