Several years ago, I was setting up a remote access server for our employees to dial into our company LAN. I was amazed at how easy the setup was. Just plug into a 10baseT connection, and attach the modems. These servers were controlled and configured by a Web browser. I was overwhelmed with the level of configuration and amount of data available. What's more is that this unit could be held in my palm.
This is when I realized the benefits of having broadcast gear operate the same way. Imagine a facility remote control with an RJ-45 connector that you plug into the network. Secure configurations, status readings and data displays are all accessible in real time from anywhere on the network or around the world via Web browser.
What about audio processing? Will your next processor have an RJ-45 connector for direct connection to the network, giving fast and complete control real-time display of the settings? The ability to control processing by modem has existed for some time, but taking it to the level of control of a secure Web browser from anywhere could make it very convenient.
The technology exists that allows you to sit at your desk and monitor all your major systems from one screen. This is common in the IT industry with server monitoring and control, and broadcast is following. Transmitter remote controls, computer systems, audio processing, telephone systems and physical plant services are all available, with full control a click away on the same screen.
Aztec Radiomedia has a line of products designed to control transmitters, exciters and monitor audio processing as well as monitor and control multiple RS-232 and parallel devices from anywhere in the world, using any browser or Telnet client. The same products can be used to control and monitor other devices and even security systems or HVAC systems. With built-in Web servers, full data and configuration is available via Web browser.
This is possible with a dedicated facilities remote control. Gentner has an IP module included with the GSC-3000 remote control. The GSC-3000 Network Module operates on a computer attached to a GSC-3000, allowing the system to talk over IP for sharing of the system data and control. It allows multiple connections at the same time, transmits alarms to system users and can block unauthorized access to the system by allowing or disallowing certain IP addresses or subnets. It's this kind of preparatory planning that will be included in future broadcast equipment designs. Audio processing control by modem has been available for some time, but IP offers the added advantage of speed, which displays better real-time data and allows for constant connections without tying up phone lines.
Omnia offers IP control of the Omnia 6 with an RJ-45 jack on the back of the unit. The Omnia 3 is capable of network-enabled remote control with an optional upgrade kit, which converts the unit from control via the normal serial port into LAN/WAN or Internet control via a 10baseT Ethernet port. Both units use Windows client applications for the user interface.
Orban also offers full control over IP with the Optimod 8400. The 8400 offers TCP/IP networkability and the traditional dial-up PC Remote control. A rear panel slot will accommodate a modem or Ethernet network card. The software allows you to control virtually everything available on the front panel.
The remote management software for these products also allows you to load and save presets, and to share custom presets between various units. Imagine fast setups and changes from anywhere — especially where your favorite reference speakers are. This allows the same setting to be shared between two or more units. The backup processor can have identical settings to the main unit.
IT and telco
Telos includes IP-based control and setup of its latest phone systems. System setup of functions such as line rollovers, line/set assignments, call screening and inter-studio communication can be done easily. The system communicates directly with an ISDN PRI service to provide up to 120 incoming call circuits, which can be dynamically allocated across 32 separate studios. In this application, control over IP is the most logical management solution.
Another use that many have discovered for control over IP is computer, workstations and server control. Remote software such as pcAnywhere, Timbuktu or NetOp is commonly used. These software packages can often save a trip to the station during off-hours to reset mission-critical computer systems. We control servers and voicetrack for our 24-hour jazz network via one of these packages. With T1 circuits, access to the remote systems is fast and easy. We voicetrack, maintain and administer the database over the IP connection.
As an IT manager, I have learned that installing remote software on machines can also help solve problems when a user has a specific question or concern. Being able to look over the shoulder of a user to figure out problems from home or on the road has saved a great deal of time at our station. Many people are aware of pcAnywhere for controlling computers remotely. While pcAnywhere is good for control between PCs, there are other remote control software products that offer the advantage of being cross-platform, so a PC can remote control a Mac, or a Mac can control a PC, or a PC can run OS/2. For a cross-platform shop, the ability to go in any direction with computer control and support is an important advantage.
AT&T is developing another level of this with Virtual Network Computing. In VNC, cross communication between any platform is easy and fast. This adds the UNIX platform in cross-platform control between UNIX flavors, PCs with Windows and Macintosh. While a preferred method of UNIX users has always been to telnet to UNIX via a command line, this offers the ability to control UNIX, X Windows or Solaris from any other platform. There are other advantages to this system as well: the applications are small (the PC version will fit and run on a floppy disk), and they're free. VNC can be downloaded from the AT&T website.
The lines between computer and broadcast equipment have been blurred for some time. It's exciting that manufacturers are building the products or devising retrofit methods for existing products. Using this technology for remote control in all the ways discussed is becoming more of a necessity as we become more dependent on the technology and still want to have some time off. As for me, I think these are some of the most exciting developments in my 30 years in the business.
Chuck Leavens is director of engineering and IT management for WDUQ-FM Duquesne University, Pittsburgh.
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