A Conversation with Evertz CEO Romolo Magarelli

Discussion covers ASPEN, NAB Show, future of IP for broadcast
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BURLINGTON, ONT.—Evertz is a well-known provider of broadcast technology and prominent exhibitor at the annual NAB Show. With the introduction of its ASPEN IP framework in 2015, the company has taken a leadership role in advancing IP standards for broadcasters. In advance of next week’s show in Las Vegas, TV Technology recently spoke with Romolo Magarelli, CEO of Evertz to discuss the show, the evolution and latest developments for ASPEN, and what IP technology holds for the future of broadcasting.

TV TECHNOLOGY: Can you briefly describe your background and your path to leadership at Evertz?

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Romolo Magarelli

ROMOLO MAGARELLI: I joined Evertz almost 20 years ago from Leitch where I was the manager of hardware development. There was a small company of, I think, 14-15 people just probably 50 kilometers from where Leitch was that did timecode equipment and key code equipment. Mr. Evertz was retiring so a few of us purchased the company and built it up to where it is now. I think our staff is up to over 1,400 worldwide.

TVT:What will Evertz focus on at the NAB Show this year?

MAGARELLI: I’ll start with a quick history of the last four years because I think it's important. I think really the last four years have been a subtle, but purposeful march towards where we are today. At the 2013 NAB Show, we highlighted our whole booth having a transfer core based on 10 GB switched Ethernet through our smaller port fabrics—32 and 64 port fabric switches. In 2014, we introduced the world's largest switch fabric, a 46 TB 2,304 port 10-gig switch, EXE-VSR, with that being in control and all the appropriate gateways and monitoring tools with it, that's after we supplied it to the big “green field” production sports center in the northeast. Last year, we showed an expanded SDVN (software-defined video network) reach with an IP capability across all our product lines, whether it be play-out, replay, transcoding, contribution encoding, or transport, and even live production. We demonstrated all this with a bunch of our operational tools and monitoring tools and at that point we had already delivered over 15 real “at-scale” projects at that point.

This year we’ll show our second and third generation, some of our SDVN technologies and of course an ecosystem that expands beyond just us. You'll see that we're highlighting our standard independent support for our customers. In terms of encapsulation formats, we're going to show that we're supporting everything from SMPTE 2022, ASPEN of course, TR-03 a, and even [NewTek] NDI.

There's four areas that we're focusing on at the show: We're highlighting our strength and virtualization, whether it be on-premise, in a cloud or in a hybrid environment. We’ll also be reaffirming our leadership position in the whole IP and equipment space. We’re also showing a real broad range of 4K products and tools for UHD, and we're bringing big data analytics, where you’ll be able to monitor and do a better job of operating these large, complex systems that are floating out there now. Things are getting so complicated that we can't monitor them and determine where the issues are without actually taking some of these big data concepts and analytics to our industry.

We're introducing a big data analytics tool set called “InSITE” that provides deep visibility for large complex systems that involves any third-party devices or equipment and systems. One of the things we've noticed in some of the big IP installs, is that even though our user interfaces abstract all the detail of the IP technology,—there's a lot of complexity going on, particularly in large multivendor systems. I think different tool sets are needed for our customers to operate these things efficiently. InSITE is a tool set that from unstructured data collection provides the customer with system visibility of their distributed complex system and will provide needed metrics, baseline identification, and most importantly direction for root cause determination..

TVT:Since the past year since you introduced ASPEN, you've been announcing new companies that have been joined the ASPEN umbrella. Recently you announced NewTek NDI, which some in the industry have viewed as a competitor to ASPEN. How important it is to bring NewTek NDI into the Aspen fold? (Editor’s note: Evertz announced supportfor NewTek NDI after this interview was conducted).

MAGARELLI: NewTek is a great company that deals with a totally different segment of the market and I think NDI has its place and it fits well for their particular market segment. They deemed it important to join ASPEN, and ASPEN is an open community so it's not like the community is going to say no to anybody who wants to join. I’m happy that they're joining, but we're really showing that there's going to be some simple bridges between the two from one space to the other, from the super high-end professional production works segment to the segment that they operate in.

TVT:What's your assessment to the reaction to ASPEN so far?

MAGARELLI: I think it's real exciting to see how many customers we've built up with these IP systems and our technology. When we first introduced the EXE-IP switches over 3 years ago, I think most customers—and most of the vendors for sure—thought we were crazy. Today I hear that others are developing some of their own switching solutions built in to their products, it’s all good. However, in reality we had developed solutions and technology that our customers needed. These customers didn't switch to IP for IP's sake. We're solving business problems for our customers for real business needs that the industry as a whole was probably four years away from solving.

Fast forward to today, we have over 50 large scale IP systems installed, and they're deployed across the globe. The key to these systems is that they're deployed at scale, tested, vetted, and executed. SMPTE’s publishing of ASPEN was vital for us. When you look at it as of today, the only other vetted approach was SMPTE 2022-6 as a standard, and that doesn't fit the bill for production.

The ASPEN community has about 40 members, it's large and growing. At the NAB Show there's going to be a separate booth Inter-op area, independent of Evertz.

TVT:What does SMPTE’s announcement that they have published ASPEN mean for its future?

MAGARELLI: The world is definitely going to be bigger than strictly Evertz. We had to make sure that ASPEN is understood as an open format and having it published just reaffirms that. I think there's a lot of marketing fluff suggesting that ASPEN was a closed and proprietary format , and blah, blah, blah, which was the furthest from the truth. I think this just slams that door shut. With respect to standardization, we support the work of VSF and SMPTE too. Evertz will support any standard or format that will allow our customers to execute and compete in the ever changing world! In fact we are demonstrating TR-03 at NAB this year in several products to show this. As far as TR-03 and it’s standardization efforts, we have recently provided some input to SMPTE providing a TR-03 profile that allows for simple harmonization between TR-03/ASPEN. Our customers will not wait , they need to deploy. Whether it be ASPEN, SMPTE2022, TR-03 once vetted, we are indifferent, however, it would be a great benefit to the industry to work the harmonization profile into the standard when there still is a chance. SMPTE is a due process organization, therefore I’m confident the correct decisions will be made for the industry.

TVT:You're not a member of AIMS (Alliance for IP Media Solutions). Would you join if asked?

MAGARELLI: I think if this “harmonization approach” is accepted in principle then yeah, I think we would. I think AIMS is more of a marketing and lobbying kind of community, but it's something we'd consider. If we're doing the right thing for the industry and making sure that there's a real simple unification between the two standards then yes, why wouldn't we?

TVT:Are you saying that AIMS is more hype than substance?

MAGARELLI: No, [but] AIMS is not a standards body and they're not producing standards; they're just marketing the standards. I think if they start playing with the technical stuff then it makes, basically what the VSF has done, moot. I think VSF is doing the technical stuff. When you're comparing ASPEN you've got to compare it to TR-03, and if we can harmonize some profiles between the two.

TVT: One of your competitors has been talking for several years now about the move away from dedicated boxes and dedicated equipment. Do you believe that we will eventually move away from dedicated equipment to all software-defined products?

MAGARELLI: I think it's going to be a hybrid for quite some time, but certainly there's a move, there's no question. If you look at our development over the last six to eight years, there has been a big shift. I'd say about 70 percent of our R&D is already spent in software development. Our goal is to develop technology and IP that we can target to anything, whether it be running on a blade server, dedicated hardware in a virtualized environment and not. I think there's going to be a hybrid of these environments for the foreseeable future, but definitely a lot more software-based solutions. In fact, we have a great Facility of the Future demonstration at NAB which highlights just this. It will show both on- and off- premise virtualized services that run on blade servers and as “on demand” instantiated hardware.

Evertz will be in Booth N1502 in the North Hall of the LVCC.