Broadcasters Tackle Software Architecture

Convinced that its mission to create two key interfacing formats was largely completed, the Advanced Authoring Format Association has re-invented itself into the Advanced Media Workflow Association, or AMWA.
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LOS ANGELES
Convinced that its mission to create two key interfacing formats was largely completed, the Advanced Authoring Format Association has re-invented itself into the Advanced Media Workflow Association, or AMWA.

Now the group’s mission is to put its products to work, according to association president Brad Gilmer.

Among the AAF’s best known handiwork was the co-creation of the Material eXchange Format, which is targeted for storage, play-out and broadcast. Members of the seven-year old group include broadcasters (BBC, Turner Broadcasting and Fox), system integrators, manufacturers, software providers, and consultants to the TV industry.

High on the list of the new agenda is a uniform approach to software architecture.

“We had discussions with members, sponsored a survey that CNN helped us with to find what were critical areas, and we identified that coming up with a uniform approach to software architectures was a real important piece,” said Gilmer, president of Gilmer & Associates, a media consulting firm. “We’re trying to foster a dialogue between system architects, integrators, users working on implementations, and manufacturers looking to build products that work in a software-based environment.”

One of the options being considered for the approach is Service-Oriented Architecture, a philosophy independently explored for at least 10 years in various permutations. And despite the growing buzz around SOA, there remains little agreement as to what makes an architecture service oriented.

WEB-BASED?

Readily conceding the lack of agreement on what SOA is (let alone should be) is John Footen, director of software systems engineering for National TeleConsultants a strategic media and entertainment consulting firm based in Glendale, Calif., which joined the association this year. According to Footen, now that the presence of file-based workflows has reached the tipping point in the TV industry, many vendors are touting their SOA capabilities.

“The majority of them are defining their SOA enablement as Web services when, in fact, SOA is a philosophy [that] may or may not be Web-service enabled,” said Footen.

Footen has been delivering SOA presentations to the TV industry for about two years, enlightening audiences at IBC, NAB, and various SMPTE conferences.

He was tapped to chair AMWA’s technical working committee for software architectures during the association’s May 9-11 conference, its first face-to-face meeting regarding the topic, AMWA’s Gilmer said.

Gilmer believes SOA could enable the TV industry to establish a framework within which different application areas can be defined, and thus fit into the right sweet spot of a workflow. But before that can even be contemplated, he said, Footen’s committee had to actually opt for SOA.

At the May 9-11 conference, Gilmer said, “I asked them if we were going to use SOA or are we going to use something else? There are different software architectures available. Before we presume SOA, let’s just be sure.”

And, he said, if the group did opt for SOA, it needed to decide what aspects of SOA to tackle, as well as the scope of the group itself and the framework for software-based architectures for broadcasts.

Clyde D. Smith, senior vice president for global broadcast technology for Turner Broadcasting Systems, noted that interest in SOA is “high at the major network levels,” where flexible interoperability is seen as key to new relationships and market opportunities between program producers, distributors and consumer device manufacturers.


(click thumbnail)A simplified overview of Accidental architecture versus the Service-Oriented Architecture advocated by John Footen, AMWA board member and National TeleConsultants director of software systems engineering.“Presenting applications as services permits you to introduce a layer of abstraction,” Smith said. “If you abstract your workflow from the application-specific details of how a function works, you may readily make changes in the platforms and applications without having to redefine the workflows. Additionally, you now have created reusable services, which will also enable you to change workflow without having to change the technology.”

Chris Lennon, director of integration and standards for Harris Software Systems approves of AMWA’s recent moves.

“Harris is very pleased with AMWA’s recent decision to form a group focused on software architecture, including SOA,” he said. “In fact, I am happy to report that Harris has just recently joined the AMWA, largely because of this.”

Lennon also noted that, “We have received a great response to new software that we have developed using an SOA approach, and look forward to working with the AMWA and the industry in general on standardization efforts in this area.”

Ken Fuller, vice president of technology for systems integrator Ascent Media, had a more measured approach to SOA. Ascent Media was one of the founding members of the association; Fuller has been a board member since January. He believes it’s high time the TV industry got its workflows optimized, perhaps by “some kind of SOA middleware and maybe Web services.” But he stopped short of seeing SOA as a panacea.

“I think that it’s very significant, but it’s still quite new—the concept of taking that notion into the media and entertainment space,” Fuller said. “Service-Oriented Architectures have had success in the healthcare and financial areas. Part of the issue going forward is introducing the notion of a Service-Oriented Architecture into a real-time, media-delivery architecture.”

In fact, Fuller was skeptical that SOA could work in real time.

“I don’t think it’s necessarily going to work its way into the actual play-out,” he said. “It may find a home in overall workflow management—integrating archives with rights management with asset management with transcoding, ultimately feeding into an automation system [that] may have the autonomy to actually do the play-out architecture in real time. You’re kind of using it more to integrate the workflow with back office functions.”

At press time, Footen told TV Technology that AMWA would form its Software Architecture Technical Subcommittee over the next few weeks. Then he hopes to move to a common language and goals.

“One of the first tasks will be deciding what the committee will be doing, then we will be defining our terms,” Footen said. “That would allow us to speak the same language about the subject.”

He’s ambitious about the task at hand.

“We will be looking to address what are optimal architectures for designing systems and recommendations regarding best practices, approaches, templates and perhaps things that in the future can be standardized by SMPTE,” or another group, Footen said. “We need to move quickly to make sensible recommendations that can be published and put out to the industry relatively quickly.”

STANDARDIZATION

The European Broadcasting Union has already recommended that its members adopt service-oriented architectures in “The Middleware Report” that it issued in 2005. Since then, Footen said such projects have been done by at least three broadcasters in Europe and several have begun in the United States as well.

“No U.S. industry group has taken this on yet,” said Footen, who’s on the SMPTE S-22 Working Group on Data Exchange committee. “There’s work going on in that committee that is starting to approach this from a technological standpoint. But, as yet, there has been no specific SMPTE-related work regarding SOA.”

He believed AMWA’s initiative could kick start the process by presenting the prospect to SMPTE “in a more fully formed way.”

“AMWA would be an excellent place to get the work started,” he said.