Don't Forget To Tell IT

Engineering, IT departments need to work together before taking automation plunge
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The relationship between traditional broadcast engineers and the IT department within a facility can often be put to the test when it comes to the selection and installation of an automation system. Of course, the line between the two disciplines continues to erode, and it ultimately could be the automation system that ends traditional engineering functions.

"There's a high demand for the automation system to have compatibility with the IT infrastructure, and a station can't put a system in without sitting down with the IT department and showing them the topology of the network," says John Wadle, Omnibus Systems vice president, technology.

The IT department, he explains, will want to see how it is going to fit with the house LAN, firewalls and communication systems and how files will tunnel from one system to the other. Compatibility with IT standards and departments is a big factor.

Stations with a smaller IT department are likely to pick an automation system based on Microsoft's Windows platform. Although Linux does hold its advantages and is favored by some broadcasters, it's also a bit more labor-intensive. But, for stations and facilities that have their own programming team, it's often the preferred operating system.

"A lot of broadcasters really like Linux because it's free and they aren't beholden to Microsoft," says Michael Koetner, vice president, technology, for BBC Technology North America. "When they're putting in a system that will stay in place for 15 years, they're more comfortable because, with Linux, they're more future-proofed."

BBC Technology has built Colledia on Java2e, Koetner says, because it's a much more proven enterprise-grade platform than Microsoft's .Net platform.

.Net is a Microsoft technology that makes use of "Web services," small, discrete building-block applications. They are written in XML, a universal language of Internet data exchange, and can also work with Linux.

The system also has instant failover and graceful recovery, making it capable of fulfilling the "five 9s" uptime requirement. Another plus is that hot-patch updates can be done without shutting down the system.

Harris Corp., on the other hand, isn't comfortable using Java2e in any application for which real-time response is necessary and critical, according to Director of Product Marketing Brian Lay. The company's automation system uses Java2e in the application servers for digital ingest, but desktop applications run on Windows XP.

"For application servers," he says, "Java2E is the right way to go as the communication tools for business-to-business needs are built in and it scales for users."

Florical Systems uses Microsoft Windows, says President and CEO Jim Moneyhun, because it has effective tools for analyzing issues related to running equipment. "If something goes wrong, the automation company gets the blame for not finding the problem before it occurs. With the tools, we can show where the problem lies and find any bugs."

Right now, his company is preparing its software for the Microsoft .Net framework and is lab-testing its system for Microsoft XP. "Our plan is that, when the 64-bit computer comes around, we'll be ready for it."

One manufacturer has already tackled .Net. The Omnibus G3 system is based on it, providing many of its unique features, including its customizable GUI. "The .Net environment allows a tremendous interprocess communication infrastructure," says Wadle. "It's like a Lego thing: You can put components in any organization you want. It also detects other components and sets up communication between them."

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