Is now the time to move your machine room out of your facility?

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Is now the time to move your machine room out of your facility?

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Is now the time to move your machine room out of your facility?

While the New Year ushers in an era of largely unforeseen political uncertainty, in our industry, change is, as always, inevitable. The consumption of legacy linear broadcast TV is a habit now enjoyed only by the minority as OTT TV reigns supreme.

As an industry we are used to change. We have to accommodate higher quality images and sound and seek to produce these as cost effectively as possible – and not at the expense of good storytelling. One aspect of this, and one we’re increasingly asked about, is the high cost of maintaining machine rooms in expensive locations. Is 2017 the year to finally move all your large, hot and costly kit out of your small, hopefully cool, space-consuming machine room?

The common conversation starter on this subject is the cost of floor space. How often do you hear “We could get at least a couple of suites out of this machine room space”? Having all your large technical kit taking up valuable floor space doesn’t seem sensible but traditionally this has been a requirement, as this is the core to any facility with the technologies and workflows involved. Historically it has not been possible to offer an alternative but, are the stars now aligned to facilitate that change?

Power requirement is always a key discussion point, in terms of both cost and reliability. Issues abound over the unstable power supply from the local substation causing the typical Friday afternoon power outages and the costs of powering and cooling the ever-increasing storage to fulfill ever more demanding workflows.

Accepting that content will always be king, security likewise will always be a key issue. The ease in which click of a button content can be published to the world has gunned the age-old concerns about copyright into overdrive. Content security has come a long way but remains a large part of current workflow discussions. Solutions to these issues can range from a total relocation of facilities’ core hardware into a datacentre to taking more of a hybrid approach.

In a datacentre you pay for powering physical rack space and cooling. The power supply tends to be fed from dual substations on top of local battery and generator backups, most guarantee 24-7, 365 power with redundancy fed directly to each rack. Datacentres are bastions of security; if you’ve ever visited one, the first challenge is locating it. They tend to be large, nondescript and somewhat unwelcoming buildings. Security and discretion forms a key part of datacentre operation but equally, once you become resident, you can use the facility as if it was your own; you will always have access to your kit.

Simply uprooting your racks with hardware then moving them to a datacentre is the easy and straightforward element to relocation; that on its own however would not provide the capability to run your business

Virtualisation is starting to gain traction within the industry, with a number of manufacturers embracing the concept over the traditional custom hardware approach. Virtualisation has been around a while but more recently it is becoming important in broadcast-critical applications. The concept forms a core part to a relocation project and a key benefit is the greater control it provides over the complex platforms which are required to deliver industry workflows. Integrating them into what could be referred to as a hybrid approach takes planning but the benefits easily outweigh the effort.

The transition to IP is introducing new levels of complexity to the broadcast industry but one that the industry can handle. Migrating to IP infrastructure can only help facilities to relocate and enhance remote working offerings, although it’s not totally straightforward. There is always latency to contend with; while we don’t mind waiting a second or so for a spreadsheet to open we do need constant in-sync pictures and audio, frame accuracy is essential. While this gets harder over distance, the industry won’t tolerate anything less.

A key element to the overall success is connectivity and the facility to make this happen is now here. Connectivity is becoming more accessible and robust with services that enable enhanced networking such as Dark Fibre and CWDM (Course Wave Division Multiplexing.) Here, the ability to combine multiple signals onto a single fibre have delivered the finishing touches to the possibilities for relocating core broadcast services with minimal impact to existing workflows. Understanding what connectivity can be used within a broadcast workflow is essential to the successes. If you’re familiar with Moore’s Law you won’t be surprised that advances that have been made in the last couple of years which makes relocation possible today. It only seems like yesterday that we were all topping out at 56,000 bits per second via our phone lines.

I’d say the key to the success of any relocation of broadcast equipment is taking all the elements mentioned in conjunction with understanding the individual aspects of the workflows, applying specific technologies to key areas while keeping disruption and cost to a minimal. Experience is fundamental to making the full or hybrid relocations happen, experience with customer installations is indispensable.

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