Managing Diverse Media Transport Assets

A Proposal for Media Transport Asset Management (MTAM)

 

Synopsis

 

Broadcasters, Production and Postproduction service organizations and content creation companies are faced with stringent requirements for control and monitoring of the movement of media elements. Recent consolidation in the media industry has created large conglomerates with diverse holdings.  Large media companies are vertically integrated and operate multiple locations across the US and the Globe. The need for reliable, and orderly movement of media elements from location to location is vital to their success and profitability.  A heightened level of awareness is ever present, as the industry struggles with the ongoing battle against piracy.

 

Assets for Media Transport include leased fiber, ATM, IP, DTM, satellite networks and new broadband technologies just around the corner.   There are varying levels of sophistication in the management tools available for each of these technologies.  Many vendors offer systems for scheduling and tracking of content when utilizing their own brand of production or postproduction or distribution equipment. The systems that include scheduling tools tend to operate as individual islands. Very few media companies are equipped to manage the wide diversity of media transport tools they own.

 

As Media Asset Management systems are deployed at these organizations the need for well-managed transport networks will be critical to successful workflow.

 

The author will review approaches and techniques in use today. An open architecture based software management design will be described. Examples of Media Transport Asset Management (MTAM) systems will be discussed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

Managing Diverse Media Transport Assets

A Proposal for Media Transport Asset Management (MTAM)

 

 

Without Media Transport Asset Management  (MTAM) we ultimately face the dreaded “Warning your transmission was delayed due to Network Traffic” message or what I like to call the “Busy Signal of the Information Age”.  To avoid this unpleasant and often costly delay in your business I would like you to consider implementing a MTAM.

 

Definitions

 

Media Transport Assets can be defined as communications bandwidth utilized for the movement of media either internal within an organization external between any number of organizations.  Certainly a company’s LAN would be considered a media transport asset.  Larger organizations utilizing WAN interconnects to move media elements would also be classified under the Media Transport Asset heading.

 

Media Transport Assets fall into two broad categories.  Privately owned elements; like campus wiring and fiber infrastructure, and leased transport from telecom and satellite service providers.  Examples of Media Transport Companies would be Vyvx and Broadwing.  Local and long distance carriers also offer media transport.  Utility companies are also offering media transport services as well as private dark fiber interconnects.  Media Transport Assets are not limited to terrestrial links; they also include Microwave, Satellite and other wireless transport.

 

Media Companies including content creation companies, special effects boutiques, editing facilities, motion picture studios, TV Networks, content distribution service bureaus, cable head ends and essentially any company who must move media from one location to another would benefit from a Media Transport Asset Management  (MTAM) system.

 

Elements of a Media Transport Asset Management System include:

 

MTAM systems would include all or at least most of these components.

 

Administration - Tools for adding, modifying and changing assets to be managed by the system.

 

Security  - Users are assigned access at specific levels.  For example, some viewers may only view the current assets or connections.  Administrators would have full access to all features as well as modifying the system.  Operations personnel would have the ability to book, and modify reservations.

 

Monitoring – Tools for monitoring the health and current status of the network, including individual elements of the network, network and video switches, encoders, decoders, other sub systems.

 

Switching and Device Control - Control of switches, routers, and other network hardware.  This could also include video processing, codex, and other media transport subsystems.

 

Scheduling - The scheduling module is the key element to insuring that resources are available at the right time.  The scheduling system may have to interoperate with other existing scheduling and business management tools.

 

User Interface – Modules for defining screens that internal users interact with the MTAM.  A web interface would allow users outside of the network to interact with the system via a web browser.

 

API – Application Programmers Interface, data exchange support for other systems.

 

 

Media Transport Asset Categories

 

For some operations deploying a management system for media transport may seem to be unnecessary.  Small media companies might only have one or two leased lines for interconnection between their facilities; usually rented from a local service provider, but once your organization has multiple connections between multiple locations, an MTAM will be required to insure proper utilization and return on investment.   An MTAM can identify under utilized network paths, over loaded and potentially blocking links and help media companies operate a meshed transport network.  Eliminating two or more underutilized links could pay for a simple MTAM system in a few years.  Larger networks would see a return on investment in less time.

 

Managed ServicesManaged services come in many varieties, but in general they included the actual network transmission bandwidth, hardware and monitoring provided by the service provider.  Managed services are available from local Bell companies, Metropolitan Area Carriers and long distance carriers.  Typically the service includes the network gear, video to network adapters and may also include encoders and decoders.  These services are mostly sold as unidirectional.  Commitments range from 15 minutes Ad-Hoc services, to multiple year contracts.  Media can be transported as uncompressed video, compressed video using DVB ASI, files using FTP, I-SCSI as well as other media distribution schemes.  The underlying technology might include, dark fiber wavelengths, SONET, ATM, DTM, IP and satellite.

 

Point-to-Point Service - Many broadcasters and media companies lease private line point-to-point network connections from service providers.  In this scenario the carrier provides the raw transport to the end user.  The media company supplies the network termination. Depending on the media requirements other hardware would be supplied by the media company. 

 

Private NetworkIn this scenario the media company leases private lines between their locations and installs their own network switching technology along with all the associated hardware to build a network to move media between the locations. 

 

If you plan to deploy your own media network a MTAM is highly recommended. You will need; network management, monitoring and scheduling software. Also tools for configuring the network elements, administration tools become more important when running your own private network.  Large media conglomerates find that owning and managing their own media network makes the most sense.  Bandwidth is purchased at a wholesale rate and with the right tools the media company only relies on the carrier maintaining and supporting the underling transport bandwidth.  

 

MTAM

 

Switched Video Network – A simple MTAM system can be devised to manage switching video between multiple locations.  This might be appropriate for a post facility or production complex with multiple facilities.  The MTAM would be designed to create a front end to multiple video routing switchers each location.  Using a unified user interface and naming scheme users would be able to move between locations and interact with the switching system through a consistent MTAM GUI interface.  The MTAM would ask the user where the source of the content was and then the destination and the MTAM would find a route through the switches to make the connection. 

 

Once in place a switched video network could easily be expanded to multiple cities.  The MTAM’s route finding tools need to be aware of the network connections between the locations.  In the case of dedicated 270 mb/sec video loops this process can be envisioned as an extension of the campus video network but with long distance tie lines between the locations. 

 

The need for an MTAM becomes very clear when you consider the steps to make a connection using a manual system.  Here are a few.  Select the source, select a tie line between the locations, call the far end to check if they are available for the connection, and ask the far end to check the destination and switch the router at the far end.  Don’t forget to normal the system after you leave otherwise someone might think the connection is in use.  If you are using compressed video over a leased DS-3 link then you will have to add configuring the encoder on the send side and the decoder on the far end as well as network adapters on each side.

 

A variation on this might include processing modules to be switched in between the source and destination.  This virtual control panel approach allows video paths to include processing modules.  The auto routing of A to D converters, encoding devices, noise reducers, standards conversion could automate post processing and formatting routines performed today manually.  An added element would be to introduce a schedule to the system to allow managers to book resources based on time of day.  With a schedule implemented, utilization statistics can be measured, bottlenecks can be identified and capital investment justified, meeting business demands.  

 

With an MTAM system in play, the user interacts with the MTAM, and makes the request for the current time or some time in the future.  The system tracks bookings and utilization up to the minute and also can suggest an alternate time if the facilities are book during the first request.  The MTAM knows the status of all switching elements in the networks and assist the user in completing the project.  The MTAM system selects a connection, configures all necessary transmission hardware, encoders, decoders on the complete link, and confirms the connection.

 

Sender Oriented Model – Without an MTAM system users tend to take on a “sender” point of view.  Standing at one of the locations the user can only see the outgoing and incoming lines to his or her facility.  That view is further restricted due to the fact that from his or her location there is very little the user can do to affect switching or utilize bandwidth at the other locations, which might allow them to complete their project.  The examples below will better illustrate the limitations.

 

Spoke and Hub - Many users manage small systems using simple off the shelf software scheduling tools, or white boards or other techniques.  However these approaches tend to be oriented from the “You are Here” point of view.  The user in City A, for example could see his outgoing connections and monitor his incoming connections.  The user may have the ability to manage/schedule his connection between City A to City B, if they are booked.  A system like this might even be able to tell the user that the link will not be free until X.  However without a true MTAM the user in City A will probably not see that the outgoing line to city D is available and city D has a connection to City E which can take him to B, his final destination even though his city A to B connection is currently in use. 

 

By adding a few more interconnects creating a true mesh increases the potential number of paths to each destination and the MTAM now can help find those connections not visible to a simple scheduling system.

 

The beauty of a Mesh - Route finding and managing a mesh is where the magic happens.  A good example can be found in airlines schedules.  LA to NYC is booked.  But LA to Las Vegas is open and Las Vegas to NYC is open.  If Las Vegas to NYC is busy there is another route through Dallas.  When your MTAM incorporates ‘route finding’ your power to make connections is exponentially expanded.  ‘Route finding’ can be weighted to favor many factors, such as least number of hops, secondary routes, and owned links versus ad-hoc bandwidth.  Networks with meshed connections are the standard for the telecom industry. Many media companies actually own mesh designs but have few tools if any to exploit their investment. The simple off the shelf scheduling tools are not designed to manage meshed networks.  Even if they could suggest the routes for the connections, the tools to manage the hardware tend to be esoteric and user hostile for media people.  The MTAM is an integration of scheduling, hardware management and bandwidth management not common even in the telecom world.   Telecom management systems are typically designed to configure circuits on an infrequent basis.  The hourly and by the minute transactions necessary are just not found.  Media Transport service providers in many cases have had to design and build their own tools.

 

 

Bandwidth Management – In a switched video network there isn’t the need to manage the bandwidth utilization due to the fact that each connection uses up the complete bandwidth between the locations.  Media companies not only move live video and audio but transfer files in many formats, as well as other media types along with Meta data.  Modern data networking technology allows network managers to carve out bandwidth for each transaction.   For example in the scenario where a media company has leased DS-3s or OC-3 links between locations the MTAM will not only schedule the media transport connections between the locations but also reserve the bandwidth as required.  This “Bandwidth Inventory Management” allows a higher level of measurement and utilization of resources to be managed.  Once your network includes Gig-E, OC-12, OC-X and other bandwidths, the need for Bandwidth Management becomes critical.

 

Tools for managing bandwidth are specific to each kind of network technology. Each hardware vendor offers tools for managing Quality of Service (QOS) on their system.  However these tools were never intended for frequent use.  Most network control systems were designed configuring links.  They are set and remain the same for months and years. Media companies have no access to the service provider’s switches or administration tools.  They must live with the dedicated links as is, or install an MTAM system.  With a self controlled Media Transport Network using an MTAM system the media company is provided with a unified user interface eliminating the need to learn and manage a diverse set of tools from various vendors.

 

Switch based networks like ATM and DTM have rich tool sets for carving out and reserving bandwidth.  IP and MPLS networks offer tools for managing bandwidth and they will continue to evolve.  Networks with automatic route finding algorithms must have these features turned off. Automatic route finding works great when you want to send data now.   These automatic switching schemes leave you open to the “Busy Signal.”  The MTAM must look at each request for a connection, look at that specific time now or in the future and see if a prior reservation has booked that asset.  If the asset is available in the future the MTAM blocks that asset for the duration of the project as specified.  Keeping track of each node, switch, link and the bandwidth over time is the job of the MTAM.  Automatic route finding would only allow you to fix a route at that moment in time.  No understanding of the future of the routes exists in the automatic mode. Only switching and reservations booked through the MTAM can be accepted.    There is no going back but without an MTAM there is no guaranteed bandwidth in the future.

 

Authors note: Ironically one of the enticing aspects of router based IP networks is that the routers automatically coaxed your packets to the right destination without the hard work of setting one by one connections across the network.  In a Media Network you may not want to rely on a router based network. The MTAM will have to control IP traffic management; including LSP and RSVP tools in order to assure the user that the bandwidth needed will be there when needed.

 

Hybrid Networks – Most companies have an amalgam of media transport technologies such as leased lines, point to point connections, IP, ATM, Satellite, wireless, microwave.  All of these media transport technologies can be managed by an MTAM. Having one unified system improves workflow and efficiency.  Employing smart route finding and cross platform interconnection hardware would assist traversing these technologies.  Destinations in different networks could be cross-connected by converting the media from one network technology to the other.  Intermediate hardware would have to be switched into the path(s) to make this happen.  Today this is done manually with an MTAM this could be done automatically.

 

IT and Media Network Co-Existence - Media companies may outsource their IT as well as their Media Transport network management.  Those companies with internal IT departments may want to add support for media traffic on the corporate network.  Many companies prefer to keep the two networks separate. 

 

In the separate Media network scenario only the media network would benefit from the MTAM.  In the combined network implementation both the IT stakeholders and the Media stakeholders will benefit from the MTAM. The IT would have specific reserved bandwidth between locations booked through the MTAM.  MTAM can reserve bandwidth for Email, Accounting, Voice over IP (VOIP) as well as other future technologies that exploit the installed IP infrastructure.  These long-term scheduled bandwidth blocks can guarantee the bandwidth IT and back office people require. Also in the times when either side of the company needs additional bandwidth MTAM enables re-distribution of company transport Assets.

 

Real-Time and Non Real-time Media - Real-time media distribution or content contribution links need to have the highest level of priority.  One of the key justifications for an MATM is that you want to be sure that during a specific time frame the required transport bandwidth and links will be available.  The ever-popular Super Bowl scenario is often quoted.  The link must be there, the bandwidth must be there and even a backup link and set of transmission systems must be in place for automatic switchover.  MTAM systems can schedule and manage live transport and file deliveries critical to a media company’s success.  MTAM systems are currently managing live video and data networks for several broadcasters and media transport service provider today.

MTAM and MAM

Media Asset Management (MAM) is the ultimate tool for getting your content organized for use and re-use.  However without an interface to the MTAM the dreaded “Warning your transmission was delayed due to Network Traffic” message will destroy your productivity gains, or worse yet limit your revenue potential.

MAM installation categories

MAM installations are diverse but we might categorize them into three main groupings, Internal, ASP and Commercial.

 

Internal MAM Solutions – An internal MAM Solution might be appropriate for a media company where the only users are members of that company.  Users interact with the MAM System via the company LAN or WAN.  Depending on the size of he company users may only have the IT backbone as the media network. Larger organizations my have separate networks. MTAM with it’s bandwidth management and scheduling can leverage the power of separate or combined networks.

 

ASP MAM Model – Companies with small amounts of media content may subscribe to a MAM Service Provider. In this scenario the MAM application is hosted on servers managed and owned by the MAM service provider.  Several carriers have ventured into this area.  Also, MAM software vendors offer hosted ASP services for companies to “try before you buy”, and in many cases the ASP model fulfills the requirements for the end user.

 

Commercial MAM Model – Large media library owners have additional challenges.  They must make their system available to outside users, as well as manage the fulfillment or delivery of the content to customers.  Systems for large databases and multiple data warehouses would benefit from a MTAM system. Commercial content sales companies will be required to keep a close watch on their bandwidth utilization in order to keep the customer experience positive and profitable. Paying customers will be less amenable to sluggish response time and long delivery waits than in-house users.  Some knowledge of the customer’s transport assets is required to facilitate delivery. Fulfillment may also be made possible through business partners like local duplication companies or post houses.  The dub house would charge for the dubs and or file conversions.  The link costs to the dub house or post house could be shared or paid for by the MAM service company.

 

Potential for Congestion and Disaster Delivery techniques for files come in many forms such as FTP systems and dedicated user-friendly solutions like ClipMail Pro™ from Telestream.  Users interact with the MAM low-resolution proxy clips, make decisions, edit and request content to be sent to them for use.  File transfer cue lists can grow very quickly. On a large MAM installation hundreds of delivery requests could be made per hour per system

 

MAM meets MTAM - When these two systems are interconnected the workflow would go something like this.  A user would identify media assets needed for a project.  Authorization for use, purchase or licensing of those elements is completed in the MAM system.  Then a request for delivery support is made to the MTAM system via data interchange technology. 

 

The MAM user interface collects information regarding content delivery requirements and passes it to the MTAM.   The MTAM finds an appropriate path and time slot and then reports back to the user the confirmed booking. Upon completion of transmission reservations a booking confirmation would be sent to the MAM.   For live or real-time content the MTAM system would verify the users authorization on the MAM system log the content and destination(s) and after confirmation send the content.  Transaction logs are archived on both systems, for future audits.

 

Classes of Delivery Service – Who goes first?   Systems have been deployed or can be designed with classes of delivery service.   Examples might be:

 

Real-Time Categories

 

Broadcast – live content from events to distribution centers or backhauled to integration studios. 

They must go at specific time and date.  There is no alternative or bump option. Options for fully redundant paths are also required and can be provisioned in the MTAM system.

 

Contribution - similar to live but may have several variables that might be flexible.

 

Dub – Content exists in a storage system, so it can be scheduled to an alternate time.

 

Non Real-Time Categories and Data Fields

 

Must Arrive No later than – This is for content that is needed in the future.  Typically this information is required for all reservations or requests.

 

Preferred Arrival Date and Time – Specified in addition to the “No Later Than” requirement, allowing a range for the system to work with.

 

Now – Content is needed “Now”. Send content using fastest possible technology, may go over a real-time link or file transfer path.

 

Best Way – send via any method.  No specified time or deadline requirements.

 

Price Based Models can also be developed.  Platinum, Gold and Bronze levels indicating highest to lowest priority.  Customers on tight budgets may elect lowest cost delivery to protect their budgets.

 


Security and Tracking -
All of us are aware of issues related to security and piracy. The ability to track the movement of content not only within a facility but also between facilities and across networks gives the media companies a better way to audit and secure content.  We might consider some of the advantages of an MTAM system in this very important area. 

 

All routes are logged for each transmission.  Media flowing through the system can be tracked at many points.  Entry city, connecting cities, and switches within those cities can be logged.  Time of day stamping is done on all transactions.  Only users of the system can know where the traffic will be routed for a specific job.  All bookings on the system are logged including the operator or user who made the reservation.  The MTAM tracks users name project information and any other types of data.  Rules for delivery destinations may be assigned to specific users. 

 

For example, User A works for Company Z.  Only company Z locations might be available to that user. User B from Company Z may be authorized to deliver content to a specific list of companies.  Users interacting through the MAM system would have already been authenticated on the MAM system and user rights and privileges could be defined there or in cooperation with the MTAM system.

Summary

 

MTAM systems are designed to allow the user to manage and control Media Transport Assets. The core of the MTAM is the management and scheduling of live video and media files.

Critical to the successful deployment of an MTAM system is the ability to manage bandwidth utilization over time. 

 

MTAM systems can also incorporate control and scheduling of non-media services; telephone, various audio services, data transmission and other telecom networking.  Current MTAM systems have been deployed to permit broadcast, production/post production, and telecom operations people the ability to interact with very complex and diverse technologies under unified control architecture.

 

Implementation may be considered to create an umbrella management platform to tie together several vendors or home brewed systems.  MTAM systems also allow for work flow and processes modeling in software, which is important as new services or operations are deployed.

 

Modules could include:

·         Scheduling

·         Network and Bandwidth Management

·         Machine/Device Control

·         Traffic and Billing

·         Resource Management

 

Return on investment may come in many forms, elimination of unused or redundant links, and improved productivity through the management of a meshed network. Eliminate the additional expense of Ad Hoc services.  An MTAM system will provide ability to anticipate future bottlenecks and bandwidth shortages. Our experience has shown users operate confidently and are able to meet critical operational demands.  

 

If you are not using an MTAM system today you will be using one tomorrow!  Or at least your competition will.

 

 

All trademarks and copyrights property of their respective owners.

 

Anthony Magliocco email: anthonym@cware.com