Automation in Uncertain Times


In light of the unfavourable economic outlook broadcasters need to protect their investment in technology like never before. There is a high chance that some products designed to make the broadcast environment more efficient will become obsolete and this in turn will have a knock-on and negative effect on workflow in transmission suite. Although broadcasters will continue to used these ‘end of life-ed’ solutions they will not be supported by the original manufacturer and this will give rise to issues when it comes to play-out automation and the ability of a broadcaster’s system to interface easily with new and replacement solutions.
Over the years, conventional broadcast automation has been developed around device control. However, this leads to issues due to its interdependence on certain devices if they do not continue to be supported. Device specific automation does not provide the flexibility to radically evolve as broadcasting changes but results in a more revolutionary process that tends to result in a new product being developed completely separate from what has been sold before forcing the customers to replace the automation system.
There is an increasing need therefore, to select a flexible, future proofed, software based automation architecture that is not interdependent on the device it needs to control or the interface. The ideal automation system is one which has been developed based on generic workflow principals rather than being device specific.
The ideal automation system is one that has evolved in modular fashion so that when a component becomes obsolete this does not result in an end of life notice for the automation system itself. As an example when the processor card was becoming more difficult to source then Abit took a decision that the valuable software should be ported across to a different platform. However to ensure support for customers using both the old and new systems the baseline software is maintained in such a way that it can be compiled to work on both platforms keeping one baseline of software and hence one development team.
Broadcast Automation in its truest sense therefore, should be all about the automation of media workflow within the broadcasters organisation. The development of the software should be based on a hierarchically structured modular design and thus be as close to platform-independent as possible to allow easy porting to other processing platforms.. The higher layer supports the overall workflow concept, the middle layer provides support for logical devices associated with each functional unit used by the broadcaster and the lower layer handles the protocol and hardware interfacing.
These can either be soft or hard linked and even better if the top two layers are linked through a heavily optimised database as in the Abit system. This provides a fast gateway between the automation system and other equipment including the operator workstations, scheduling system, media archive and ingest paths.
In this way, the logical software can easily be modified to handle the changes without altering the upper level supporting the overall workflow and the lower level protocol and hardware interfacing if a device is upgraded with slightly different functionality or characteristics.
If a new device replaces the end of life device then a new logical device can be developed easily based on a standard structure resulting in no change to the rest of the software. Additionally the model allows the number of logical devices to grow or shrink without affecting the overall structure of the automation system.
The logical device stores information about the workflow within the device, the local media storage and the communication method that could use the Device API, Device Protocol, FTP or SQL dependant on the device capabilities. The logical device is mapped to the actual device using the physical communication links such as Ethernet, Fibre Channel, Serial communication lines or hard wired signals at the lowest layer of the hierarchical model.
As a result an automation architecture developed in this way provides a long term solution and one which will avoid issues with disrupted workflow if interfaced products become obsolete and equally importantly provides the flexibility to allow the overall workflow to be altered easily providing a future-proof platform. Certainly, a valid consideration in these uncertain economic times.

Tags: abit | iss031 | automation | broadcast automation | Device API | Device Protocol | FTP | SQL | Ethernet | Fibre Channel | Serial communication | N/A
Contributing Author N/A

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