Head in the cloud


Dick Hobbs. TV-Bay Magazine
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by Dick Hobbs
Issue 89 - May 2014

Ive just had a look back through the archives, and I am pretty certain that this was my 25th NAB: a couple in the eighties and every year since 1992. In many peoples eyes this makes me just a beginner, I know.

In the past I have spent the week on a stand, trying to sell something. My first ever NAB in Dallas, Texas saw me trying to interest a largely unimpressed American audience in teletext and subtitling. Now I make the annual pilgrimage as my investment in me.
I go to a carefully selected sub-sample of the press conferences on offer, and I fill the four days of the exhibition with appointments. Some of these I am pressed into by ardent PR people; some stands I need to see because they have what I perceive to be important new technologies.

And there are some that I actively look forward to each year, because I know I will have a fascinating conversation that will leave me enriched and re-energised. At the risk of making him big-headed, I have to confess that at the top of column three is Bruce Devlin of Amberfin.

I say Amberfin, but the company was one of the many acquisitions announced at and around NAB this year, and it is now part of asset management specialist Dalet. The Amberfin name and products will remain, but the intention is to work closely together to create the best MAM on the planet according to Bruce.

One of the interesting little asides was that the deal for the acquisition was not completed until Sunday breakfast time. But to get the best out of the deal, all parties wanted an Amberfin demonstration showing potential areas of integration on the Dalet stand.

Which would be fine, but until the deal was done US commercial law prevented Devlin from telling any of his colleagues. So he spent Saturday night building the demonstration at Dalet while taking last minute phone calls from lawyers.

The real reason that I wanted to talk to Bruce, though, was because the cloud and virtualisation was probably the hottest topic at NAB this year, and his take on the issue was going to be important for my information gathering. As ever, he did not disappoint.
We are already familiar with the idea of virtualisation through architectures like transcode farms. We can determine our own level of throughput, balancing processing power against cost against how long we are prepared to wait for tasks to sit in a queue.
The logical extension, then, is to take this virtualised processing and move it to the cloud, where there are at least in theory an infinite number of processor cores waiting to do our bidding.

We have the most cost-effective transcode farm on the market, Devlin said, but pointed out that cost-effective in our terms has to include a fair return for the developer. We have got a customer that is testing it on Amazon at the moment, but it is not really the right time for cloud services.

The content we are working on needs uncompromised quality, he said, and you cannot do that for 13c an hour which is what Amazon charges. You have to look at the economics of the internet. Data centres are not making money: the margins are too tight.

Well that is good, surely? Data centres are marketing on price, so we can buy cloud storage and processing for peanuts and we win!

Yes, but what about security, Bruce pointed out. DDoS distributed denial of service attacks are getting sophisticated and very brutal. CloudFlare, one of the good guys in content distribution, recently reported fighting off an attack that at its peak was swamping the target with more than 300Gb/s of junk traffic.

Imagine you are a broadcaster, counting on delivering your primetime schedule from a cloud service. That would make you a very attractive target for a bad guy who wanted to take you off air. That level of DDoS attack, on a network which is already dependent upon high volumes of time critical data, would be disastrous. People are not aware of this fragility, Bruce told me.

None of which is to say that using IP to transport video is a bad thing. Indeed, it was quite clear from NAB this year that it will be the very next big thing. According to Charlie Vogt of Imagine Communications (as we are supposed to call Harris Broadcast) you will see some of the big networks making the transition very soon.

The general trend coming out of NAB seems to be that we will move away from IP islands to an architecture where we move everything files and streams, compressed and uncompressed as data. Cisco layer 2 switches will soon replace broadcast routers, with all the specialist broadcast stuff like synchronisation and clean switching happening at the edges.

Not convinced that means it will all happen in the cloud, though. Or am I just being an old fuddy-duddy who has been to NAB too many times for his own good?


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