2016 saw us achieve a major step forward – but 2017 promises to be the year when everything we’ve worked for becomes an industry reality.
For some people, 2016 will be remembered as the year of the Rio Olympics. For others, the memory will be of an American presidential contest that kept the world enthralled. 2016 was also the year in which a group of scientists and Internet entrepreneurs announced a project to send a robot spacecraft to Alpha Centauri.
For us at Bridge Technologies, it was perhaps the second most memorable year in our 12-year history, because it marked the completion of the first stage of a long term project which has transformed what’s possible in monitoring, analysing and optimising IP-based networks.
‘Transformed’ is a strong word. Let me explain. Bridge Technologies has always been a company dedicated and committed to the belief that, at some point in the not-too-distant future, IP networks would not just proliferate – they would dominate. IP networks would become the de facto standard in all networking for all industries– including broadcast.
A few years ago, we realised that the tools we have today to help manage IP networks would need to be substantially improved as IP networks became more sophisticated, higher bandwidth – and more mission-critical.
With those needed improvements in mind, we analysed what would be necessary to achieve the required higher levels of performance. It rapidly became apparent that ‘tweaking’ what we had would not be sufficient. The foundations of our existing product line simply would not support a new, significantly faster, significantly more accurate approach to network analysis. Re-writing one element of the existing product would have a knock-on – and not always desirable – effect on other elements. What was required was a complete re-architecting of our product line: we needed to dig a new foundation.
We started with a huge advantage: we are wholly in control of all the hardware and software pieces that go to make up our products. There was nothing we couldn’t change if we needed to. We had ‘carte blanche’ to do whatever was necessary.
2016 was the year when that enormously ambitious project came to fruition, and in January, we’ll be shipping the results to our customers. That’s right: they’ll be able to upgrade their existing equipment to bring the much higher accuracy we’re certain they’ll need in future. Their return on investment is not only protected, but enhanced.
So: what did we achieve with this mammoth project? By re-writing the complete core analytics engine – including network drivers, processing modules, web platform and web sockets – we’re now able to talk about response times measurable in just a few microseconds. The GUI – which provides users with the visualisation necessary to enable them to really understand what’s going on in their network – is now superfast.
Under the hood
But what users can see isn’t really the point of what we’ve been doing – although making the complex simple is one of our key design goals, and enabling them to visualise instantly and intuitively what’s going on in their network is of paramount importance. The real improvements, though, are ‘under the hood’.
Why do those few microseconds I mentioned earlier matter? Let’s say that a customer is trying to monitor a 3 Gigabit HD video signal. That’s a ton of data. Somehow, we need to make that manageable in analysis and visualisation terms – but without losing any valuable information, such that maximum accuracy is retained. The challenge is similar to that presented by compression: how do you reduce bandwidth consumption without also reducing perceived image quality?
Absolute accuracy and precision are required because the difference – in transmission terms – between a quality video image and an unacceptable video image is almost infinitesimally small. Supposing you’re monitoring two separate video streams in two different locations on the network, and you’re looking to make an A/B comparison? Understanding the behaviours of those streams is fundamental to understanding the impact of those behaviours – and to deciding on the most appropriate remedial action. Only with ultimate accuracy – at the microsecond level – can you begin to do that.
And: that’s what our project that came to fruition this year has enabled us – and, more importantly, our customers – to do, with an accuracy that was previously almost unthinkable. We’re making a tool for the future available to them today.
Of course, we won’t be resting on our laurels. As much as we’ve achieved, we know that we need to continue to push the boundaries. Right now, though, I think we – and I include our brilliant team of genius engineers – can be forgiven for allowing ourselves a satisfied smile.
Moving from ‘talk’ to ‘walk’
I said at the outset that 2016 was our second most memorable year. So: what was our most memorable year? There’s every chance that it hasn’t happened yet, and that it will be next year – 2017. In my mind, 2017 will be the year when IP in the broadcast industry moves from ‘talk’ to ‘walk’: it will be the year when broadcast organisations start to invest heavily in IP technology – and that, of course, can only be good for us at Bridge. At IBC this year, there was certainly plenty of talk: IP was one of the hot topics of discussion. At IBC 2017, I’d be happy to bet that you’ll struggle to find any new product that doesn’t come equipped with an Ethernet interface, capable of supporting anything from a Gigabit to 100 Gigabits.
The satellite industry has been moving to embrace IP for some time, and, to me, the formation of the SAT>IP Alliance was another step in that direction. A coalition initiated in 2015 to develop compatible hardware and software for the SAT>IP technology that will convert satellite signals into IP at the reception point, it’s one of many clear indications of the direction in which the broadcast industry is inexorably moving.
There is a rapidly dawning realisation that there is almost nothing, in terms of connectivity, that IP can’t enable us to do. It has the potential to revolutionise the way we do everything – and, for a broadcast industry that is undergoing a revolution in terms of the content we consume and how we consume it, it unquestionably provides the best possible way of responding to those changes. And: that’s not to mention how IP technology can revolutionise workflows, providing greater agility and cost-effectiveness by allowing us to leverage the best resources, wherever in the world they may be.
I really believe that, at the end of 2017, we at Bridge will – with just a little smugness – be able to say: “We were right all along.” We have always believed that IP is the future – and 2017 will be year when that future becomes the present. And, when that robot spacecraft lands on Alpha Centauri, you can be sure IP will be playing a key role.