Achieving Efficiency Through Standardization

By the time you read this, the ACE master control solution developed by the PBS Enterprise Technology Department will be installed and operating in three markets; on the verge of deployment in a fourth; and being readied to drive content distribution at PBS itself.
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By the time you read this, the ACE master control solution developed by the PBS Enterprise Technology Department will be installed and operating in three markets; on the verge of deployment in a fourth; and being readied to drive content distribution at PBS itself.

Culminating a two-year process of discovery, development and cooperation, ACE brings to each participating station a standardized solution that addresses some issues that are common to all of them, and creates some unique pain points for each one as well.

The first station that went live with ACE turned out to be WMHT in Schenectady, N.Y. Having a hard deadline of Sept. 26 for bringing their completely new facility online, they benefited from the tremendous flexibility and understanding of the other three PBS member stations already in line for installation, and jumped to the top of the queue.

For WMHT, ACE represented the first foray into automation, IP-based monitoring and alarming, and the use of an IT-based archiving solution. The plant looks fantastic and is a true testament to the excellence that can be achieved when you combine thoughtful planning, a bold vision of an integrated digital future, proper executive support, state-of-the-art technology and top notch collaboration between integrator houses (while the station's ACE was assembled by Ascent Media, the rest of WMHT's facility was put together by CEI).

The second station to go live was Iowa Public Television. Originally slated to be the first member on the air with the ACE system, IPTV conducted a very successful on-air test for four hours in late July, effectively representing the first time that content being pushed out by an ACE system was actually being watched by the general public. It was a very gratifying moment to all the people who have toiled very hard to make it happen.

Again, for IPTV, this represented a quantum leap from their previous modus operandi and my esteemed colleague and fellow columnist Bill Hayes will tell you more about his stations' deployment in his own column (warts and all!).

BACK TO THE FOLD

The third station wanted to address a different pressure point. For the last few years, Hawaii Public Television had outsourced its master control operations to a local network affiliate station and wanted to bring its operations back in-house. The pre-designed ACE environment allowed those wishes to come through with a much lower degree of integration effort than it would otherwise have been required, while giving our Hawaii member station access to some of the most innovative technologies and workflows available in the marketplace. It should be noted that going forward, our Hawaii colleagues are expecting a substantial reduction in yearly operating costs due to the intrinsic efficiencies of the ACE operating paradigm.

Last but certainly not least, New Hampshire Public Television will be going live around the time you read this article. In this case, ACE will be replacing an existing automation system, leveraging an existing LTO-based digital tape archive and integrating with an ACE-inspired remote transmitter monitoring system that uses a combination of ILC, Miranda and Cisco equipment to provide NHPTV with real-time monitoring that it never had before.

In a remarkable tour de force made possible only by standardization, from mid-July to late August, three of these systems were completely assembled and pre-commissioned over five weeks by a small number of very dedicated people. Within that time frame, in an assembly line process, the systems moved from racking to cabling, to power-up, to operating system installation, and to networking configuration. Once all of the servers were configured, it was time to build the baseline IT infrastructure.

With an enterprise class Cisco router employing dual supervisor modules and redundant active directory domain controllers, and with a clustered SQL server database at its core, the entire system started to take shape. Every piece of equipment is assigned an IP address that is consistent across all ACE systems. For example, the Miranda HD Imagestore in the WMHT system has exactly the same IP address as the same piece of equipment in the Hawaii ACE configuration. Made possible by NAT (Network Address Translation), this allows for faster, more efficient system configuration, and later, for quicker troubleshooting, diagnosing, resolution and eventually, upgrading. Once that was done, the automation was configured, the archive manager integrated and the system was ready for shipment.

As you can see, four different stations, with four different circumstances and operational needs were able to leverage the ACE architecture to address different requirements--a perfect picture of standardization in engineering, enabling more efficient customized solutions for different markets. After all, each and every one of these systems was pre-assembled at the Ascent Media Northvale, N.J. facility, trucked, or in Hawaii's case, airlifted to its destination and then integrated into the existing facility where the final commissioning took place. This was followed by systems and application training, migration of metadata into the Broadview traffic system, a parallel run to iron out any last details and a final cut-over to the new system.

Over the last two years, a lot of people have played crucial roles in making the ACE dream a reality--from the general managers and chief engineers at these stations that had the vision and fortitude to embrace this concept, to the consortium partners that have worked diligently to make it possible. But at the end of the day, the bulk of the credit has to go to two people that by virtue of their vision, unwavering dedication and astonishing work ethic have made it happen.

Marilyn Pierce, the engineer behind the ACE concept, and Richard Moore, our Cisco, TCP/IP and general IT expert, have created a replicable model that has proven to be as reliable as it is efficient. At the end of the day, these first four stations, PBS and any subsequent participants in the ACE process will owe a portion of their success to these uniquely talented individuals.

You can count on IT!