NBC Olympics relies on robust fiber pipes to enable Sochi-Stamford file-based workflows

NBC’s vision for the next generation of Olympics production truly came of age in London 18 months ago, when the U.S. broadcaster moved to a completely file-based operation. This year in Sochi, the Peacock’s IT team has continued to spearhead these efforts with an even more robust fiber network connecting NBC’s Sochi IBC facility, the Sochi venues, and the network’s Broadcast Center in Stamford, CT.

From left: NBC Olympics' Steve Cueno, Bob Kiraly, Craig Lau, and Harry Ryan

From left: NBC Olympics’ Steve Cueno, Bob Kiraly, Craig Lau, and Harry Ryan

“We are truly an all-digital operation, even more so than in London,” says Craig Lau, VP, information technology, NBC Olympics. “If you look around here, there are practically no tape machines, with the exception of the multiformat dub wall in case we get any [tape] material from other broadcasters we want to use. But, other than that, we are using no tape machines whatsoever. It is all being stored here digitally, transported digitally to Stamford, and stored for longer-term archive storage there.”

Piping up: From Sochi to Stamford and back
“Building redundant, diverse, and dependable transmission paths between Sochi and our broadcast and production facilities in the United States was of paramount importance.” says Bob Kiraly, director, broadcast telecommunications, NBC Olympics.

With support from OBS and Rostelecom, multiple, redundant 2.5-Gbps circuits in the NBC Broadcast Center in Sochi were muxed onto redundant 10-Gbps fiber circuits and routed to international gateways in London and Frankfurt. At these cities, AT&T accepted the circuits and, through careful engineering and provisioning of its network, kept the integrity of the diverse, redundant paths intact at the 2.5-Gbps level from London and Frankfurt to NBC locations in Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Colorado, California, and Florida. This created a network that allowed NBC to take full advantage of the advanced “hitless” functionality of the Cisco and AT&T Media Links equipment for its Olympics voice-, data-, and video-transmission needs.

NBC's Broadcast Operations Center at the IBC in Sochi

NBC’s Broadcast Operations Center at the IBC in Sochi

In addition, NBC has established a domestic network that includes dual 10-gig paths between Stamford, 30 Rock, and the NBCUniversal Technology Center in Englewood Cliffs, NJ.

In Stamford, NBC takes in all content sent from Sochi for a variety of production needs — chiefly its Highlights Factory operation, curling production, long-term archiving, and as a clearinghouse of sorts for all 20 OBS multilateral feeds before they are sent on to iStreamPlanet’s facility in Las Vegas for Internet streaming distribution.

“The circuits [between Sochi and Stamford] are broken down into different applications and different forms of video,” says Lau. “We divide the network along those lines so that the applications riding on these circuits are self-contained. Even News rides on the same infrastructure, but it’s also somewhat isolated.”

Wired up in Sochi: More inter-venue connectivity than ever
In terms of venue-to-venue connectivity, this year marks a substantial increase over previous NBC Olympics operations. In Sochi, all larger venues are connected to the IBC via at least 1-Gbps redundant circuits with smaller venues at no less than 100-Mbps paths.

As a result, producers at the venues can now select clips via lo-res proxies, and the Avid Interplay MAM (media-asset–management] system will deliver hi-res files directly to the users at the venue. Although NBC experimented with this capability in London, Sochi represents a much wider-scale deployment.

“Now we have gotten to a point where they can reach out from the venue on the 1-gig circuit all the way back to our Stamford office and bring material back,” says Lau. “That is the kind of enabling technology we have designed and want to do more of.”

NBC deploys Cisco ASR 1000 routers at each venue to bring in all 20 of OBS’s multilateral feeds and its own unilateral feeds. All the mountain-venue feeds terminate at a Cisco ASR 1002 router at Gorki Media Center in the Mountain Cluster. Those feeds are then sent over a 1-Gbps fiber pipe to Cisco 1004 routers at the Sochi IBC and then connected to two Cisco Nexus 7000 routers. All signals are then sent out from the IBC via two Cisco ASR 9000 routers over the two redundant 10-Gb fiber paths to Stamford.

“We break up the traffic at our virtual-routing facilities,” says Harry Ryan, director, network technology, NBC Olympics. “Traditional IT applications go into their own VRF. If there is video distribution that is going to or coming from Stamford, they flow in their own VRF. Then another VRF handles all file-based transfer video between Stamford and Sochi.”

Cisco Videoscape back in action
In addition to providing a substantial portion of the video and IP routing gear for NBC in Sochi, Cisco has once again implemented its Videoscape TV-services–delivery platform at the Peacock’s IBC facility. The system’s cloud architecture supports the streaming of live and on-demand Olympics content for the on-site production in Sochi. Key Cisco hardware and software components include Videoscape Acquisition Suite, Videoscape Media Suite, Videoscape Distribution Suite (VDS), and Videoscape clients, including set-top boxes and HTML5-based soft clients.

“Cisco has always been a great partner, and they played a big role here in terms of contributing both hardware and staffing,” says Lau. “Cisco technicians have been extremely helpful in monitoring, capturing, and analyzing our network traffic — data that will be extremely valuable in our planning for the Rio 2016 Olympics.”

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