SMPTE: IP Standards, APIs and Moore’s Law

Or, SDI in the rearview
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HOLLYWOOD—Media transport infrastructure standards are mashing up the best of the old and the new even as the infrastructure itself is being virtualized.

“Now we’re moving into software-defined media infrastructures, both on private and hybrid clouds,” said Al Kovalick, media technology consultant and session chair for the Networked Media Infrastructure tract at the 2016 SMPTE Technical Conference underway this week.

Kovalick made a Wright Bros.-referencing, Moore’s Law-based argument that the pace of technological change will continue to accelerate. Image quality doubles every four years, he said. Storage capacity doubles about every three years, meaning 512 terabyte drives will be a thing in 2037. In terms of computing power, Google’s Tensor Processing Unit, or TPU, for artificial intelligence, is said to “advance computing performance by three generations,” according to PC World.

Network speeds, router and switcher performance, machine learning—all are advancing rapidly and coming together in the virtualization of media transport infrastructures, Kovalick said.

He noted that folks at the SMPTE conference were a little chilly toward cloud-based architectures five years ago, but that cloud facilities have thus far been more secure than private architectures.

“Don’t bet against the cloud,” he said. “Cloud data centers have a current growth rate of doubling every three years. There are companies building systems that serve thousands of linear channels in the cloud.”

Trust, he said, is the No. 1 metric. Standards is conceivably another. Paul Briscoe, consulting system architect for Evertz Systems, went there. Briscoe said the standards work on Internet protocol-based media transport technologies aims to maintain the qualities that made serial digital interface nearly ubiquitous in media facilities for the last quarter century.

“It’s plug-and-play. That’s one of the best parts, You plug it in, the lights come on,” he said. However, as with all good things, the era of SDI is coming to an end because everything around it is becoming IP-based. SDI has limits, Briscoe said. It has format- and even industry-specific interfaces. It binds the video, audio and metadata and supports just one unidirectional signal per coax cable.

IP, on the other hand, is compatible with the commercial off-the-shelf hardware that media facilities managers covet. It’s bidirectional, format-agnostic, has interface speeds that meet or exceed media rquirements, supports multiple signals per interface, and perhaps most important—it’s everywhere.

“This is really important,” Briscoe said. “We’re no longer using an industry interface that’s ours, but an industry interface that’s global.”

The challenges of adapting IP-based technologies for media transport include asynchronicity, data loss, jitter, latency and security. All are being addressed by various groups developing recommendations and technologies. One, the Video Services Forum, submitted its technical recommendations TR-03 and -04 to SMPTE for standardization, Briscoe said. The submissions were assigned to the SMPTE Technology Committee on Network/Facilities Architecture, TC-32NF. The related document suite is under SMPTE 2110.

While standards for IP media transport are being worked out, Subha Dhesikan and Pradeep Kathail of Cisco Systems are virtualizing the pathway. The Cisco scientists developed a software-defined approach that leverages an application program interface to interact between the broadcast and network system architectures.

“We have to have some type of ‘debugability,” said Kathail, ‎chief software architect for the Core Software Group at Cisco. “You have to know what’s going on.”

With their PMN SDN API, a broadcast controller rests on a network controller on the IP network.

“The broadcast controller is the final authority for policy decisions,” he said. “The network controller abstracts the network and provides a flexible interface to the higher layers to control and orchtrestrate the network. The IP network provides the connectivity with proven technologies.”

Security was a primary consideration in the design, Dhesikan said. If the network doesn’t have the capacity to deny a flow, it’s vulnerable.

“With this design, ports are designed for authorized sources and destinations only,” she said. “Rogue endpoints cannot send or receive data. Endpoints are policed from sending more than authorized bandwidth for the flow.”

The broadcast controller functions as a virtual operations center, displaying the network topology as well as which switch ports are available, and if all links are up and running.

The network controller can immediately spot faults such as link and device failure and inform the broadcast controller, which can then moves the impacted flow if sufficient network resources are available, and also prioritize flows.

The PMN SDN API is being developed within a working group of the Advanced Media Workflow Association, a consortium of vendors and broadcasters. It is being created as an open, non-proprietary, license-free API.