Virtualization: If You Think AoIP is Cool, Hang On!
If you’ve read our “Who Is RƎLAY?” page, you know enough about us to know that we’ve got some big ideas about the future of broadcast technology. Where do those ideas come from? Here’s our philosophy in a nutshell.
IN THE BEGINNING…
Back in the old days, radio studios were pretty industrial. Equipment was made of steel and copper using welding gear and a pipefitter’s design sense; it was usually quirky, often experimental, and sometimes even illegal — the first guys to break open a desk telephone so that they could put callers on the air were breaking the law, modifying equipment they didn’t own.
In those days, everything you wanted to accomplish required a separate box to make it so — turntables, cart machines, tape decks, telephone interfaces. Even remote controls for studio devices were often home-brew combinations of momentary switches, relays and sheet-metal chassis boxes. All of these things were connected by pairs of copper wires running from machine to mixer, studio to studio, production suite to transmitter. Miles of wire… and that was before stereo, even!
Some broadcasters like to romanticize those days, but I don’t miss ’em. And probably, neither do you. Art-Deco cabinet design doesn’t make up for switch failures, smoked transistors and flaming power supplies. Or for dripping hot solder on your arms while making a 3AM repair.
A LEAP FORWARD
Around 2001, a sea-change concerning the way audio equipment worked occurred: it was called AoIP – short for Audio over IP – and it replaced those miles of copper wire with Ethernet cable.
“What’s the big deal?” you ask. “After all, one cable’s the same as another, right?” Well, the difference lies in those two little letters, “IP”, which stand for Internet Protocol — the technology that moves data around the Web. By converting traditional audio to packets and routing it through networked switches (just like your computer network), one Category cable could replace 50 or more pairs of expensive copper wires.And the audio, which used get mixed with a big analog console, now was handled inside a “mixing engine”; essentially, a purpose-built computer in a rack-mount box.
AoIP took off like a rocket. (I remember vividly, as I was part of the team that made it happen!) All of those codecs, phone hybrids, mic processors, DAWs, monitor loops and control circuits now connected with a click, instead of miles of wire pairs and spade lugs..
But still, no one addressed the bigger problem: all of those expensive boxes.
THINKING OUT OF THE BOX
Think for a moment about your smartphone: it’s not just a communications device, it’s a wristwatch, personal calendar, compass, magazine rack, mail reader, weather station, notepad, camera, TV, movie theater and God-knows-what-else all rolled into one. It’s got more computing power than a Cray supercomputer. And it fits in your pants pocket.
This got us thinking: what do you need all of those boxes for? After all, the stuff inside that does the work is computer code — same as the software that runs on your laptop or tablet. So why tie that code to an expensive piece of standalone hardware?
Why not let the computer that mixes your audio handle everything else, too?
THE PHILOSOPHY OF RƎLAY
By now you’ve probably figured out what the gang at RƎLAY is up to. Simply put, we want to nuke all of those separate boxes cluttering up your studio.We want to put all of those physical machines that make up the radio studio into a virtual machine, inside your computer. Since the real work of these devices is already done in software, it’s not so long a leap.
This proposition gets very interesting, very quickly. Ask yourself: what’s the biggest downfall of broadcast equipment? The answer: reliability. No matter how well you maintain them, things fail. Virtualization solves this problem by running multiple instances of your broadcasting tools inside virtual machines, eliminating the worry (and expense) of redundant systems once and for all.
We want to bring some rationality to the extreme expense of outfitting radio studios. We want to put all the tools you need to create great radio into a single kit, without cables, boxes, racks and relays to get in the way. And we want to make it bulletproof. And we’re going to do it… virtually.
Interested? Read on.