Video: The Fenix Project: Cloud-Based Disaster Recovery

“Moving to the cloud” is different for each broadcaster, some are using it for live production, some for their archives, some just for streaming. While confidence in the cloud is increasing and the products are maturing, many companies are choosing to put their ‘second MCR’ in the cloud or, say, tier-2 playout to test the waters, gain experience and wait for a fuller feature set. Sky Italia, has chosen to put all its disaster recovery transmission capability in the cloud.

Davide Gandino joins us from Mile High 2020 to show – and demo – their disaster recovery deployment which covers playout, processing, distribution and delivery to the end-user. Davide explains this was all driven by a major fire at their facility in Rome. At the time, they managed to move their services to Milan with minimal on-air impact, but with destroyed equipment, they were left to rebuild. It wasn’t long before that rebuild was planned for the cloud.

This is no insignificant project, with 117 channels of which only 39 are third-party pass-through going on to four platforms, the full deployment uses 800 cloud encoders. This amounts to 4Gbps being sent up to the cloud and 8Gbps returning. David highlights the design uses both Google and Amazon cloud infrastructure with 3 availability zones in use for both.

A vital part of this project design is that not all 800 encoders would be working 24×7. This misses the point of the cloud, but the only scalable alternative is fully automated deployment which is exactly what Sky chose to do. The key tenants of the project are:

  • Everything automated – Deployment and configuration are automatic
  • Software Defined – All Applications to be software defined
  • Distributed – Distributed solution to absorb the loss of one site
  • Synchronised – All BAU (business as usual) changes to automatically update the DR configuration. This is done with what Sky call the ‘Service Control Layer’.
  • Observed – Monitoring of the DR system will be as good or better than usual operation

To active the DR, Davide tells us that there is a first stage script which launches a Kubernetes cluster on which the management software sits and 13 Kubernetes clusters across Google and AWS which will run the infrastructure itself. The second script, uses Jenkins jobs to deploy and configure the infrastructure such as encoders and DRM modules etc. Davide finishes the talk showing us a video of the deployment of the infrastructure, explaining what is happening as we see the platform being built.Watch now!
Speaker

Davide Gandino Davide Gandino
Head of Streaming, Cloud & Computing Systems,
Sky Italia

Video: Growing the Next Generation of Us

Hiring is one of the most important things you will do in your company. Bad hires, at best, are a drain of money, time and opportunity costs. Good hires, on the other hand, can be incredible, long-term assets within your company. So when we have the new hire, we want to onboard them in the best way and continue giving them opportunities to learn and develop. This talk from Disney Streaming Services shares their progressive approach to developing engineers so they can handle the toughest moments when the production system is out of commission – AKA ‘the crucible’.

Alexanadria Shealy explains that teams are often made of people with a whole range of backgrounds, often people who are full of transferable skills, but with no specific from your exact domain. As teams grow, the team needs to constantly strive to onboard new people and bring them into the team both to work within the culture and to round off the skill set of the team at large.

Alexandria says their team has the best of intentions at all times and works hard to prevent any problems. As we all know, though, it’s impossible to prevent problems. “Scaling the software is easier than scaling the team,” she continues, and it’s best not to keep going back to the same people time and time again simply because they have become the experts as this isn’t scalable. The trick is to make the difficult things we do into something which is accessible for the inexperienced.
 

 
Kevin Fuhrman introduces ‘the crucible’ as a stressful place to be. It’s the time that you have a production outage which everyone is waiting to be fixed, and they’re repeatedly asking you when, and they’re watching you. But these fixes are never straight forward. They need a lot of focus and a lot of fault-finding. The stress of delivering under pressure adds to the stress of delivering under pressure. The crucible is not an easy place to be but is well known in broadcasters and streaming providers everywhere.

After your next outage, ask yourself how many of your staff would need to be on a bus travelling to their vacation before your team wouldn’t be able to handle it. In an ideal time, you’d have to have pretty much the whole team on holidays before you couldn’t deal with an outage. But many places know that if a few key people weren’t around, their ability to recover would be significantly compromised.

The advice from the Disney Streaming Services team comes in two packages. The first is taking care of onboarding your new colleagues. Looking for highly applicable tasks which have immediate relevance to them and will allow them to contribute quickly. They suggest giving new joiners a history lesson explaining why things are how they are. How did you choose the software your using, either the systems or the langauges. Explain what you would have preferred to do differently and better. This helps people understand what parts of the system they feel able to improve upon, in code as well as in workflow. It’s important, they explain, to help people spot the parts of the system which were put in because something was simply needed and the parts which are there due to a lot of thought and due diligence. Again, true of code as much as workflows.

We all know that mistakes are important in the learning process. One option laid out is to find parts of projects which are difficult enough to allow someone to dip their tow below the surface and to learn. The underlying point is not to shield junior members of the team from projects. In fact, heading a project with all your experienced engineers may be a way to deliver the project with low risk, but the cost of not investing in getting your less experienced team members involved will be paid when the project is delivered and needing support, maintenance and development. It also works against the interest of the less experienced individuals by reducing the speed at which they advance.

Alexandria and Kevin summarise by saying you should create and grow owners, rotate who is on the A-team, give everyone the chance to be in the crucible and share notes and experiences freely. The video finishes by remarking that the technology of today was built by us standing on the shoulders of giants. It’s important, therefore, that the giants of today remember to let people climb aloft.

Watch now!
Speakers

Alexandria Shealy
Director, Technical Project Management
Disney Streaming Services
Kevin Fuhrman Kevin Fuhrman
Staff Software Engineer,
Disney Streaming Services

Video: Usage of Video Signaling Code Points Automating UHD & HD Production-to-Distribution Workflows

As complicated as SD to HD conversions seemed at the time, that’s nothing on the plethora of combinations available now. Dealing with BT 601 and 709 colour spaces along with aspect ratios and even conversions from NTSC/PAL kept everyone busy. With frame rates, different HDR formats and wide colour gamut (HDR) being just some of the current options, this talk considers whether it would be better to bring in a ‘house format’ as opposed to simply declaring your company to be a ‘ProRes HQ’ house and accepting any content, HDR or SDR, in ProRes rather than being more specific regarding the lifestyle of your videos.

This talk from Chris Seeger from NBCUniversal and Yasser Syed from Comcast discuss their two-year effort to document common workflow video format combinations talking to companies from content providers to broadcasters to service distributors. The result is a joint ITU-ISO document, now in its second edition, which provides a great resource for new workflows today.

Yasser makes the point that, in recent years, the volume of scripted workflows has increased significantly. This can motivate broadcasters to find quicker and more efficient ways of dealing with media in what can be a high-value set of workflows that are increasingly being formed from a variety of video types.

Discussing signalling is important because it brings workflows together. Looking at videos we see that multiple sources arrive on left, need to identify correctly and then converted. This video talks about keeping separate video codecs and the identifying metadata needed for contribution and distribution which is best done automatically. All combinations are possible, but take advantages o the best content, having everything converted into a single, HDR-friendy mezzanine format is the way forward.

Watch now!
Speakers

Yasser Syed Yasser Syed
Comcast Distinguished Engineer,
Comcast
Chris Seeger Chris Seeger
Director, Advanced Content Production Technology,
NBCUniversal, Inc.

Video: State of the Streaming Market 2021

Streaming Media is back to take the pulse of the Streaming market following on from their recent, mid-year survey measuring the impact of the pandemic. This is the third annual snapshot of the state of the streaming market which will be published by Streaming Media in March. To give us this sneak peak, Eric Schumacher-Rasmussen is joined by colleague Tim Siglin and Harmonic Inc.’s Robert Gambino,

They start off with a look at the demographics of the respondents. It’s no surprise that North America is well represented as Streaming Media is US-based and both the USA and Canada have very strong broadcast markets in terms of publishers and vendors. Europe is represented to the tune of 14% and South America’s representation has doubled which is in line with other trends showing notable growth in the South American market. In terms of individuals, exec-level and ‘engineering’ respondents were equally balanced with a few changes in the types of institutions represented. Education and houses of worship have both grown in representation since the last survey.

Of responding companies, 66% said that they both create and distribute content, a percentage that continues to grow. This is indicative, the panel says, of the barrier to entry of distribution continuing to fall. CDNs are relatively low cost and the time to market can be measured in weeks. Answering which type of streaming they are involved in, live and on-demand were almost equal for the first time in this survey’s history. Robert says that he’s seen a lot of companies taking to using the cloud to deliver popups but also that streaming ecosystems are better attuned to live video than they used to be.

Reading the news, it seems that there’s a large migration into the cloud, but is that shown in the data? When asked about their plans to move to the cloud, around a third had already moved but only a quarter said they had no plans. This means there is plenty of room for growth for both cloud platforms and vendors. In terms of the service itself, video quality was the top ‘challenge’ identified followed by latency, scalability and buffering respectively. Robert points out better codecs delivering lower bitrates helps alleviate all of these problems as well as time to play, bandwidth and storage costs.

There have been a lot of talks on dynamic server-side ad insertion in 2020 including for use with targetted advertising, but who’s actually adopting it. Over half of respondents indicated they weren’t going to move into that sphere and that’s likely because many governmental and educational services don’t need advertising to start with. But 10% are planning to implement it within the next 12 months which represents a doubling of adoption, so growth is not slow. Robert’s experience is that many people in ad sales are still used to selling on aggregate and don’t understand the power of targetted advertising and, indeed, how it works. Education, he feels, is key to continuing growth.

The panel finishes by discussing what companies hope to get out of the move to virtualised or cloud infrastructure. Flexibility comes in just above reliability with cost savings only being third. Robert comes back to pop-up channels which, based on the release of a new film or a sports event, have proved popular and are a good example of the flexibility that companies can easily access and monetise. There are a number of companies that are heavily investing in private cloud as well those who are migrating to public cloud. Either way, these benefits are available to companies who invest and, as we’re seeing in South America, cloud can offer an easy on-ramp to expanding both scale and feature-set of your infrastructure without large Capex projects. Thus it’s the flexibility of the solution which is driving expansion and improvements in quality and production values.

Watch now!
Speakers

Tim Siglin Tim Siglin
Contributing Editor, Streaming Media Magazine
Founding Executive Director, HelpMeStream
Robert Gambino Robert Gambino
Director of Solutions,
Harmonic Inc.
Eric Schumacher-Rasmussen Moderator: Eric Schumacher-Rasmussen
Editor, Streaming Media