A virtual automation environment has some clear benefits over the traditional workstation model and broadcasters are beginning to take advantage of the ease and versatility.
Broadcast facilities and media groups constantly look for ways to reduce their overhead upgrades to their existing hardware. The transition from traditional workstations to a virtual environment can help a broadcaster realize cost savings and increased reliability of their automation system throughout their facility.
This architecture presents a few advantages over using traditional workstations in a studio. Virtualizing replaces production, scheduling, and playout computers throughout the facility with one unit complete with individual operating systems and applications. The large form-factor PCs and fans used to cool them are replaced with a thin client small enough to be attached to the back of a monitor mount. With the mission-critical hardware out of reach of the operator, the unit is protected from accidents and can be properly maintained in a rack room down the hall.
One of the principal advantages of virtualization is the reduction in total cost of ownership. While the initial capital outlay may be higher than traditional automation workstations, the cost savings are realized in lower maintenance costs and lower costs of hardware upgrades. Additionally, the cost of powering and cooling the system is dramatically lower than powering and cooling the multiple computers of a traditional system, especially considering the power drawn when systems are in standby.
When contemplating the system used for a new studio build, a virtual environment may reduce deployment costs as control points are connected by simple network cabling for both AoIP and the thin clients. This simplicity is also helpful when relocating the virtual system, making additions or modifications to virtual environment, such as adding a new virtual automation workstation to a new studio. With the virtual computing model, hardware resources are shared among different virtual workstations. This means that when station personnel decide it is time to upgrade the hardware, the upgrades can be done quickly and with less downtime, avoiding the cost of being off air when performing upgrades.
All virtual workstations sharing a common set of hardware components, routine maintenance of the system becomes less expensive than replacing or upgrading the same components on each hardware workstation. This provides better uptime over traditional hardware units and allows the on-air program to continue running uninterrupted.
A virtual system stores all configuration files and assets on a single hardware unit and can be accessed from any client with little effort. There are, however, inherent risks associated with centralizing data.
To mitigate these risks, a virtual environment should be highly redundant, and safeguard backup copies of assets and other mission critical files. The same principle applies to virtual workstations. Just as some engineers insist on having a backup automation workstation or two in the event of a hardware failure, a virtual environment can include backup virtual workstations to prevent downtime. Some hardware allows seamless recovery in the event of a hardware failure in the unit.
With the level of versatility, and the flexibility of an AoIP routing system, any studio can be used for any purpose regardless of its original intended use. This highly redundant environment allows for easy reconfiguration, virus removal, and cloning of virtual workstations to scale upward as facility's needs change.
A virtual automation environment has some clear benefits over the traditional workstation model and broadcasters are beginning to take advantage of the ease and versatility. It is important to assess the needs of a station and determine how a virtual environment can improve the workflow, data security, and maintenance requirements.