Maintaining Server Sanity

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Since moving to server-based systems and a new 601 infrastructure WKYC-TV Cleveland has learned a simple lesson: Maintenance is more important than ever.

"The biggest challenges with server-based technology are training and adjusting the mindset of the whole team," said Rex Rickly, WKYC-TV chief engineer. "The maintenance paradigm changes as well."

The Gannett-owned NBC affil moved into its new digital facility a little more than a year ago, so it's well along in the digital learning process. Rickly said the daily purging of servers is a must. Because of the heavy reliance on software, there is a heavier reliance on the vendor.

"Jumping into a 601 plant has been a non-event," Rickly said. "The switch from analog video to 270 mbps [megabits per second] high-speed data has gone smoothly."

A Thomson Grass Valley 2100 master control switcher and a Sony DVS7000 switcher handle on-air production, while Sony MAV70 servers are used for ad spots and programming. Local commercials come in on one-inch or Beta tape before being ingested into the MAVs.

While the servers do offer a litany of advantages, they also introduce new limits. Rickly said he fears the engineering department's hard-fought reputation for reliability might be lost. "While operating efficiency is improved in the digital compared to the analog world, having to reboot a graphics or server system in the middle of a newscast is not tolerable."

Debugging new equipment on air is a routine phenomenon today. He reported his staff carry cell phones on their belts because they make so many calls to vendors. The problem is compounded by industry-wide reductions in manpower.

"Even if we had a maintenance crew twice as big, we still could not do a better job because we are captive to vendor software," Rickly said. "If the help desk is not familiar with the problem, we are hung."

For play-to-air, the WKYC-TV newsroom taps Avid Unity and Pluto server systems with news editing done on Avid Newscutters. Rickly added that that tape is used strictly for archive purposes and the station hopes to acquire a DVD jukebox for future archiving needs.

"Our industry needs a much better tracking system for both commercial and programming playback," Rickly said. "The way we go about it is too manual in nature. We need codes assigned and embedded in the vertical interval at the time the content is produced."

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