IT Helps Integrate GPB Facility

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The relationship between traditional broadcast engineering and IT departments can sometimes run aground on personality clashes and concerns over job security. That can pose a challenge for management—and also lead to hesitation when considering projects that could lead to potential conflict.

Concerns of that potential conflict troubled Mark Fehlig, director of engineering for Georgia Public Broadcasting (GPB), when he began planning a $4 million IT-based facility three years ago for the network. The facility would handle digital-video playback and data management, storage and archiving. But he learned that defining the facility's needs and finding an integrator that could meet those needs helped make the merging of IT and broadcast engineering operations easier.

GPB chose MCSi, an integrator based in suburban Atlanta that has done projects for Turner Broadcasting, to handle the project. Fehlig says the company put together a system that does things that weren't done before and has gotten IT and engineering on the same song sheet.

The facility at GPB is an example of how disparate server technologies can come together in one facility. SGI's Clustered XFS (CXFS) shared-file system for storage area networks is the backbone of a system that connects two SGI Origin 300 gateway servers to SGI Media Servers, a Hitachi 9980V storage system, and an ADIC Scalar 10K robotic tape library for near-line data archiving.

"The SGI CXFS system serves as the backbone underneath the SGI Fiber switch that gives us the speed required to move content around," says Fehlig. "We really went after a product that would solve our business requirements rather than pick our favorite technology or brand name."

Those business requirements are very broad. Standard-definition television operations for nine stations across the state, multichannel DTV operations, and multichannel educational operations for the PeachStar Education Service are at the top of the list. GPB also handles the Internet distribution of educational content that has been broken into digestible pieces that can be streamed to teachers, as well as streaming of the Georgia high school football and basketball finals. The organization now has OC3 connectivity throughout the state and also works closely with Georgia Tech on developing Internet 2 technologies.

When Fehlig and his team sat down to figure out how to convert the facility to tapeless operations, they quickly found that some of the more progressive computer companies were able to accommodate their needs while the lesser ones were very video-centric, leaving issues like metadata to others. "The IT shop is where the high-performance machines and workflow savings are, so we converted all of craft trade to a software workflow," says Fehlig.

Getting the content creation side set up was one thing, but getting traffic and content distribution running is the real challenge. Masstech and Harris/Louth are creating a central repository for all GPB's archived metadata information using Louth's automation system and Masstech's MassStore and Mass Proxy systems. The systems tie into a Hitachi storage system on which resides low-resolution proxy video available for browsing. The files are platform-agnostic, which means that, once a file is selected, it can be transmitted over the air or streamed to the Internet.

For TV demands, the content is pushed out to SGI Media Servers for MPEG-2 standard-definition playout. HD demands will be met with SGI Media Server systems that have DVB-ASI record and playout.

"This stuff is radically different from that used in days gone by," says Fehlig. "But we're getting rid of videotape machines and going onto servers, making our facility more automated."

The facility, which became operational in June, is only about halfway to being fully tapeless, he says. He expects to add more SGI servers by the end of the year to complete the move to a more IT-centric plant.

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