Erik Balladares
Erik Balladares, Vice President Sales Broadcast and Media at Rohde & Schwarz

Broadcast and Media Newsletter30-Sep-2020

Rohde & Schwarz: from heavy iron to software clouds

Without doubt, Rohde & Schwarz has missed attending IBC this year. It is a high-water mark of our year: an opportunity to meet face-to-face with many of our most important customers and demonstrate what is new and exciting in our company.

For a number of years, Rohde & Schwarz has been going through an evolutionary transition. For many decades, we have been known as a leader in the provision of ‘heavy iron’ hardware solutions, but for more than 10 years we have been acquiring and developing software platform products that span many core broadcast applications from studio production, monitoring and multiviewer systems and media storage.

More than a decade in development, our PRISMON monitoring and multiviewer system illustrates the breadth of our application capabilities. It is available as a hardware-based on-premise installation, a software-only product and now as a cloud-based product too.

If we had been in Amsterdam last month, we could have showcased the elegant machine learning (ML) capabilities that have been integrated within PRISMON. These enable live quality monitoring, analysing quality levels throughout the value chain of our customers’ production platforms.

Another showcase would have focussed on our SpycerNode media storage system. We would demonstrate how we are developing our virtual storage access (VSA) capabilities, which employ a web-based intuitive user interface. The development of VSA is driven by the market – it enables full redundancy. VSA delivers a true “Zero” downtime performance for all R&S Broadcast solutions and 3rd party products as well.

Coming out of COVID, we see many more customer requests to increase storage and particularly to leverage storage through the cloud.

Customer projects illustrate R&S market leadership

The big tradeshows are traditionally where we announce major customer successes and 2020 would have been no different.

VENICE is Rohde & Schwarz’s video server product, designed for studio workflows. Since the start of the year, in North America we have sold VENICE to the top three broadcasters. In total, we have sold over 500 channels of VENICE into these three key customers, and we have similar success stories across the globe. This illustrates the elegance of our VENICE server solution.

Another key customer success is London-based Motion Picture Solutions (MPS), a leading international film services facility. MPS is a major user of our mastering and distribution platform, CLIPSTER. Now, to support this mission critical investment, the company has recently invested in our new media storage system, SpycerNode.

As a film mastering and distribution house, MPS offers unparalleled expertise in Digital Cinema Package (DCP) creation for Hollywood studios, but its services reach far wider, encompassing many independent movies. In an average month MPS will work on at least three major features. For a global release, it can create DCPs for up to 35 different territories all of which MPS handles on its eight Clipster mastering workstations.

Now, to support this large Clipster network, MPS has invested in two 5U84 SpycerNode storage systems from Rohde & Schwarz. The two systems are configured in a synchronous cluster spread over two locations. One part of the cluster is in MPS’ Mission Hall site in Olympia, London, and the other in a data centre 11km away. They are connected by two diverse dark fibres running 100 gigabit ethernet over CWDM optical multiplexing. The data is immediately copied to another location, giving instant backup.

One key feature of SpycerNode is its integration of IBM’s Spectrum Scale technology, formerly known as General Purpose File Systems (GPFS). Eric D’Souza, Head of Technology at MPS, sees this being key to the performance that SpycerNode offers his operations. “Spectrum Scale is more advanced than the previous SAN file systems and uses 100 gigabit ethernet as the interconnection,” he explains. “Unlike layer 2 fibre channel, 100 gigabit ethernet allows redundant layer 3 network topologies to be extended over metropolitan distances. It is also much faster and more affordable. Networking and storage now share a common advanced topology.”

These advanced workflows require similarly state-of-the-art storage facilities and it was a straightforward decision for MPS to invest in SpycerNode when it became commercially available. “SpycerNode provides a single large fast namespace for all systems working on a project,” explains Eric D’Souza. “Data does not need to be moved during the workflow - this improves efficiency and profitability throughout our operations.”

A third major project involves the integration of our PRISMON multiviewer system at Swiss national broadcaster, Schweizer Radio und Fernsehen (SRF). SSG SSR is responsible for all production systems and technologies throughout television, radio and multimedia operations at SRF. A revolutionary News and Sports Centre for SRF is the most ambitious project that SRF and SSG SSR have embarked on for decades. The facility — located in the Leutschenbach district of Zürich - is being built specifically to leverage an IP workflow for significantly streamlined and simplified operational processes. Its cornerstones are digital first and mobile first with a tight focus on video and audio quality. The project sees a change away from program-oriented organisation to a story and content-oriented focus. Within the new structure, journalists will be organized as expert teams and not on program structures.

From day one, SSG SSR set out with the ambition of creating a new and radically different production solution. Included in this approach was its multiviewer system needs: from the earliest stages, SSG SSR sought a fully virtualized multiviewer architecture. “With a completely virtualized platform we get the flexibility that we always wanted from a multiviewer system,” explains Andreas Lattmann, Chief Technology Officer, Planning & Projects at SSG SSR. “Hardware agnostic, integrated in the network and capable to display whatever and wherever needed.”

Within SSG SSR’s new facility, there exists a master switching room, central ingest, many studios and galleries with different multiviewer needs, as well as a new playout and postproduction system. “Within this environment, the demands for multiviewing are very high and mission critical,” explains Lattmann. “Everybody in the building has different needs to see what’s going on and where. With Rohde & Schwarz’s PRISMON Multiviewer system we now have the chance to fulfill all these requirements and keep the flexibility to change whenever needed.

“With the inherent flexibility of a virtualized multiviewer system we can support the operational teams as well as the journalists by showing them the specific sources and destinations that are required for their work and nothing less or more. Dynamic setups and the sheer number of signals that can be handled by PRISMON helps us in supporting the efficiency of everyone,” Lattmann explains.

The COVID factor

As we recover from the coronavirus pandemic, I believe that we will see new workflows in the future. Some customers will return to their old traditional workflows, but we see increasing numbers of organizations looking to move forward. They are looking for true IP connection across all the elements of their production workflows including storage, and the flexibility to choose either Opex or Capex payment models.

In this environment, they need to be prepared for anything that might be thrown at them, and this is where Rohde & Schwarz’s software platform approach can add real value.

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