Consolidating multiple audio workstations into one Terminal Server

Multi Channel Sound Card Assignment with a Terminal Server?

One of the thoughts that came to me after successfully virtualising the Axia Livewire IP Audio Drivers is “Can I consolidate multiple workstations onto the one server to cut down on the management burden?

In other words: rather than having five computers for five studios, could I just have one bigger server and connect to them all via Thin Clients?

The main challenges I see are making sure there is enough power in the server to handle the load, but also making sure the audio is routed in and out of the right channels on the audio card / IP Audio Driver.

Having a think about this, it looks all too possible. First, let me say that I haven’t yet done this. This is still just theoretical. That being said, the necessary building blocks are already available:

  • Microsoft Terminal Server allows multiple remote users to connect to the one server simultaneously, and all have unique desktops.
  • Axia’s Audio over IP Driver enables multiple audio devices all streaming to different Livewire stream addresses (multi-channel version only, not the single channel version)
  • Even if you don’t have a Livewire setup, you could use any other traditional multi-channel audio card, such as those from Digigram, or perhaps a consumer grade sound card.
  • Powershell allows detecting the hostname of the RDP client and dynamically changing the audio input and output.

It seems that once you have a Terminal Server setup with multiple sound devices, it’s a mater of having a logon script detect the Thin Client’s hostname and change the audio inputs and outputs accordingly.

Cost vs Benefit

The next thing to think about is the cost:

  • A Windows Server 2008 R2 license should cost you less than $1000.
  • Each Terminal Server Device CAL will cost around $100
  • A sound card could cost as little as $200 or as much as several thousand dollars, depending on brand, model, I/O count, etc.
  • Thin Clients can cost as little as a few hundred dollars, but decent models can cost around $800. Be careful when choosing a Thin Client – this can get confusing will be an article of it’s own
  • Server hardware for the actual terminal server can cost absolutely nothing (if you’re virtualising and using existing Axia IP Drivers), or perhaps $2000 if you’re starting from scratch.

At a minimum, for every studio you’re going to need a Terminal Server device license and a Thin Client. If you already have licenses and hardware to cover everything else, then fantastic! If no, it will be much more expensive.

After you’ve costed up everything for your situation, it’s a matter of weighing the costs against the benefits. The main benefit I see is reduced management overhead. If you go around once a month to each studio doing software updates and solve a roaming profile crisis every now and again, it may be worth it.

As far as I can see, it is cost effective in two scenarios:

  • You need to replace a number of studio computers soon: here, the cost of Terminal Server vs Individual Workstations would be very similar.
  • You already have most of the hardware and licensing: this would most probably be very cost effective from the outset.

Conclusion

Ultimately, I only envisage doing this for non-critical machines such as the general purpose studio machines (Email, Weather, Traffic, YouTube, Scrabble, etc.). Having never done this before, I would get a bit nervous doing this for anything critical from the outset.

However, the building blocks are there and it looks very possible. It’s just a matter of piecing it together and doing some testing to see if it actually works. I’ll be sure to update this website if I ever make something of this. Let me know if you’ve done anything along these lines.

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I'm Anthony Eden, and I'm a IT Professional, Broadcast Technician, Software Developer, and Solutions Engineer. I've been working in broadcast media since 2008, and developing software and websites for just as long. Right now, I provide freelance services through Media Realm - in particular, to the media and not-for-profit industries.

Follow Anthony on Twitter: @anthony_eden