It’s Time for the Media and Entertainment Industry to Virtualize

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When it comes to virtualization, the media and entertainment (M&E) industry has lagged other industries. For 30 years, broadcast engineers have relied on bare-metal hardware and hard-coded applications, trusting that these solutions could deliver the performance and predictability required of a broadcast network.

Broadcast engineers have been wary of virtualization. But for M&E, virtualization in private, public or hybrid-cloud environments offers many tangible benefits: streamlined workflows, increased automation, lower cost of ownership, reduced production time and much more. In fact, forward-thinking media companies are now realizing that virtualization is the only way they’ll be able to compete in a new and rapidly evolving digital marketplace.

However, these benefits can only be realized if all components works seamlessly together. To ensure this, Dell Technologies is partnering with many of the world’s leading independent software vendors (ISVs) to test, qualify and prove the functionality of underlying VMware vSphere-based solutions and virtualized configurations.

Advantages of Media Function Virtualization (MFV)

Prior to VMware, broadcast engineers relied on single-operation hardware, which was limited to one job at a time, whether it was playout, transcoding or rendering. With MFV, media companies can execute multiple tasks on a single Dell EMC VxRail hyperconverged node – an integrated system co-engineered by Dell EMC and VMware.

For instance, we have a qualified solution with an ISV that enables us to get 2 – 4 compute tasks, doing either the transcode or the renders on a single VxRail, versus running each job on a separate server. So, what used to take 20 or 30 physical servers is now handled on seven or eight 1U VxRail systems.

VMware vSphere can also create robust automated environments. This enables virtual machines (VMs) to move between clusters and stretch clusters to provide higher availability and reliability. If an environment goes down or is taken offline, the application can seamlessly shift to another storage array or vSphere host without any interruption or impact to the user.

Now, VMware vSphere advances also allow you to run OTT client applications in VMs, as well as host the core video streaming applications for many broadcast and media solutions.

Virtualization’s expanding role

As the industry progresses toward “IP Playout” delivery, the role for virtualization continues to increase. Broadcasters must compete for audience and advertising dollars by quickly offering new services and channels with specialized content.

Easy-to-deploy integrated playout solutions accelerate channel deployment well beyond the capability of traditional installations by offering a flexible, software-based architecture. This enables broadcasters to only pay for what they need and easily add new features as their business evolves.

Add to that the evolution of Dell EMC Isilon scale-out storage solutions, designed for high-performance and advanced production environments, enabling media companies to shape and configure resources to meet the demanding needs of each operation in the workflow.

Time is money

Traditionally, it would take 9-12 months for a customer to get their broadcast workload environment into production. They had to size the equipment, set it up, configure and test it extensively before going on-air.

With Dell Technologies, the configuration is already qualified and tested when the VxRail nodes arrive. VxRail can be up and running in a couple of days once the networking is ready. Once VMware vSphere is configured, the ISVs – who are familiar with the vSphere configurations and images – can load the base VMs that very day.

ISVs have tested and qualified this technology right in their labs, so they’re able to move your operation immediately into workflow customization. This is how environments that used to take 12 months to get running become operational – and collecting revenue – within three months. We’re talking about greatly accelerating revenue from ad sales and everything else that goes along with spinning up a new channel. It also can shorten their technology investment depreciation cycle.

This kind of efficiency has caught the attention of ISVs, some of which are now adopting VMware’s solutions as their underlying technology, with huge OEM potential.

Broadcast challenges

Uncompressed video streams with an IP playout – usually associated with live sports broadcasts – can present a significant challenge for broadcasters, who can’t have dropped frames, jitter or black space, so the requirements are extremely high.

The  ST-2110 standard requires 1.3 Gb/s bandwidth for an uncompressed UHD channel. To get multiple channels playing, we found it imperative to have the ISV engineering department working with our VMware vSphere Alliances & Performance Engineering team. It took a long time to solve these challenges, but we can now get two of these channels running on a single VxRail node.

One of our ISV partners spent nine months working on a hardware solution to solve this problem. They had no success, because it wasn’t a hardware issue – it was a virtualization-engineering feat. They needed a virtualization solution and Dell Technologies’ expertise. When we brought our VMware vSphere performance engineers to the table, our partners were finally able to overcome this issue.

Furthermore, when the next generation VxRail arrives with even more powerful CPUs, we expect to get up to four uncompressed live streams playing without any issue.

Lower total costs

VMware-powered solutions can help media organizations realize significant cost savings. A single VxRail – powered by VMware vSphere and vSAN – can do the work of multiple bare-metal servers. This results in less rack space, less power and a reduction in cooling requirements versus deploying server after server.

Finally, we’re in the early virtualization stages with M&E, but not in other industries where we have employed this solution successfully for years. It took the banking industry, for example, a year or so to understand how well virtualization works. Once they understood the tools and their comfort level increased, the technicians’ work became more meaningful and interesting, and the possibilities of virtualization began to be realized.

That’s where we’re heading with M&E, which is why it’s going to be such an exciting next phase in this industry.

To learn more about recommendations and best practices, download VMware’s new whitepaper: “Media and Entertainment Workloads on vSphere 6.7: Best practices and recommendations for deployment and performance tuning,” co-authored by VMware’s Mark Achtemichuk, Bob Goldsand and Shak Malik. It is the definitive guide to successfully deploy and benefit from Media Function Virtualization.

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