The Pros and Cons of Archiving in the Cloud


Lee Sheppard TV-Bay Magazine
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Archiving content in the cloud provides a number of key benefits. However, many media companies and content owners are still hesitant to store their assets that way due to content security implications and cost concerns. So what are the pros and cons of storing content in the cloud?

There are a number of key drivers including: access to content from any location; the ability to work collaboratively on projects; disaster recovery purposes - particularly if the material is never restored (storage costs are very low, but restore charges are high); simplicity - make one copy and let the cloud take responsibility for guaranteeing copies and availability; and low start-up costs with no responsibility for IT infrastructure (operating instead of capital costs).

These benefits mean that cloud usage is becoming more significant. However, there are some key considerations. A high-quality pipe to the cloud promises to deliver 1 Gbit/second - approximately 8 Tb per day - but in reality it will be less than that. In comparison, a single LTO7 drive offers 315MByte/second, or about 26 Tb per day. A large media operation may have 20 or more concurrent drives reading and writing to tape. This is of course a large-scale difference in throughput opportunity. Therefore, depending on the operation a pure cloud solution may be unfeasible because of sheer volume.

Partial file restore (PFR), which allows editors to select and restore elements of a clip directly from the archive in high resolution, is another factor. With assets now reaching hundreds of gigabytes or even terabytes in size, PFR becomes even more significant. However, cloud solutions are currently only geared up to restore whole files, although it is likely that solutions will be developed to address this.

As already highlighted, cost is another consideration: it can cost much less to store content in the cloud ($0.0275 to $0.01 per GB/per month for Amazon depending on class of service) than it does to restore it. Pricing models for retrieving stored assets are complex, but can result in unexpectedly high monthly bills. For instance, Amazon places restrictions on the volume of assets that can be retrieved per day, and does not take into account peak period usage. Media companies that are considering using cheap cloud storage need to consider the amount of content which will need to be restored.

Cloud archiving is much more cost-effective if (very) limited content needs to be restored: let's call this the usage ratio. A single usage ratio of 10 per cent means that at some point 10 per cent of the archived assets will be used again, at least once. If there is a high multiple usage ratio this will mean additional costs. Some organisations will have a very high usage ratio. For instance, some content is received (e.g. if it's purchased) and then stored straight to archive for definite transmission in the future. This would mean a 100% usage ratio.

A two hour 8k movie requires up to 10TB in storage; at $0.0275 per GB/month this is only $280/month but the restore costs will be much higher. The higher the usage ratio, the less competitive cloud storage becomes.

Other organisations, such as news services, may have a very low usage ratio. They could store huge amounts of raw footage but only use one per cent of it. In this instance the discussion has to focus on the cost of the LTO7 infrastructure to calculate the total cost of ownership, as well as the other considerations noted in this article.

We've looked at the benefits; but what are the risks associated with storing content in the cloud? Putting high-value licenced assets solely in the hands of third-parties can be very daunting. The archive has to be very secure and standard cloud may not be sufficient: DES encryption keys are vital. There are products available that provide this level of security but media companies are understandably worried about putting their eggs in one basket. There may also be security risks in the actual process of streaming assets to the cloud (for example, resulting in illegal copies being made). Again the streaming tools are of a high quality but there has to be great trust in third-parties. Having said this, digital media can be encrypted at source (as happens already with digital cinema before distribution to specific cinemas); nevertheless this is a consideration.

Archiving options are developing quickly and storage environments will become increasingly complex. This is resulting in an increase in hybrid archiving models. As cloud systems continue to evolve, particular types of assets are likely to be stored for determined time periods within their life-cycle on specific storage technologies for precise business reasons to take advantage of the benefits of each type of storage. Management of these decisions and processes will require sophisticated storage management systems. This is primarily what we are seeing now. Tape is here to stay, but as the archive becomes a more fundamental part of the workflow (not just at the end of the chain) customers are examining how they can get the benefits of the cloud while managing the risks and costs. Therefore hybrid archives utilising the respective benefits of tape, disk, optical storage and cloud are becoming more and more common.

A second trend with regard to cloud archiving is a move towards the private cloud and its companion object storage devices for many workflow needs. This will avoid issues associated with the public cloud whilst gaining at least some of the benefits: distribution and collaboration. The downside of course is the capital investment that can be avoided with public cloud.

The cloud is here to stay and only time will tell the degree to which media companies are willing to embrace this brave new world.


Tags: iss114 | archiving | cloud | pfr | encryption | Lee Sheppard
Contributing Author Lee Sheppard

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