Toward a Tapeless and Paperless Organization with a High Performance Network: The Greek Broadcasting Company (ERT)
ERT, the Hellenic National Broadcasting Corporation, has about 2000 employees. It offers broadcasting services to Greek citizens worldwide through the satellite channel ERT World. In addition, it operates four national television channels, and 27 radio stations and has developed innovative Over The Top (OTT) services with a high penetration rate. It also maintains and supports websites providing diverse content covering news, entertainment, documentaries, culture, music, archives, and more. In addition to a main headquarters premises situated in Athens's Agia Paraskevi suburb, where the company's central data center is also located, it has two other locations in Athens, along with facilities in Thessaloniki, the second largest city in Greece, and 19 regional radio station bases. These different locations are connected through multiple high bandwidth and highly available metro Ethernet fiber connections. The company's main Information Technology (IT) strategy is to provide 24/7 high-quality network and application services, across the board.
As the company continues to grow, it has created a development strategy to help advance its ambitions for digital transformation, consisting of two main pillars. First, the transition to a fully tapeless broadcast environment, a target that has already been achieved, by and large. In addition, ERT also wants to transition to a paperless environment. With this digital transformation to a paperless organization already well underway, transformation initiatives cover all areas of the business and operations, resulting in ERT re-examining infrastructure, accelerating digitalization efforts, and planning future investments.
The launch of various new broadcasting services and applications depends on perfect network health and performance: ERT can't allow any disruptions to its services. Therefore, the organization decided to upgrade existing network infrastructure in its office and main TV production buildings. This new data network would be the pillar for the interoperability of all ERT production islands, while serving all user operational needs in modern broadcasting applications.
After successfully completing an international tender, Huawei provided the new network infrastructure — deployed in both Athens and Thessaloniki — that now ensures high availability for services and high connection speeds in both the data center and at the access layer. Connections at the headquarters site reach 10G, 40G, and even 100G speeds. With Huawei's CloudCampus Solution and CloudFabric Data Center Network Solution, the new Huawei infrastructure covers the data center, top-of-rack switching and distribution, the access layer, and Wi-Fi, which was recently extended and upgraded to cover Wi-Fi 6 needs.
It is expected that the equipment deployed in Huawei's solutions, with appropriate future enhancements, will support the transition to a Software-Defined Networking (SDN) environment. This environment, in turn, is needed to ensure the full operation of a centralized Internet Protocol (IP)-based network for broadcasting.
In addition to considerable switching and routing capabilities, as well as high-speed uplinks on ERT's main campus, the recent upgrade to a Huawei Wi-Fi controller-based environment brings Wi-Fi 6 capabilities to ERT's internal network.
"When it comes to the cooperation with Huawei, because ERT's legacy network was a multi-vendor environment, we started the new network's deployment very carefully, to avoid any downtime for our critical operations," said Damianos Maniatakos, Director of IT for ERT. "At the same time, we went through a verification process to prevent problems in our systems. During the period of migration to the new network infrastructure, we had the opportunity to meet with several Huawei engineers, and we appreciated their level of expertise and devotion: they met every demand we made. This was a significant factor in building trust and we are confident that Huawei is a leading technology provider, able to fulfill our current needs and — more importantly — those of the future."
Initially, the need to acquire a modern campus network was related to the deployment of traditional layered architecture, across the access, distribution, and core layers. Uplink speeds of 40G and 100G have significantly increased the performance of the internal network while supporting a private cloud for ERT, which is deployed in the data center. ERT has experienced as much as a 60% increase in network performance.
Huawei CloudCampus solution at ERT
ERT will put significant effort into making its network operation centers, master control, and transmission facilities optimized for live broadcasts in the future. This means that sophisticated mechanisms need to be deployed to transmit signals in real-time without buffering, with redundancy schemes including protection switching. Full management software control over routers and infrastructure equipment also needs to be established. This will allow ERT engineers to maintain and operate IT-specific components in addition to broadcast-specific equipment. Although the transition from SDI to Ethernet and IP infrastructure in television will take a few more years, it is widely and strongly agreed within the industry that all major television facilities require larger switching capability. For ERT, this capability is already covered by the Huawei infrastructure that has already been deployed.
SDN capabilities — in conjunction with network management software — help define a network's operational parameters and easily configure switching and routing to support multiple styles of production, which can then be added to software controlled environments. Once everything is virtualized and orchestrated, TV facilities will operate much more efficiently.
With the deployment of the new Huawei network, the IT development of ERT has already laid the foundation for migration to a fully ΙP-based broadcast environment, to support High Definition (HD) video bandwidth burst requirements and signal stability on the campus network for TV production. At the same time, ERT will be able to decide the best prioritization of traffic, not with traditional Quality of Service (QoS) mechanisms, but through network automation and centralization techniques.
In the near future, building on its current infrastructure, ERT will work with Huawei on constructing new architecture aiming for network automation. This will, among other things, cover the transition of the traditional broadcast network to an IP-based environment. The equipment that has already been acquired meets security standards at all network layers, ensuring to the fullest possible extent, a secure networking environment. All of this sets the right foundation, in terms of network capabilities, to further drive forward ERT's digital transformation.
"Based on our collaboration so far, it's certain that Huawei will be one of the key technology partners to develop the ERT network further," Damianos Maniatakos said. In a dynamic environment, the ERT network relies heavily on infrastructure that's capable of supporting, in the near future, SDN, Software-Defined Access (SD-Access), Software-Defined Networking in a Wide Area Network (SD-WAN), and Artificial Intelligence (AI) security services.
"Huawei has a very strong technological background, not only in access and data center infrastructure, but also in IP-based networking for broadcasting. We are confident that it will support us in our future transition plans. Our experience so far has been excellent and we consider Huawei to be a partner that we can rely on," Maniatakos said. The new, state-of-the-art network will be enhanced in the near future to support the organization's rapidly changing digital environment.