Aspera comment: high-speed transfers, automation power BT Sport’s file-based workflows, disaster recovery

Live sports have driven much of today’s broadcast-production innovation, writes François Quereuil, senior director, worldwide marketing, Aspera, an IBM company. The number and frequency of sports events is increasing, along with the pace of production and innovation. Globalisation is driving international fan bases, and new media is changing how content is delivered to fans. But delivering high-quality, high-resolution content involves multiple complex workflows and the integration of technologies from multiple vendors.

Launched on August 1 2013, BT Sport is a collection of sports channels offered by the BT Group in the UK. Its surprise move into pay TV with new world-class technical facilities and cutting-edge file-based technologies saw the largest shakeup of UK sports broadcasting in decades.

Comprising BT Sport 1, BT Sport 2, and ESPN UK, the broadcaster provides top-tier coverage of English Premier League football; the UEFA Champions League; Major League Soccer; French, Spanish, and German top-tier league football; the Ultimate Fighting Championship; Aviva Premiership Rugby; WTA tennis; MotoGP; the World Rally Championship; and a host of other European and international sports.

Timeline Television, a provider of broadcast technology and services in the UK, provided the broadcast infrastructure for BT Sport as part of a high-tech, integrated solution, including managing the end-to-end design and build of the production hub. Aspera was chosen to provide the orchestration system and underlying high-speed data-transport technology to power BT Sport’s complex, file-based live sports-production workflow.

The Challenge

BT Sport’s vision of a world-class hub for the best ideas and talent could be realised only with a new, state-of-the-art broadcast facility. London’s new digital quarter, iCITY, previously the home of the Olympic International Broadcast Centre at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, was chosen for the main production hub, and BT Sport selected longtime technical partner Timeline Television as sole managed-service provider.

Timeline Television had less than six months to build the broadcast centre from an empty shell into a 24-hour-a-day operation, including the simultaneous roll-out of a fully automated disaster-recovery system. The new infrastructure needed to provide BT Sport with the most advanced tools on the market, and it made sense to use proven and reliable technologies to ensure that the project was completed within the aggressive time frame, as well as to optimise workflow productivity.

Timeline Television identified the need for a robust, high-speed transfer platform to power the intense file-based production workflows. To fulfil BT Sport’s stringent requirements, the platform needed to support secure high-speed transfer at multi-gigabit speeds; allow fully automated end-to-end workflows, including ad hoc content ingest, review, approval, and distribution; and offer reliable, secure data replication of petabytes of media from BT Sport’s main site in London’s iCITY to the disaster-recovery and continuity facilities at the iconic BT Tower.

Timeline Television needed a vendor that could provide an enterprise-grade platform capable of bringing together each of these requirements. With a track record of successfully deploying complex systems under tight deadlines, Aspera was Timeline Television’s partner of choice.

The Solution

Timeline Television selected Aspera as the underlying high-speed data-transport technology to provide high-speed transfer, replication, and automation for the new workflow. Together, Timeline Television and Aspera developed the architecture and implementation strategy for BT Sport’s complex and large-scale infrastructure build-out with a full suite of Aspera software.

Aspera Orchestrator, a web-based application- and software-development platform, provides complete workflow automation for BT Sport. It enables precise control over the Aspera high-performance file-transfer environment and allows BT Sport to build efficient, predictable, file-processing pipelines. Files are directed, processed, and redirected based on predefined rules, streamlining the complex workflow.

By integrating Orchestrator with EVS IP Director production-asset–management suites, Aspera completes the seamlessly integrated solution for high-speed data replication between BT’s new studio facility and the mirror system at BT Tower. Besides enabling essential disaster recovery and full redundancy, it allows BT Tower to act as a satellite production facility if needed.

Aspera Sync provides high-performance replication to the disaster-recovery site. Built on Aspera fasp technology for maximum transfer speed regardless of file size, transfer distance, and network conditions, Aspera Sync is intended for high-performance, scalable, multidirectional asynchronous file replication and synchronization. Designed to overcome the performance and scalability shortcomings of conventional synchronization tools, Aspera Sync can scale up and out for maximum speed replication and synchronization over wide-area networks for the largest data-file stores — from millions of individual files to the largest file sizes. Production content and metadata originated at either iCity or the BT Tower are immediately synchronized via Aspera Sync. In the event of a disaster, production can resume at the second site, ensuring a rapid return to business as usual.

In addition to data replication, BT Sport uses Aspera Orchestrator with Aspera faspex, a person-to-person file-delivery and collaboration platform, for secure, efficient ad hoc ingest and distribution. Together, they’re used to deliver material from production units in the field directly to the edit suite, minimising edit time for crucial fast-turnaround stories. BT Sport also uses the two applications to send programming to journalists and executives for review and to receive and ingest production elements from production houses, programme creators, and outside broadcasters around the world.

Aspera Console, a Web-based management application, is used for centralised management and control over the entire transfer environment. It provides complete visibility — enabling real-time, centralized control over transfers, nodes, and users — and maintains comprehensive logging for customised reports and auditing. Using this application, BT Sport can trigger, monitor, prioritise and manipulate all transfers to ensure important or time-sensitive content is delivered exactly when it’s needed.

The Results

The combination of Aspera’s fasp high-performance transport technology with Orchestrator workflow automation delivers extreme scalability and control in automating BT Sport’s high-volume workflow. It enables secure, practical ingest and delivery of file-based media and the seamless integration and execution of multiple high-volume workflows across the production process from end to end. It enables BT Sport to transport large media files at the highest possible speeds and in single sessions, improving productivity and reliability.

BT Sport now fully utilises available bandwidth and achieves maximum transfer performance over a dedicated 10 Gigabit Ethernet fiber and private MPLS. It achieves 5Gbps transfers between its headquarters and the disaster-recovery center. Combined with Active/Active deployment and high-speed replication, this ensures full business continuity at the BT Tower disaster-recovery site with near-zero recovery time. Up to 40 TB of live feeds, rushes, and produced content are synchronised with the disaster-recovery site everyday.

Aspera’s ability to integrate easily with third-party solutions, as well as its experience collaborating with EVS, enabled Timeline Television to seamlessly integrate the Aspera applications with EVS IP Director, Harmonic MediaGrid and Avid Interplay. Timeline Television was able to deliver a tightly integrated solution for BT Sport’s complex workflow in under six months, making this project one of the largest and quickest broadcast installations in the industry.

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