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Viewpoint: How Much to Cloud? That is the Question

Cloud has been in vogue for a number of years, and many technology companies are focusing so strongly on cloud deployments, it almost seems that the answer is cloud, but no one is sure of the question! To be sure, the $64 million question for the broadcast industry is: how cloud should figure in to the future?

I have recently joined the Telestream team and come to the company with a broad base of experience in the IT sector, working with companies such as Cisco. My experience of cloud deployment outside of the broadcast sector sheds some interesting light on the cloud challenge facing media organizations of all types today.

Is cloud a cure all?

If we look back to the period around 2009 to 2011, cloud was regarded by many as a ‘cure all’. IT companies were organizing roundtable events where 15-20 IT execs convened to examine which IT workloads were most appropriate for cloud deployment – it was as if every IT exec needed his or her own cloud strategy to secure their long-term careers in the eyes of their CFO and CIO.

Then around 2014, enterprise companies like Cisco turned their focus on media companies – not just broadcasters, but telcos and even cable companies. These traditional media companies were developing cloud strategies but most of the easiest IT workloads had already been cherry picked earlier. The remaining workloads had more stringent requirements and have been, therefore, more difficult to migrate totally to the cloud. Still, cloud migration has remained the goal.

However, very often, the answer is not found in pure cloud. Cloud is an empowering technology for organizations of all sizes and in many different industry sectors, but there is an absolute need for it to be employed strategically and judiciously based on real business need.

Today, the cloud continues to evolve as companies’ use of it evolves. Workloads such as disaster recovery, HR, CRM are ‘no-brainers’ for cloud deployment. But one of the key advantages of cloud is its ability to let entrepreneurial organizations match revenues to expenses and hence allow them to be more success-based in their growth.

Broadcast under siege

Today, broadcasters are under siege from agile competitors such as online video providers, who are much more cloud-centric. Companies such as Netflix can afford to take a more nimble cloud approach since they were established as greenfield installations.

In comparison, broadcasters have big legacy issues in their technology infrastructures. They cannot simply throw everything out and start from scratch, but this is exactly what their competitors can do. When applied to broadcasters, the supposed cheapness of the cloud – suggested to be as much as a 40 percent reduction in costs – can be a misleading assessment. Broadcasters cannot look at the cloud in isolation as a cure-all, but instead must look in holistic fashion at each of the areas where the agility they afford makes cloud-based solutions the right answer.

Cloud deployment can be disruptive to traditional broadcast business models in a number of ways. Cloud significantly increases speed to market for new ventures. What used to take 90 days to get off the ground, now takes just a fraction of that time. In a fiercely competitive market where companies are fighting tooth and nail to win new eyeballs, bringing new products to market with speed is incredibly important.

Cloud also significantly lowers the threshold for entry in terms of up-front costs. Once again, cloud-based launches represent a fractional cost since upfront infrastructure expenditure can be small. This makes companies’ business plans much more agile – they can take more risks, getting to market fast and relatively cheap. This single issue can revolutionize business development strategies for traditional broadcasters.

Thirdly, organizations can scale-up – and scale-down – their new operations very rapidly. Whether you are a broadcaster or a service provider, you have much more freedom and flexibility to change your business model. In a crowded market, you can get much more creative – and even experimental - with the way that you sell media products to your core audience.

As a media company, you have cloud deployment and can provide more flexibility in terms of the numbers and combinations of channels that you sell. As the head of a major traditional broadcaster, such as NBC, this kind of business agility is critically important to be competitive in today’s market.

Transformation is a journey, not a light switch

However appealing the cloud sounds, it is critical that companies employ the technology platform that best suits their workflows at the right time. The best solution models do not assume that customers will wholesale move all their production and distribution capabilities to the cloud at once. Instead, they employ a flexible, conservative approach – the cloud is valuable, but there are a number of potential weaknesses in cloud strategies that need to be factored into your decisions.

We’ve seen a number of core broadcast workflows that don’t transfer easily to the cloud, such as live transcoding workflows. At the current stage of cloud’s evolution these are not optimized within cloud-based environments. We believe that working in a hybrid environment leads to a more efficiently optimized infrastructure environment.

Most customers are brownfield sites with considerable legacy infrastructure issues, and need help along a path of sensible transformation. The manufacturer of the technology does not require we advocate a wholesale infrastructure switch-out. Transformation is a journey, not a light switch: they need to act as a trusted partner and as such, would not help by suggesting that customers throw everything into the cloud.

Private-cloud, virtualized data centers can be a first stage. Once business operations have been established and have proven successful, they can be transitioned to the public cloud. However, numerous large media entities are sufficiently uncertain about the public cloud that they have brought their operations back to private cloud. It is tremendously helpful to employ technology which can support your workflows no matter where and how they’re deployed.

In conclusion, there are lots of instructive lessons about cloud that have been learned outside of the broadcast industry – it is wise to observe these closely before making major strategic moves that will have a long-term impact on your profitability, and even on your ability to survive in a fierce commercial market. 

Chris Osika, Chief Marketing Officer at Telestream

Chris Osika, Chief Marketing Officer at Telestream

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