Banish the PC from the Studio. Virtualize IT.

Enco / WheatstoneWhich one of these doesn’t belong? Microphone. Console. Monitor. Or, that noisy, lump-of-a-box that is the PC workstation in your on-air studio?

The PC workstation obviously needs to go, and we don’t mean to the equipment room where all the other noisy things end up. “KVMing” it from the TOC to the on-air studio just adds cabling and complexity that can mess up touchscreen controls.

The point is, you don’t need it, as Greg Armstrong, the DOE for RadiOhio, will tell you. He recently installed thin client replacements no bigger than a laptop that snap onto the back of the studio monitor, doing away with all PCs for his group’s six WheatNet-IP studios and four edit booths in Columbus, Ohio.

Each studio’s ENCO automation with WheatNet-IP integration is offloaded to a 4RU virtualized server, which contains ten workstations, one for each studio. It’s a specialized server, but the upshot is that there’s less cabling as a result and it’s a lot easier to maintain. Greg no longer has ten workstations to update periodically with new software versions, and he no longer has ten workstations to maintain and check for viruses. Gone with the PCs are all the hard drive failures, memory hiccups, and power supply glitches.

But here’s really why virtualized PCs and thin clients make so much sense to him: “If it’s a holiday weekend and we don’t have people here for three days, and the thin client dies in a studio, we don’t have to know about it until we come in on Monday since the workstation continues to run on the server,” explained Greg. All operating functions that once resided in the PC workstation are now offloaded to the virtualized server in the group’s control room, which is highly redundant and can protect itself against server failures with automatic failover.

RadiOhio is one of the more automated station groups in the industry, so it made sense that this WheatNet-IP operation would be one of the first to go to a thin client replacement for studio PCs. All communication and commands take place in soft LIOs between the WheatNet-IP and ENCO automation system. Any operator can fire audio playback from any Wheatstone control surface in the facility without so much as a wire between the two systems. All audio is streamed through WheatNet-IP audio software drivers that eliminate the need for physical soundcards, and hence the PC. Wheatstone support and engineering updated the audio drivers so USB connectivity wasn’t needed; no hardware exists between the ENCO DAD automation system and the WheatNet-IP audio network.

What took the industry so long to get rid of those pesky, noisy PC workstations? “We needed that highly redundant, highly available server to be able to house all these virtual machines. That takes a specialized server,” replied Ken Frommert with ENCO, adding that in most of the IT world, taking a server off line for an hour or so isn’t a big deal whereas this can be catastrophic in the 24/7 world of broadcast.

We can see how virtualizing PCs and replacing them with thin appliances in the studio could become an audio over IP network standard in the future. Not only are thin clients a much better option for the studio, where equipment takes more abuse, they’re comparatively more cost effect than PCs and much easier to replace.

Besides, it all looks the same to the operator, except he can’t hear – and his listeners can’t hear -- the PC fan noise, because there is none.

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