What is Media Function Virtualization and why does it matter?

The trend for high-tech equipment, in any industry, has been a progressive move from expensive and highly specialized customized hardware towards platforms running software that delivers the functionality required and which can be updated remotely (field upgradable).

The broadcast industry is not immune to this trend, starting with the way tapes have been replaced with digital files that can be manipulated by software. Now, specialized media real-time transport and processing equipment hardware is also going soft.

The industry is used to the idea of having some software in hardware equipment in the form of firmware. But now, the software can define what functions the equipment can perform, and different software can be installed on the same equipment to change its functionality. Effectively, the hardware becomes a platform for what Nevion calls Media Function Virtualization (MFV), a term coined as an extension of the familiar Network Function Virtualization (NFV) concept.

Virtualization is a little unsettling for the broadcast industry, which has always only trusted physical connections between pieces of equipment with clearly defined functionality. But virtualization is all about bringing the flexibility and cost effectiveness that broadcasters require to “do more with less”.

Consider Nevion’s Virtuoso, which was launched at IBC 2016. This is a platform that can perform a variety of functions, depending on the software that runs on it, including IP adaption, encoding/decoding, protection, monitoring, aggregation and signal processing.  Not only can the functionality be changed easily, it also grows with every software update.

A new standard needs to be supported? No problem! A new image specification or format is to be transported? No problem. A new encoding method is required? No problem.

In other words, Virtuoso just gets better with every release!

With Media Function Virtualization, products like Virtuoso can help dramatically improve broadcast production.

Firstly, there’s the economics: the same equipment can perform multiple tasks and evolve over time reducing hardware obsolescence (no need to buy new hardware to get new functionality, re-purpose and redeploy equipment no longer needed for a particular function), which translates into lower costs of ownership.

Secondly, there is the increased nimbleness: if a production needs to switch media transport between 2 locations from 4 x JPEG 2000 in one direction and 1 x H.264 return feed, to the opposite set-up, with the right solution (e.g. Nevion’s Virtuoso), it takes matter of seconds. So suddenly the creative process of production is no longer slowed down by the need to find the right hardware and hooking it up.

The aspect that is often forgotten when discussing MFV is that, to achieve those benefits, it is necessary to change the functionality easily on not only one device, but multiple devices, and in a coordinated manner – as per the JPEG 2000 / H.264 example above. It is also usually necessary to route the signals to the right devices. And then, when it comes to software upgrades, they need to be rolled out in a controlled and organized manner. This means that an orchestration (management software) layer is essential to enable the centralized control of the MFV set-up across the media network.

Nevion’s VideoIPath is such an orchestrator, enabling non-expert users to manage the functionality of the Virtuosos and routing of the signals to them.

So, with the right platform, the right software and the right orchestration, broadcasters (and service providers) can leverage MFV to transform the way they do business. And lay the foundation for what Nevion calls the Cloud or Real-TimeTM, but that’s something for another blog – stay tuned!

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