Making complexity simple and visual
Article By Simen K. Frostad
If you’re of a mathematical or statistical turn of mind, you’ll probably be intimately familiar with scatter plots, histograms, probability plots, spaghetti plots, residual plots, box plots, block plots and biplots. And if you’re not? Well: you’ll certainly know a bar chart or pie chart when you see it.
The purpose of these arcane – and less arcane – ways of representing numbers is that they use graphical techniques to represent figures in pictorial form. They allow us to almost instantaneously interpret what would otherwise take time and effort. In other words: they make complexity simple.
But: if interpreting what figures and numbers really mean can be challenging – how much more challenging is it likely to be when they are only ones and zeroes – and they’re flowing through the network at rates of anything up to 100,000,000 every second? Big data doesn’t come much bigger. And yet: in a network, monitoring and understanding exactly what those binary digits mean is fundamental to understanding network behaviour in order to maximise uptime, reliability and consumer quality of experience.
The answer, of course, is to create graphical representations of those digits – and that’s what we at Bridge Technologies have been doing for over 15 years. While our business is nominally about monitoring media streams, service and networks of all types, we think of ourselves more as a visualisation company.
New levels of understanding
Take, for example, our VB440 IP Network Probe. It’s an incredibly powerful appliance – harnessed by the VB440’s Instrument View visualisation option, which brings new levels of understanding, quality and productivity to the uncompressed media production process. Because it provides a visual representation of what’s going on in the production environment, Instrument View is intuitive and easy to use even for non-experts, delivering meaningful, actionable information in real time. Instrument View, by using leading edge visualisation technology, delivers remarkable insights into network behaviour to its users.
Instrument View is only one of several visualisation options provided for Bridge Technologies’ platforms. Take MediaWindow, for example. As its name suggests, it provides a window into the activity of data on the media distribution network. It too provides output in a graphical form that can be quickly understood.
But: why would you need that window? Simply: to identify problems and anomalies that may mean that the quality of the received content is not at the level of the quality of the sent content. Further: patterns in data behaviour may indicate an impending network failure. In any of those circumstances, the requirement is invariably for prompt action to be taken – and representing the problems, anomalies and patterns visually means they can be more intuitively and rapidly recognised and, if necessary, addressed.
What are users specifically looking for? When transporting MPEG data in an IP network, two parameters in particular are typically monitored closely: packet loss and packet jitter. If there is no packet loss and packets are transmitted at a reasonably even pace through the network, the signal will likely be received without transmission errors. If, however, packet loss or excessive packet jitter occurs, the result will most likely be signal impairments noticeable to the end user – for instance, in the form of visible picture errors. Bridge Technologies’ various visualisation options – such as MediaWindow – are designed, among other things, to provide that insight.
MediaWindow displays MPEG over IP traffic performance in a single, composite graph; packet loss and packet jitter are indicated in opposite directions from a base line. Different colours show the network status, and water-flow graphing ensures that both current and historical data are represented. Together these techniques result in a graphical user interface that is packed with essential information, yet intuitive and easy to read.
As IP networks have proliferated, however, management of them has become increasingly distributed. That gives rise to the requirement to have access to information about its performance from wherever is most convenient – which may not be in the data centre itself. In response, Bridge technologies developed Remote Data Wall (RDW).
RDW allows those responsible for network monitoring and management to quickly and easily create a visual representation of network activity. Depending on the size or complexity of the network being monitored, RDW can spread from a single screen to multiple screens in a videowall format – but requires no specialist skills to install.
Because it is HTML5/browser-based, RDW does not require specialist hardware or cabling. It can be viewed locally – in a control room, for example – or remotely from a distant location. Significant flexibility is provided to users in enabling them to select precisely which data should be displayed, and how. Data can also be gathered from outside sources – from third-party systems, for example, and external information sources such as weather stations, personnel management systems, and booking schedules. A widget can display, for instance, windows from third parties, such as the Dataminer management system.
Instrument View, Media Window and Remote Data Wall are only three of the visualisation options available from Bridge Technologies. The most recent – the Widglets API – is potentially transformative in the area of remote production. All, however, have a common goal: to make complexity simple.
Article published by INBroadcast, November Issue
By Simen K Frostad
Simen K. Frostad is Chairman and co-founder of Bridge Technologies. With many years of industry experience, Simen co-founded Bridge Technologies in 2004, after creating the world’s first IP/MPLS contribution network for Scandinavian sports coverage. Simen had previously built the first multi-camera hard disk recording system for episodic drama production in 1998, and the first nonlinear sports editing facility during the 1994 Winter Olympics. He has leveraged every opportunity to be an evangelist for an IP future.