In Tune with Technology: Music and Mellanox Networking Solutions

Our Interconnected Planet

This blog post was co-authored by Scot Schultz and Jeff Shao.

Music. It’s been around since prehistoric times and according to philosopher Plato, it is music that gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind and flight to the imagination. Fascinatingly enough, Music is one of the few activities in life that utilizes the entire human brain. Listening to music has also been shown to improve the immune systems of adults. No doubt about it, music is essential to defining what makes us human.

Sunday, January 28 will mark the 60th Annual Grammy Awards. Originally, winners received what was called a Gramophone award, the technology of the time being a gramophone, an early version of modern record players, to play music.


Technology for music has come a long way since the gramophone. From 1888 when Thomas Edison introduced the electric motor-driven phonograph; to 1948 when the first 33 1/3 vinyl record was introduced by Columbia Records; up through 1954 when transistor radios made music portable to 1982 when CDs became all the rage, technology has driven music to new levels of accessibility and quality.


Music continues to make strides in how it is consumed and produced and many of these advancements have been made possible by innovation direct from the networking industry. More and more music is being consumed well beyond your typical MTV format. Technology has enabled music to proliferate everywhere.  Digital formats have dominated the recording industry and allowed our portable mp3s, mobile phones and wearable devices to take our favorite music and even stream our audio content from anywhere in the world in real time.

We take it for granted when listening to music from YouTube or iTunes nowadays. However, audio or music digitalizing has gone a long way, almost inconspicuously. Still remember how much time it took to download a couple megabyte MP3 file over a 56K dialup modem, if you ever tried? It is unimaginable to think of downloading an uncompressed HQ FLAC file at the same speed. Along with the evolution of audio codecs, we have come from 144kbps MPEG-2 audio to 4,000kbps MPEG-4 stereo audio. The size of a song in mp3 grows 6-7 times from standard quality (e.g., 256kbps) to uncompressed high quality (over 1Mbps). Today, the typical size of a 5-minute high quality mp3 soundtrack is easily around 10MB or higher. When many audio files or streams are uploaded or downloaded to the cloud, being edited and mastered in multi-media production, or being broadcasted over high definition audio channel such as in DAB and FM HD, much higher networking bandwidth is called for.

For this very reason, the M&E industry and its standard bodies are rushing to bring out standards and laid out the new infrastructures to support such overwhelming needs. To facilitate high-speed transmission of high-quality digital media content, in September, 2017, SMTPE approved ST 2110 Standards for Professional Media Over Managed IP Networks. SMTPE 2110 is an all-IP-based standard that “breaks” video, audio (and processing of audio in multiple languages) and ancillary data in independent streams, but keeps them synchronized and synthesized at the end point. As adoption of this standard progresses, the advantages of shifting to this type of standard are comparable to those achieved when the industry moved from physical tapes to virtual files for content storage. Files are not treated as if they were just virtual tapes; rather, all the benefits of software and virtualized access have come to be realized with new workflows and functionality offered.

Another advantage is that intra-facility traffic now can be all internet protocol-based. Thus, rather than requiring two separate sets of switches — SDI (Serial Digital Interface) switches for digital video media and IP/Ethernet switches for general data — facilities can rely on one common data center infrastructure which is where Mellanox plays with perfect pitch.

The speed of SDI technology has not kept up with the accelerating network speeds and the bandwidth that is capable of IP (Internet Protocol). Ethernet-based IP networks are now commanding attention across the entire broadcast television ecosystem. As bitrates increase and equipment prices drop, IP-based communication technologies are pushing more and more specialized communication systems such as SDI into retirement. One thing is clear; higher quality content (HD, UHD, 4K and beyond) requires more horsepower and bandwidth. The number of UHD/HD video channels that can be squeezed into a 25GigE or even 100GigE connection is a convincing argument for migration to IP.

Mellanox IP-based switches ensure an efficient broadcast network with proven low-latency, and high-bandwidth connectivity while delivering extremely reliable video through the following:

  • Predictable buffer allocation: Flexible large buffer pool which is available to all ports on the switch allows storing of bursty traffic which is prevalent in broadcast applications and ensures that all packets are forwarded as required.
  • QoS with DSCP marking: Allows the marking of important flows to assist with ensuring a non-blocking fabric.
  • Predictable Network Performance: Consistently deliver predictable performance for all packet size. This has been described and well documented in the third party Tolly test report.
  • Consistent and very low port-to-port latency and jitter: Both port-to-port latency and Packet Delay Variation (PDV) have been tested by leading media transport solution providers and Mellanox had the lowest and most deterministic latency out of all the vendors under test.
  • In fabric containerized broadcast services: By containerizing IP studio services and running them on the switch allows broadcast engineers to focus on building ideal IP media fabric for their studio without utilizing additional servers and virtual machines.

Mellanox Spectrum switches allows broadcasters to save time and money, and become more innovative.

Most operators will continue to separate traffic by priority; however, Mellanox switches have the intelligence to prioritize real-time media streams. And SMPTE ST 2110 standards are video-format-agnostic and therefore support Ultra HD, HDR, and other new and emerging formats.

Another area of technology that music is being heavily influenced is Artificial Intelligence. The artificial intelligence (AI) industry is expected to be worth more than $70 billion by 2020 and will continue to exert influence on our lifestyles and the way we consume data.


Popgun claims to have created the first superhuman AI-powered musician, learning from human musicians and complements or augments music compositions. Amper is an AI-enabled music composer, performer, and producer; creating music from scratch. Pacemaker is an AI DJ that creates digi-mixes and re-mixes from streams, not from digital files. Weav conceives a song not as the final product, but as a recipe for variations of itself along dimensions like tempo, energy, and mood. Jaak uses blockchain technology to identify the usage and rights to song streams.And these are but a few examples of how AI is driving the music industry. AI, in turn, relies on the power of Mellanox solutions.

A recent use of AI came from IBM’s Watson which sifted through five years of unstructured culture data, as well as the lyrics of the top 100 songs for each week within the five year frame to establish the emotional sentiment behind each song. Watson then analyzed the instrumentation, rhythm and pitch which was then given to artist Alex Da Kid to experiment with. Ultimately, IBM’s Watson became the collaborator on the artist’s new song, entitled, appropriately enough, “Not Easy”. Imagine what a Beethoven or Gershwin could have done with the same data

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About Scot Schultz

Scot Schultz is a HPC technology specialist with broad knowledge in operating systems, high speed interconnects and processor technologies. Joining the Mellanox team in March 2013 as Director of HPC and Technical Computing, Schultz is a 25-year veteran of the computing industry. Prior to joining Mellanox, he spent the past 17 years at AMD in various engineering and leadership roles, most recently in strategic HPC technology ecosystem enablement. Scot was also instrumental with the growth and development of the Open Fabrics Alliance as co-chair of the board of directors. Scot currently maintains his role as Director of Educational Outreach, founding member of the HPC Advisory Council and of various other industry organizations. Follow him on Twitter: @ScotSchultz

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