OSN recently upgraded its broadcast facilities with a brand new network operations centre at its Dubai headquarters. Vijaya Cherian goes on-site to find out how the new facility will improve the network’s operational efficiencies OSN recently undertook a massive upgrade project that saw the complete overhaul of its broadcast facilities at its headquarters in Dubai […]
OSN recently upgraded its broadcast facilities with a brand new network operations centre at its Dubai headquarters. Vijaya Cherian goes on-site to find out how the new facility will improve the network’s operational efficiencies
OSN recently undertook a massive upgrade project that saw the complete overhaul of its broadcast facilities at its headquarters in Dubai Media City, as well as at the old Ten Sports building, which now serves as a second OSN facility. While TSL served as the main systems integrator for this project, solutions from several vendors, including Harmonic, Ericsson, Grass Valley, Axon, EVS, Vizrt, Calrec, SAM, Pixel Power, Christie, Skyline, Lund & Halsey and Elemental, helped OSN bring this project to fruition.
The existing facility at the OSN headquarters has been operational for 11 years and was expanded significantly following the growth of the pay-TV operators business since the merger of Orbit and Showtime in 2009, and the subsequent consolidation of their facilities in 2011.
Both buildings were involved as part of this project, explains Mark Billinge, CTO of OSN.
The main focus of the technical part of the project was the OSN Broadcast HQ, which is now known as OSN Building 2. Our mandate was to build a state-of the-art operational area that could support the growth of the business and our broadcast operations efficiently for the next three to five years.
We have been the leaders in this region by a significant margin, and we want to maintain that position, so the broadcast infrastructure needs to grow in parallel with our content and platform offerings. We had to take this next step with our systems here to be able to keep up with the growth of the business.
For this, the team required a multi-functional solution with future expansion capabilities while safeguarding transmission and other operations, which were all live during the rebuild.
The project was undertaken in four separate phases: the relocation, expansion and upgrade of the NOC (Network Operations Centre); the migration of the studios; the expansion of the Central Apparatus Room (CAR) along with the MEP refit; and the expansion and relocation of the post-production unit.
The new NOC has affectionately been dubbed the teams spaceship. Unlike the previous setup, where monitors were fixed around the room in a fragmented manner that made it inconvenient for staff to monitor all of OSNs growing number of channels at once, the new setup gives them a panoramic view.
The new areas of NOC, CAR and Edit now benefit from more robust MEP installations and a more ergonomic design. The layout of the new NOC especially allows monitoring of all of our 150+ services to be seen from anywhere in the area, with room for expansion in the future, explains Billinge.
The focal point of the NOC is a seamless video wall composed of 28 x 55 Christie LED displays. It includes a central operations area, an MCR and seven individual live presentation suites. The 46 team members control and monitor the entire OSN platform, currently made up of 150 linear DTH satellite channels as well as its OTT services.
The MCR is responsible for all live signal contribution serving its sports and general entertainment (GE) channels. OSN has full-time dedicated facility lines from major switching hubs like BT Tower that provide its atmospheric free signal access to support its live productions.
We have used this opportunity to streamline workflows by combining the sports and GE areas with a central supervisory console, explains Tom Jones, Director of Broadcast Operations at OSN.
The implementation required us to undergo various intermediate migration phases, all of which needed to be done without on-air impact. We were faced with monitoring a significant number of services in the new area and opted for an IP transport stream system based on Ericsson RX9500 modular IRDs and Miranda KIP multiviewers. This also opens up additional possibilities for the future, such as compliance recording, stream analysis, etc.”
Frank Kerrin, Director Of Technology Support and Projects, Broadcast Engineering at OSN adds: We also included a centralised alarm, monitoring and control system from Dataminer for our 20 live streaming services, which will be expanded across our entire broadcast infrastructure over the coming months. The end result is a more efficient and more effective monitoring and control area that allows us to operate with lower costs while increasing our KPIs. The solution is scalable, allowing us to further grow into the future.
The second area that saw a major revamp was the Central Apparatus Room. This brought all streaming services in-house to enhance OSNs expanding digital / OTT platforms, as well as the recent upgrade to its sports workflow based around Imagine AMP servers.
The new CAR has over 50% more rack capacity. The first significant technology deployment in the expanded CAR is the latest Electra-X2 encoding from Harmonic, onto which OSN has moved all of its HD services to further enhance its customer experience. All of this required careful planning and execution in order to achieve the desired result without on-air impact.
One of the key aspects here was a comprehensive review of power distribution to allow true A/B power distribution across all areas, plus a replacement of the existing CAR A/C, which had grown organically over the years as required and could no longer support the needs of the area. Besides adding fully redundant CCUs, OSN has employed cold-aisle containment to leverage the best efficiency from the new units and lower its carbon footprint. This has led to a more efficient use of the HVAC system and lower energy requirements.
In the new Edit area, the team relocated the AHUs and FCUs as far from the operational areas as possible to reduce the ambient noise in that environment. Here, the team has continued to build upon the Adobe Creative Cloud workflow introduced at the beginning of 2014. Again, all sports and GE editing requirements have been centralised here.
To put things in perspective, the OSN platform has grown on both satellite DTH as well as OTT over the years. This expansion has also seen broadcast chains at the facility become more complex. Traditional multipoint visual monitoring is still used, but more was needed to ensure that all parts of the broadcast chain operate as expected.
This also included signal integrity for satellite and OTT streams.
This is where Dataminer comes in, explains Jones, pointing out that the Dataminer solution is a big step for the network.
This solution monitors all of our off-air signals and all the incoming third-party services we have from Jordan, Cyprus, Europe and so on. With Dataminer, we have now begun the journey of bringing the entire broadcast network under one monitoring and control system. Even though this is still in its early stages, we have already seen KPIs improve and fault-finding times reduced.
One of the key mandates of this project was to support a complete file-based workflow end to end and change the old Media Operations department in light of the new requirements.
While this project, on a practical level, enabled our Media Operations department to be consolidated into one functional area so that human interaction would be more efficient, we also took the opportunity to analyse and overhaul the media workflows we then had in place. We introduced a secure media workflow that allowed us to capitalise on studios providing content pre-US transmission, explains Billinge.
This was obviously essential for us to support the ‘same time as US’ air time strategy that OSN has adopted. We introduced auto QC, which enabled us to validate our content earlier in the process as well as at different stages within the media chain, when handling such volumes and deploying it across multiple platforms both linear and on-demand.
This led to both cost efficiencies in productivity as well as more robust file integrity for the final product we delivered to our customers. We introduced automated media movement between the multiple destinations, which led to the content being in the right place at the right time. This neither compromised server capacities nor user requirements yet effectively freed up manual resources for more creative activities. Via exploitation of our CMS, we were able to provide workflow reports to non-technical staff, which meant they were up to date on the status of their media, regardless of platform destination. This enabled issues that were holding up workflows to be identified and addressed such that downstream bottlenecks were avoided.
This project has offered the opportunity to phase out legacy solutions and inefficiencies and upgrade existing solutions. For instance, the off-air monitoring of OSNs own DTH services was extremely cumbersome, and space and power hungry, elaborates Billinge.
With the prospect of three additional transponders coming to the NOC, we had to find a better solution, so we took this opportunity to migrate all of our off-air NOC monitoring to an IP-based solution. This again brought us savings in real estate, power and cost.
All of OSNs DVB services (SD and HD) were on the Harmonic Electra 8K encoding platform.
We took the opportunity to migrate our HD services to the next generation Harmonic X2 encoding platform, which is optimised for HD and gives significant bandwidth savings, chips in Jones.
One key element of this project was to migrate the Pehla bouquet, OSNs recent acquisition, from Jordan Media City to Dubai. This meant making a change to the DVB headend.
With the migration of the Pehla turnaround services to Dubai, we took the opportunity to fully upgrade our HD compression to the next generation Harmonic Electra X2 encoding and Prostream 9000 multiplexing, explains Billinge.
This project, which began in early 2015, is scheduled for completion in March 2016. Different phases have been delivered at different times. For instance, the new NOC was ready in September 2015 while the post-production unit wasnt ready until December 2015.
The implementation started at the beginning of 2015 and is currently ongoing. Despite delays in the delivery of parts of the project, we hit all of our critical milestones on time. Some examples are the in-sourcing of OSN Cricket playout, in-sourcing of the Pehla channel turnaround (over 40 services), the studio move and the revamp in time for the Rugby World Cup, and the launch of our latest mux on Eutelsat 8WB, which will be capable of 4K transmissions later this year, Billinge points out.
As with all such upgrades, there were challenges.
One of the major aims of the project was to give us greater resilience in the systems that underpin the broadcast operation. Therefore, we took the opportunity to completely overhaul the power distribution within our CAR and the AC. Although the existing systems have supported us for many years, they were not designed as well as they could have been in some cases, so we were keen to put that right, explains Billinge.
This was especially true for the power distribution within CAR. We now have as robust a system and configuration as possible within the constraints of the building design. The AC is also a major area of improvement. What we had previously had reached its limit, given our growth and also the challenges posed by greater packing density of kit within the bays. The solution we have chosen is fully resilient, and the cold aisle containment for efficient cooling has been a great choice.
The broadcaster has almost completed this project, but the tech team is working on other parallel projects, such as its project with Samsung to develop its next-generation 4K UHD STB platform. OSN has had capacity on a new transponder since early this year, some of it reserved for its 4K /UHD services.
We continue to grow with the new channel launches and more HD channels added to the platform. We are also currently developing our next-generation 4K UHD STB platform. For us, as a premium provider, it is a natural progression, and if you look at the Samsung screen models this year, they are all 4K screens. We are developing a new platform with them, adds Billinge.