Thinking clearly about the cloud


Chris Steel 2 TV-Bay Magazine
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As someone who is constantly trying to build better products, I'm always asking questions and listening to the ones I get asked. For several years now I've asked every broadcaster and media production company I've met what they plan to do about 'the cloud'. I've had replies which range from 'the media must never leave the premises' (imagine in a rising Dalek voice to get an impression of the resolute belief), through to 'we started looking in 2008 and have lots of workflows in the cloud already' (just yesterday). What is interesting is how those answers have changed and how people are now starting to come to us to ask us about the big 'C' at tradeshows. So, here are some of the most common or interesting questions...

What do you mean by 'cloud'?

A really good first question because there are several different ways of interpreting it. My answer to this is, that it really is not about the cloud at all, it is all about how you provision the applications you are going to use to implement your various workflows. Today machine rooms are full of servers with individual manufacturers' logos on and intended to run a particular application. Tomorrow machine rooms will look like data centres and be run and managed in the same way, and that is what I mean by cloud. Once you have your workflows in that type of environment it doesn't matter whether the data centre is next door, or on the other side of the San Andreas Fault (aside from network connectivity).

It will be cheaper, right?

One economic benefit should be that you only pay for what you use. One broadcaster I talked to figured out that they could give up all the cloud servers they use during the day, at night and save themselves huge amounts of money. Others report that they have done the math and cannot make the economics add up - the costs of storing high resolution assets in the cloud are just too high. Right now, just doing the math is going to be tough as pricing models are complex. One of the answers to this will be only bringing back from Glacier (or equivalent) what you need, which is why we are working closely with other manufacturers to provision our cloud based partial media file retrieval technology in the cloud.

I have multiple facilities / artists / locations can you help?

Increasingly this is the most common scenario that customers ask us about. One was a major US sports organisation that wanted to archive from three locations and retrieve partials of anything in the archive to any location. We are working on a POC for a broadcaster on the opposite side of the world with a very similar requirement. Another example is a very large production facility that wants to use talent that it has access to around the world, they call it their 'Artists Anywhere' initiative. The challenge for these workflows is that they are often 'hybrid': with one end firmly on premise and the other in the cloud. In this case we often discuss tools which can help bridge this workflow gap, like our Marquis Medway workflow automation solution.

Network speeds aren't up to it, are they?

I don't know, but what I do know is that lots of production companies are moving some workflows, or some parts of workflows to the cloud already. One facility we work with produces promos for television work. All the original programmes are delivered to them over The Internet, and when they have finished the promos, they are delivered to the playout facility by The Internet. So, in this case the network speed question works in favour of a cloud based workflow. In their case, they will be making selects in the cloud, downloading proxies, editing these together and then relinking to the hi-res in the cloud and delivering from there. Once you have media in a modern data centre the network speeds within it and to other centres are phenomenal.

We have an old archive that is coming the end of its life, can we migrate to the cloud?

Again, this is one that we are hearing with increasing frequency. As the hardware of an on premise archive ages they start to wonder what the best way to secure their archive will be in the future. Their attitude to the economic and network speed issues I've already mentioned tends to be that these issues are transient and will ultimately go away. If you are going to move the archive, that gives you a great opportunity to run the media through a few processes on the way. Whether it is an indexing service for partial file retrieval, QC, or something more esoteric like the newly announced Google Cloud Video Intelligence (if you haven't already, take a look and consider the future of your MAM!). Adding metadata to your media is going to increase its usefulness and therefore its value.

How can I make use of the cloud whilst some of my workflows have to be on premise?

Whether it is existing archives, playout, or live production, there are many reasons why some parts of production and broadcast workflows will remain on premise for the foreseeable future. The reality is that for many facilities they have existing workflows which are almost entirely on premise and in daily use. The change to cloud may be revolutionary, but despite what the vendors of 'complete cloud solutions' would like to believe, the transition is going to have to be painstakingly incremental. Products which can be the bridge, connecting existing on premise workflows to new in cloud ones, will be critical to this transition.

Is the cloud secure?

Interestingly this has slid from the most frequently raised issue, to one of the least. Either people are becoming more used to cloud based services, or they have looked into the issue more deeply and realised that 'security' is not straightforward. To the 'never leave the facility' brigade I like to counter with 'how secure is your archive to flood, fire, theft, mudslide, civil unrest, earthquake, etc'? The point is that if you can host assets securely in the cloud, they can be replicated to multiple sites and protected from all of these issues. Are your physical and network security measures really better than Amazon, Google or IBM's? How would you balance the risk and cost of theft vs irretrievable loss?

And then there is that final question...

Why does my head hurt, my nose bleed, by feet ache and my throat feel like it is on fire?

Welcome to Vegas!


Tags: iss124 | cloud | marquis | archive | network | Chris Steel 2
Contributing Author Chris Steel 2

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