Georgia Public Takes IT Path

MCSi, SGI, Masstech create all-digital facility


Build the broadcast facility of the future, and you might end up with something that looks a bit like a midrise gray stone-and-glass building based in the heart of Georgia.

In midtown Atlanta, a public broadcast television station has built what it thinks is the blueprint for tomorrow's broadcasters: asset management from the moment material enters the building; standard-agnostic technology, as well as enough storage to get a broadcaster from here into the next century.

With systems integration services by MCSi Design and SGI Professional Services, in September Georgia Pubic Broadcasting (GPB) will put its newly revamped facility to the test. The public broadcaster has already begun trial operations of its new on-air digital infrastructure, moving the nine-station network from a traditional broadcast design into a more streamlined data workflow.


Those familiar with the project said the goal was to develop a digital IT-based infrastructure that would allow GPB to transform a tape-based workflow into a streamlined digital dataflow.

"In short, we were looking for ways [to help them] drive down the cost by creating a more seamless workflow from ingest to play-out," said Jason Danielson, director of media industries for SGI.

To do that, GPB created a unique digital infrastructure -- a "platform-agnostic bit-bucket," is how it's described by Mark Fehlig, director of engineering for GPB -- which begins the process of managing and archiving media the moment material is ingested into the facility. Material is deposited into a central store repository. Individuals at GPB -- from members of the editing team to journalists looking at low-resolution proxies -- have access to that material via the SGI CXFS shared file system.

SGI Origin 300 supercomputers act as gateway servers to the facility's existing computer systems and, using the CXFS shared file system, will connect to the 4 TB of SAN storage provided by a Hitachi 9980V storage system running across two 2 Gb Fibre Channel switches. SD and HD play-out will be facilitated with SGI servers, and a Masstech MassProxy system will convert files from MPEG-2 to MPEG-4.

The biggest delight in building this new infrastructure, Fehlig said, has been seeing asset management technology finally come to fruition. "All the viewing and managing capability comes from our asset manager, which has allowed us to do some aggressive forward-thinking things with digital asset management," he said.

As part of this project, SGI will also install a media management and proxy-editing component to the system. In addition, Masstech's MassStore system is providing GPB an advanced near-line archive and asset management solution for broadcast operations. MassStore connects the tape archive, central storage array and on-air servers into an environment controlled both manually and under the direction of Harris Louth Automation.

"The MassStore produces frame-accurate proxies in MPEG-4 that can be viewed by a standard desktop media player," said Joe French, senior VP of Masstech. "By using the MPEG-4 editor, broadcast edits can occur on the desktop of any asset that is controlled by MassStore."

MCSi and SGI will also integrate equipment with an ADIC Scalar 10K robotic tape library, which can be expanded to 2 petabytes.


One of the goals of the digital infrastructure was to build up the public broadcaster's Web operation, as GPB provides satellite and Internet feeds, known as Peach Star Education Services, for schools around the state.

"It's a digital infrastructure solution for [the GPB] broadcast news operation, which secondarily acts as its database and content store for its Web environment," SGI's Danielson said.

"We looked for something that could do [both broadcast and Internet] from the same platform," Fehlig said. "Both our Internet and broadcast groups are using [the new infrastructure] and it's giving us a tremendous depth of flexibility and resource to grow in any direction we want."

Added Michael Wright, national sales manager for MCSi: "As the traditional broadcast plan merges with the information technology world, we believe GPB stands as a beacon leading the way, not only for other PBS member stations but for the entire broadcast industry."

The new digital infrastructure also offers massive amounts of storage. "The long-term benefits of this new infrastructure are that this system will scale to 2,400 years of broadcast material," Danielson said. "You can't outgrow it, at least not in this century. A lot of times people take 'Band-Aid' approaches and they put something in that's great for now, but by the time the users and operators get used to it, it's already maxed out. With a digital infrastructure you really need to determine how this is going to solve your problems over the next five, 10 and 15 years. Not only does it need to grow in size, it needs to be flexible because things change.

"There will be other resolutions, other formats and other video standards that will come down the pike and this system is very format- and standard-agnostic," he added.

GPB currently transmits four channels on satellite -- three go to school sites and one feeds the television network, which includes nine full-powered stations across the state.

GPB also found itself in another cutting-edge position early on. "We were one of the first stations in the country to be totally digital when we built this place in 1997," Fehlig said. "We're a full SMPTE 259 SDI plant with digital DVCPRO 25 tape. That was all done before any talk of high definition, so unlike most broadcasters, we're not going from the old analog world to the new encoded ATSC world; we're going from an SDI multicasting tape-based environment into a ASI compressed and tapeless world."

Susan Ashworth

Susan Ashworth is the former editor of TV Technology. In addition to her work covering the broadcast television industry, she has served as editor of two housing finance magazines and written about topics as varied as education, radio, chess, music and sports. Outside of her life as a writer, she recently served as president of a local nonprofit organization supporting girls in baseball.