The broadcast technician these days needs to handle a very diverse range of equipment and systems, from audio consoles, to servers, network switches, routers, desktops, STLs, codecs, and sometimes even the office printers. We need all the help we can get.
Here are seven easy to implement ideas to make your life as a broadcast technician more efficient:
1. Ticketing System / Job Tracking
A lot of the requests we get throughout the day are not “drop everything right now and fix this” issues. Someone might need a new desktop shortcut, or someone might need help with getting Adobe Audition to work on their desktop. Why open yourself up to constant interruptions by these things when you can have a computer handle them for you?
Setup a web-based ticketing system so everyone can log all of their non critical problems in there. A couple of times each day you can read through the tickets and organise a fix for them. If there are multiple people in the department, you can allow everyone access so they can handle them and track the progress. This helps you to get on with your job with a minimum of fuss.
It may seem simple, but checklists are a great way to ensure you don’t forget about any of the recurring aspects of your job. The World Health Organisation found that one third of surgical deaths can be eliminated by following a checklist. By creating checklists of everything you need to do on a regular basis, you will improve your job performance and make life easier on yourself.
Here are some of the low hanging fruit you can add to a list: reboot studio computers, check disk space, check outstanding tickets, perform a test-restore of a backup, change backup drives, delete old logger files, run a data archive, ensure syndicated programming has been ingested, etc. I could go on…
Creating checklists also makes it easy to delegate work to someone else if you go on holidays or employ a subordinate.
Checklists are also one step away from…
3. Process Automation!
Once you’ve created checklists of tasks to perform, you can look to see which ones can be automated. As a programmer, I aim to make computers do as much work as possible for me. Some tasks are easy to automate, for example workstation reboots and disk space checks – these are as simple as creating a simple scheduled task entry (or Cronjob in Linux).
Other tasks may be a little more difficult, but still not impossible. If you become familiar with VBScript or Powershell a whole world of opportunities open up to you. I recently created a VBScript to copy logger files between volumes based on date, and the delete the oldest ones.
4. Monitor Event Logs & Syslog Server
Windows has a wonderful Event Log built right into the operating system. Sadly, most of us probably don’t look at it until there is a problem. You can proactively fix potential problems by having software scan these logs and report back any errors to you.
For non-Windows hardware, you can check to see if it supports Syslog Server, which is a standard way of gathering system alerts and errors. Of notability, Axia equipment supports Syslog server – this means you can catch all of your alerts from Axia devices in the one place. To receive Syslog messages, you need to setup a server. There are paid solutions such as Kiwi Server and Splunk, and also an open source option.
5. Built in Redundancies & Auto Failover
Broadcast environments demand 100% uptime, so it makes sense to invest in extra equipment for redundancy. Better than this, you should strive to have everything setup to automatically switch over to the backup hardware in the event of failure. There are a lot of ways to achieve this, depending on the equipment we’re dealing with. Here are some examples:
- RAID Storage: This is the simplest way to protect your data against hard drive failure. Many motherboard support RAID 0, 1 & 5. Then there are common higher levels such as RAID 6 & 10. Yes, you will require more disk drives in order to implement RAID, but it’s simple and disks are cheap.
- Domain File Services: One of the services that improved significantly in Windows Server 2008 was DFS. There are two components: Replication & Namespaces. The aim of both is to protect against an entire file server failing. Replication performs real-time replication of changes to NTFS volumes. Namespaces make multiple copies of the same data available under the one name.Let’s say I have a Windows Domain called Windows.MediaRealm.com.au. I have two servers setup with DFS Replication & Namespaces. As a result, I can access the shares by going to \Windows.MediaRealm.com.auShareName. It automatically picks the lowest cost server. If one goes down, the other kicks in.This is a beautifully simple way to make your files available constantly, without adding too much administrative burden.
- Detect Failure of Axia Devices with Pathfinder PRO: Pathfinder PRO has the ability to check for failure of Nodes & Engines, and execute events based on this. Using this feature you can automatically re-route around failed devices. Not only could you re-route around failed Axia devices, you could also theoretically determine if there is a loss of a network switch and create routes using only your remaining switches.
- Auto-connect a backup STL: If you have a wireless Studio Transmitter Link, it’s a good idea to have a wired one as a backup (ISDN, IP, or otherwise). Using whatever system you detect silence with, you can setup an event to detect silence on the off-air receiver and automatically connect a backup STL. Most codecs have GPIO connectors to allow this.
- Virtualisation: Virtualisation is getting cheaper and more stable. Creating your own ‘local cloud’ has many advantages. One of which is the ability to automatically mitigate hardware failure. If you have two servers and virtualised storage, the hypervisor can automatically detect a failure and move running machines to the another physical machine and boot them back up again. Just one of the reasons I love virtualisation…
These are just some ways you can automate your recovery from software and hardware failures. With the cost of hardware dropping constantly, it makes sense to invest in at least one backup for every item in your broadcast chain.
This goes one step further than simple checklists. I find that documenting everything I do makes not only my life easier, but the lives of those around me. Writing documentation will slow you down slightly when you write it, but from that point onwards the process becomes quicker because you aren’t second-guessing yourself. There is another benefit: fewer calls when I’m on holidays! Clear documentation allows someone else to follow the tested and proven steps to do whatever task they need to complete.
7. Email Alerts only when it matters
Having a constant flood of automated emails in your inbox only devalues every other email you get. This is why it’s important to fine tune the settings in your software to send administrative emails only when something needs your attention.
If your software does not support this, you can setup rules in your mail client to file away messages that don’t need your immediate attention. Trust me, it’s worth it.