The transition to internet protocol (IP) networks from the serial digital interface (SDI) has been underway in the broadcast industry for some time. The success of the transition depends on two major factors. First is the tight integration between the broadcast and IP technologies. Second is the abstraction and orchestration of IP network and the media flows to deliver a holistic end-to-end media solution to the users.

Industry standards have been developed and agreed upon that define how to allow for true interoperability and efficiency, but the standards only go so far. To be confident in the transition, you need partners who know how to take the standards into real-world applications and make them work flawlessly.

Nevion (now a Sony Group company) and Cisco have partnered to deliver world-class, future-proof, and multi-location IP-based media solutions to support both studio and remote production use cases. This partnership delivers field-proven solutions from years of working together with broadcasters.

While Nevion’s media orchestration platform, VideoIPath, brings broadcast-centric orchestration capabilities, Cisco’s Nexus Dashboard Fabric Controller (NDFC, formerly known as Data Center Network Manager, or DCNM) brings network-centric orchestration capabilities to the underlying IP network powered by Cisco’s Nexus 9000 series switches.

Why is there a need for two controllers to deliver one solution?

Doesn’t having two controllers increase the complexity? In fact, it’s quite the contrary – it makes the solution more efficient. To understand this, let’s talk about the operator experience with the confluence of SDI and IP.

When implementing traditional SDI technology, the broadcast controller is at the front and center of media operations. The broadcast controller works with media-specific hardware panels and software interfaces to provide the end-to-end routing of media flows. As broadcasters started migrating to IP-based networks, the capabilities required of a controller became even more complex due to the additional requirement of orchestrating the network.

IP-based networks provide better scale, resiliency, and higher throughput. These translate to support for high-quality content (4k, 8k, high definition, etc.), the ability to share resources, enable bidirectional connectivity, and move traffic from anywhere in the IP network. With all these valuable benefits, wouldn’t it be great if the infrastructure also supported ease of management? Higher network complexity need not result in administrative complexity or a change in the operator’s workflow. A new type of controller had to come into play that could abstract, automate, and control these IP networks for broadcasters. In addition to simplifying operational complexity, there’s also a need to provide end-to-end visibility into the network, or otherwise troubleshooting a lost IP packet could become a broadcast operator’s nightmare.

Our work has found that IP network experts are best skilled to manage the IP infrastructure. This allows the broadcaster to focus on the core business of managing the media/workloads. That’s where Cisco’s NDFC fits into the overall architecture. Cisco’s NDFC handles the static provisioning of the infrastructure, base configurations, and upgrade workflows while Nevion’s VideoIPath handles the dynamic live switching of different paths and service workflows in the network, complementing each other.

What is NBM and what does it mean to support both active and passive integration?

Nevion recently announced that VideoIPath can now support Cisco’s Nexus 9000 non-blocking multicast (NBM) in both active and passive mode.
NBM is a capability that brings bandwidth intelligence to the network to prevent oversubscription. Broadcasters can reliably extend bandwidth awareness across distributed facilities, not just within a given facility. This is especially critical with remote or centralized productions.

Cisco’s IP Fabric for Media solution delivers this NBM capability. The solution supports active and passive modes for you to leverage this feature giving the flexibility of choice between media orchestration platform or network to stitch the flows end-end based on their business intent.

What is NBM passive mode?

In NBM passive mode Cisco exposes Nexus NBM APIs to Nevion’s VideoIPath. The media orchestration platform leverages the APIs and takes the responsibility to command, control, and instruct the network to route the flows end-to-end and recover the flows in the event of a network failure.

VideoIPath excels when passive mode is used since the system makes intelligent routing decisions based not only on current services running across the network, but also future network utilization, production schedules, planned engineering, and a variety of other service-level requirements.

Passive mode also enables VideoIPath to add a layer of security against unauthorized access to high-value media services running across the IP media fabric. The system can effectively control what comes on and off the IP media fabric using passive mode, which is increasingly important for broadcasters to protect against potentially unlawful access.

What’s the architecture and workflow?

First, infrastructure is built using Cisco’s Nexus 9000 switches in a spine-leaf-like architecture. The sources and destinations are connected to the fabric. Cisco’s NDFC is then used to automatically provision and configure the network with some base, underlay configuration, and NBM passive mode.

Nevion’s VideoIPath loads a full view of the network topology, all Cisco switches, connections, link speeds, bandwidth, etc. It also configures endpoints using NMOS and defines all the security and host policies that need to be pushed onto the network. VideoIPath interacts with the Nexus 9000 switches using a set of well-defined APIs exposed by the NBM feature.

Broadcast operators typically use video switchers or control panels to switch signals. Input from the panel goes to the VideoIPath which analyzes and calculates the best path required to route the signal from its source to destination, taking into consideration the bandwidth on the link and the current subscription levels. The policy is then pushed, and routing entries are created on the IP switches using NBM APIs exposed by Nexus.

If an error is encountered in the network, that information is carried to VideoIPath using real-time telemetry capabilities built into Nexus switches. VideoIPath then calculates another path and pushes that into the network with very minimal convergence time. The VideoIPath system also considers other services running and their priority to provide intelligent redundancy control at the hands of the broadcast operator.

What is NBM active mode?

In NBM active mode, when you push the button from their control panel, Nexus switches take the responsibility of orchestrating the non-blocking paths from source to destination to reliably route uncompressed video with an end-to-end bandwidth guarantee. The network can also rebalance the flows in the event of a failure. Security can be achieved without compromising any of the production flows using host and flow policies that NDFC programs using Nexus API’s. VideoIPath programs media endpoints using NMOS or other APIs in this scenario.

What else can NDFC do?

NDFC, using its telemetry capabilities, also provides end-to-end flow path visualization, flow analytics, flow statistics like bitrate, speed, and bandwidth coming out of the cameras, health of the network, precision time protocol (PTP) statistics to track any drift or offset in timing, and send notifications to the operator for monitoring and troubleshooting the network. NDFC can also monitor RTP flows to detect and pinpoint where the loss is happening in the network.

VideoIPath’s extended integration with NBM active mode provides customers the flexibility to choose between the mode of deployment depending on what’s right for their architecture, scale, and type of endpoints deployed. It also enables you to take full advantage of the additional capabilities that NDFC brings to the table. In both models, VideoIPath provides a full view of the deployment, including the IP network, and serves as a single pane of glass for broadcast operators.

What’s new?

I’m excited to highlight an important feature that is implemented on Cisco’s Nexus switches which have been integrated into Nevion’s VideoIPath – flexible multicast network address translation (NAT). The multicast NAT capability addresses the challenges with IP addressing while distributing content to partner broadcasters operating across various geographical and dispersed multicast boundaries. Typical multicast NAT rules are specified at the switch level, but the enhancements in Cisco Nexus implementation allow translation rules to be specified at each port level and perform the multicast NAT at line rate (1G / 10G / 25G / 40G / 100G / 400G).

The Covid-19 pandemic resulted in a huge shift in the media landscape and accelerated the adoption of distributed and remote workflows for media production like we’ve never seen before. It’s pushing broadcasters to distribute content beyond multicast boundaries.

With the recent optimizations in Cisco’s multicast NAT features, the Nexus 9000 switches can translate a multicast address to a unicast address, giving customers the much-needed flexibility to hand off content to the cloud or any third-party networks that do not support multicast.

Meet with us at NAB Show

Cisco and Nevion have strengthened our collaborative partnership to deliver flexible, feature-rich, easy-to-use, and end-to-end solutions for broadcast and media customers. With such evolving and enhanced partnerships with diverse sets of broadcast partner ecosystems, Cisco remains committed to bringing innovations in IP and scale and we’re focused on increasing customer value and experience in the media market.

Let’s have a conversation at NAB Show in Las Vegas. We’ll be in the Connected Media|IP zone in the West Hall, booth number W9722. Nevion will be at the Sony booth, C10901 in Central Hall. We’re looking forward to seeing you all again in person!


Swetha Velamuri

Engineering Product Manager

Data Center Switching Marketing