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Elasticity Counts

Posted on Nov 12, 2023 by FEED Staff

Broadcasters and service providers are increasingly struggling to produce content with high storytelling value, on budgets that seem to be deflating by the day

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The pressure is on everywhere: service providers are attempting to outdo each other with ever-more alluring production propositions – and ever-lower margins. This poses two challenges: until recently, service providers needed to purchase more bespoke hardware to deliver what broadcasters and viewers expect in light of a transformational consumption model; and they need to find ways of increasing efficiencies across their business. How long can this reasonably last?

Countermeasures

While the sky was the limit, it was rather common to purchase processing hardware to cover peak usage and special events, and to let it sit idle up to 85% of the time. Some of those who had already migrated to IP began exploring resource-pooling strategies to keep their expenses from spiralling out of control.

These involve installing bespoke processing gear in one location and using broadcast control systems like VSM to enable and regulate access to them from a variety of control rooms and external locations. This provided a new perspective on how many devices are needed.

The idea is that while user A in location X does not need a given processor, user B in location Y – which may be anywhere in the world – is welcome to use it. Obviously, this demands an IP network spread over geographically distributed data centres and hubs, and hence wide-area-network (WAN) connectivity. It also means, however, that pooled devices need to be running 24/7 to be able to serve different time zones, irrespective of whether they are indeed solicited.

Provided the workflow has been sufficiently refined, operators need not know where the devices sit and which unit in the rack does the computing. In any case, all pooled devices will consume their cruise-speed amount of energy because they have to be online.

Time for a Change

Resource pooling worked while product life cycles amounted to more than five years. As long as no disruptive technology was on the horizon, it was – and perhaps still is – possible to ‘sweat down’ infrastructure over long periods of time.

This is changing. New bells and whistles are constantly added to the production toolbox in a struggle for precious eyeballs. And well-established formats and protocols find themselves competing with approaches nobody had heard of only a few months ago.

The more bespoke the hardware we purchase, the likelier it becomes that it will be unable to keep up with radical technological advances, and hence become obsolete in no time.

Setting The Stage

These considerations inspired Lawo to embark on a journey towards maximum production agility and future-proof flexibility. With its HOME management platform for IP infrastructures, it set the stage for a world where infrastructure connected to an IP network is instantly discovered. To avoid unexpected hiccups, admitting newly discovered devices need to be approved by pressing a button, at which time they are automatically registered and reachable on the network.

Thanks to its NMOS compatibility, HOME connectivity is not limited to its own ‘jurisdiction’, which covers all Lawo products as well as devices manufactured by third-party vendors. HOME-native devices offer the added convenience that they can be configured and tweaked from the HOME UI.

HOME was always the first building block of a grander scheme. New Lawo releases, such as the .edge hyper-density gateway, are controlled directly from HOME for maximum flexibility (or via RESTful APIs and the Ember+ protocol when HOME’s full potential is not supported). Such ‘software-licensable infrastructure’ initially comes with the features users request. Through HOME, a host of add-on licences can be unlocked as needs evolve.

The Power of Agnosticism

HOME Apps are the abstraction of broadcast and media functionality from the hardware that does the compute heavy lifting when – and where – users need it. Designed for Lawo-grade processing quality in a supremely agile, containerised software guise, Lawo’s HOME Apps run on standard servers and are managed entirely through HOME, where users summon and configure them, and specify on which server they should run, if so desired. HOME will conveniently preserve settings for future use.

In this way, HOME Apps do not need to be tied to a set location. If an OB truck unexpectedly needs to cover a breaking-news event, for instance, the required HOME Apps can be transferred to that truck for the duration of the event. For this, the truck only needs to be equipped with a few standard servers, which are 1U high rather than the huge housings of yore. HOME Apps and space-saving standard servers allow operators to spec out their processing infrastructure à la carte, on short notice.

Standard servers also consume considerably less energy while running idle, as opposed to bespoke hardware that always burns the full amount.

Standard servers can be used for a variety of tasks – running VSM, theWALL and HOME itself, for instance. Given the ability to easily beef up their network interface cards and processing units, they are unlikely to become obsolete any time soon.

Thus, HOME Apps are entirely hardware-agnostic and able to run anywhere – even in the public cloud – for maximum agility.

flexible combos

One final piece rounding out Lawo’s elastic offering is absolute flexibility with respect to how we own, or interact with, HOME Apps.

The traditional approach is to ‘own’ the required app functionality. For this, Lawo offers perpetual licences to a specific HOME App, granting users
the right to use that app forever. The second is a radical rethink of what ownership means. The growing consensus seems to be: the right to use a given functionality or service. Coupled with the flexibility to decide how long operators need such a right, a new way of looking at the availability of constantly evolving functionality emerges.

Lawo believes that the best way to offer this is through flexible combinations of perpetually owned licences and time-limited subscriptions, with sufficient flexibility to allow users to define their specific usage models. Some will prefer the stability of perpetual licences; while others need a dose of elasticity through subscriptions to cope with peak times; still others happily settle for a bit of both; and some see the benefit of a 100% subscription-based package.

Irrespective of whether and how you want to use the subscription model, it is function-agnostic, granting access to the entire HOME App catalogue, present and future. A subscription allows you to switch between apps and add-on functionality as you see fit, and the duration of this flexible availability can be freely specified between one month, six months or longer. Subscriptions could be used to top up existing permanent functionality, and move the functionality where it is needed next – anywhere inside the HOME system. All from the comfort of HOME.

Originally published in the Winter 2023 issue of FEED.

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