Future Needs: Cable Trays and Cooling

Although that "what to build" dilemma was new to the dotcommers (while they lasted), it's been a problem for television and video producers for as far back as anyone can remember.
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"Design for scaling, but deploy for the present." I had lunch recently with a friend who is a product manager for a high-tech company, and we talked about a photo in the newspaper of the abandoned inside of a giant warehouse a dotcom grocer had built in our area. The warehouse had never been put into use because the cost of its gleaming stainless steel racks and conveyer belts had contributed to draining the company of its available funds.

They had built a full-bore facility that could quickly scale-up to handle a huge increase in online grocery shopping.

"If there's one thing I learned in my dotcom days, it's that you have to build what you need now," she said.

Although that "what to build" dilemma was new to the dotcommers (while they lasted), it's been a problem for television and video producers for as far back as anyone can remember. And the concept of designing for scaling but deploying for the present calls to mind two essentials for a video-production facility building that I learned over time, cable trays and cooling.

GROWING PAINS

Television grew and grew and grew in the 60s, 70s and 80s. I can remember when the newsroom I worked in added a reporter/photographer team a year, along with a news car, field gear and editing equipment. Similarly, during the local production era, we added at least one new show a year, with its own attendant staffing and equipment. People and desks were crammed into cubbyholes and closets.

As local production died out, the news window expanded. For all the talk about simply repurposing content, there was more staff hired, ENG and satellite trucks purchased, helicopters bought or leased.

When a station couldn't or wouldn't expand its news window any more, along came local cable news channels to do newscasts for maybe an extra station to operate and program under a joint operating agreement.

I lived through all those transitions, and I'll admit that none of them were on my radar screen 10 years before they were implemented. Even the one transition that was on everyone's screen more than 10 years out, DTV, is nothing like we first imagined it was going to be. Is it one channel with a great picture, or a number of standard definition side channels? Or is it data?

All of this is to say that it's hard to plan the specifics of your operation too far out. Not only don't you know what you're going to do, you don't know what equipment you're going to be doing it with.

What you do know is that you're probably going to need more space.

FUTURE FIBER

Back to my friend's comments about designing for scaling. If you're going to need more space, in this business you know you're going to have to get video and audio (or data containing video and audio) to this new space.

Does this mean you need to pull fiber-optic cable throughout the entire building, whether it's occupied or not? My sources say no.

Although you know that someday you're going to have to get those signals to the new area, what you don't know is what the best way to do that will be. Fiber-optic cable continues to evolve, so the fiber you install today might well be obsolete in a couple of years when you start using the space. (And maybe something will eclipse fiber as a cost-effective means of moving a lot of data from place to place.)

What you do need is the ability to install that fiber-optic cable (or the cable du jour) when it is needed. This means that while you may not need the cable when you build the new space, you do need cable trays.

I know one broadcaster who built a new, multistory building with an abundance of vertical cable shafts. The theory behind that design is that it's a lot easier to use gravity to drop cabling from floor to floor than it is to drag it through a cable tray.

Of course wireless might be the answer one day, but you can't move huge amounts of data wirelessly through walls at present. And besides, if you've ever used a wireless mic, your experience might make you want to question whether you want to trust a mission-critical function (like getting the lead story from the editor's desk to master control) to wireless technology.

CHILL OUT

There's another key to being able to scale. NTSC, ENG, CNBC, VTR and what-have-you may come and go, but HVAC will be a consideration as long as there's TV. HVAC, of course, is heating, ventilation and air conditioning. People need heating, cooling and air to breathe. In general, equipment needs cooling, lots of cooling.

When I've visited new facilities, HVAC isn't usually the first thing people show me, but it's usually something they point to with pride. More tellingly, they usually describe a considerable excess capacity, or the ability to easily bring excess capacity online.

Television has seen a dramatic reduction in the need for one heat-producing element of video production: lighting. Cameras have been able to get by with less and less light as they moved from the image orthicon black-and-white cameras I used in college to the highly sensitive CCDs in use today. Add to that fluorescent lighting, which pump out the same amount of light while generating a mere fraction of the amount of heat.

But the problem with cooling is you don't always know where you'll need it. A station full of videotape edit bays probably generates more heat than a central video server. But those edit bays are spread all over the station, where the central video server, as its name implies, is centrally located. The heat it generates is centrally located as well.

Even though you don't know what equipment you're going to need in the future and you don't know where it's going to go, you do know you're going to need plenty of cooling.

So back to my friend's tenant, you want to design for scaling but deploy for the present.