Broadcast Centre - Design And Build

All of our clients are focussed on making the most of the latest technology. Nowhere is this more apparent than in broadcast TV and Radio - an industry where news and programmes are constantly evolving. The move from analogue studios to fully digital "baseband" broadcast centres has been the culmination of many years of work and we are now moving from there into a new world of broadcast over IP, which comes with a new set of challenges.

This project was our customer's first major "Broadcast over IP" installation. It was intended to provide a template for how to roll out the same technology to other sites in the future. Consequently, it had to be well engineered and tested. It was designed to be resilient against failure and a large effort went in to producing an environmentally sustainable technical base that could shutdown unused equipment to minimise power usage and cooling requirements.

The project was one of the first big IP broadcast installations and pre-dated finalisation of the standards and completion of engineering by equipment suppliers.

We implemented a large Custardware telemetry and reconnaissance monitoring package for use whilst building the various networks. This allowed us to check configurations and to ensure that any changes on the network did not reduce functionality. We also implemented a means to visually represent the energy efficiency of various computer rooms and editing suites to ensure that the most efficient use was being made of equipment, this assisted the customer in automating powering down unused equipment during low use periods such as overnight and at weekends.

The Challenge
We were brought in by this 'Major UK Broadcaster' to build their broadcast over IP solution. They needed an adaptable team who were knowledgeable who could apply a broad approach to providing the best solutions within the requirements and budget. They needed a technical team who could work within their internal engineering teams and work with their various suppliers to bring to life the functionality they were aiming to achieve.

Layer3's solution for our customer would require the design and build of several networks within their new Studio Centre; these being an AES67 Audio over IP network for a number of radio channels, an Audinate Dante network for about thirty post-production suites and a secure, isolated Management and Control network to tie all the broadcast plant together.

Layer3 provided consultancy on the production audio and video network used for the three TV Studios which was based on the (new at the time and new to this broadcaster) Society of Motion Pictures Engineers (SMPTE) 2110 specification. SMPTE2110 is an IP replacement for the 'traditional' Serial Digital Interconnect (SDI) that has been in use for the last 20 years. The use of SMPTE2110 had impacts across the network design as this required the use of multiple 100Gb/s interconnects between network switches with zero packet loss and very low latency, achieved with a sophisticated Software Defined Networking (SDN) solution. This design and deployment was one of the first all IP studio centres to be deployed in the UK and is still a pioneering site.

One of the key technologies needed with any broadcast over IP solution is the means to synchronise broadcast equipment to a precise time clock. Layer3 provided design and integration to implement a timing distribution service within the building. This was based on the 'Precision Time Protocol (PTP)' which can lock broadcast devices very tightly together (to within 10 nanoseconds).

Additionally there was a large piece of work required to design, build and commission two large and one small VMWare clusters which were used for running the broadcast automation system and various other services for the building.

The Solution
We worked in conjunction with engineers from the broadcaster's project engineering team, the System Integrator's engineering team and the engineering teams from many broadcast plant suppliers in order to deliver comprehensive, reliable and maintainable solutions for each network.

AES67 Network
This network was based on Cisco Nexus switches in a fully-routed leaf-spine arrangement using OSPF as the routing protocol. Each leaf switch carried a single subnet with local devices attached, with one or more switches per studio. In the event of a leaf switch failure the radio network can fall back to a sustaining feed while the programme moves to another studio.

Attached devices included Riedel Bolero intercom systems, DHD audio desks for Radio, Calrec audio desks for TV.

Dante Network
This network was based on Cisco Catalyst switches in a fully-routed leaf-spine arrangement using OSPF as the routing protocol. Each leaf switch carried one subnet with one switch per Edit Suite. In the event of a switch failure, users can decamp to another suite and pick up their job seamlessly due to the system design.

We used Dante Domain Manager to provide interconnection between the subnets for the Dante discovery protocol and as a control point for the broadcast automation system. Attached devices included ProTools, many Focusrite devices and Audinate devices.

Management And Control Network
This was again based on Cisco Catalyst switches but in a switched configuration, with separate VLANs for each class of device tied together with an HA pair of Cisco firewalls at the centre of the network. Attached devices included many BNCS control PCs, VMWare virtual machines for control systems, many Grass Valley devices, Cisco SDN compute, Shure radio mic controllers etc.

We worked alongside the NCSC (part of GCHQ) to ensure the security of this network given that it touched every aspect of broadcast and production.

SMPTE 2110 Network
The design and build of this network was provided by one of the main suppliers in a Joint Venture with Cisco - we provided consultancy on issues such as the overall interconnection with the other networks and integration and security of the Software Defined Networking (SDN) network controller which is an integral part of many SMPTE2110 networks.

Precision Time Protocol (PTP)
The design of the PTP was carefully crafted to match the functionality and features available in various switches and devices. PTP needs to be carefully tuned into a network and interfaced to the software applications running on the network. Layer3 worked with suppliers and manufacturers to gain the high level of performance the customer needed.

Virtualisation Platform 
This was based around two HPE Synergy blade server systems using an HPE Nimble storage array for two large VMWare clusters plus two stand-alone servers with an HPE MSA2040 disk storage solution connected via SAS to the servers for a single small VMWare cluster.

Use was made of VSphere for VMWare control and management plus HPE OneView for the underlying system management.

This solution allowed us to provide a fully fault-tolerant system for running the broadcast management application (which has it's own underlying failover mechanisms) plus a fail-over deployment for the applications which do *not* have inbuilt failover mechanisms.

Deployed software included BNCS 4.x, Audinate Dante Device Manager, SHURE radio mic control applications etc.

The Outcome
The Studio Centre went live in 2019 and is now fully operational.
  • Layer3's solution provides a template to roll out the same, tried and tested, technology to the broadcaster's other sites worldwide.
  • Employing our CustardWare network reconnaissance solution to diagnose issues during the build produced cost savings by removing doubt and uncertainty during configuration and test.
  • The system was designed with 24x7 broadcast operation in mind having redundant core switches and fast failover networks to allow switches to be taken out of service for firmware upgrades or replacement without affecting the operation of the network.
  • The system was designed and built with more bandwidth than was actually required on each link thus providing more than adequate performance for the current requirement.
  • Custardware was able to assist in driving the sustainability function within the building, both during build and into normal use.

How Can We Help
We can help you to focus on your deliverables by liberating you from your technological challenges, our experience shows us that there are many ways to achieve solutions. So no matter what challenges you face, we can help you overcome them!

Please contact us for a free initial discussion - you can either contact us on 0203 805 7795 or email