Steps to Building a Cloud Workflow

The cloud has become central to many of our everyday conversations. Much of the discussion tends to go in one of two directions. Either people talk about the cloud in a general way, or they focus on what it could be, what it will be in the future. Few focus on the cloud today and how to leverage it into a winning workflow.

In media facilities there are many different workflows and this makes each site unique. In part this is because every content creator, distributor or broadcaster is looking for a way to make their unique proposition better.

Even so, there are common and basic pillars of content creation and dissemination. Along with the content you focus on, how you do what you do is where you can improve quality, lower cost or be more efficient. The tools we have at our disposal are then central to building the solution to deliver the workflow we want.

Cloud and Connectivity

When I look at the cloud as a technology I can get caught up in where it will be in the future. It could be a warehouse for almost infinite storage, unlimited CPU cycles, virtual stacks of functionality that I can plug together to create the workflow I want, all accessible with reliable bandwidth….and all at a good price! Then I have to snap back and think through what the cloud can offer today, and how I can help leverage that functionality into our current toolset.

There are four pillars of media production workflow. Cloud solutions are applicable for each of them.

There are four pillars of media production workflow. Cloud solutions are applicable for each of them.

Cloud is really just a bunch of networked computers. It is the speed and latency of that network along with what is running on those computers that make all the difference as to what can be done with them.

Let’s start with connectivity. If you are connecting from a place that does not have solid, dependable connectivity, then it will not be possible to build reliable workflows. While this may seem obvious, it does not always mean there is a video editor working from some remote mountain top. Many projects need to connect people working from home, hotels, and the road. This requires taking into account the available bandwidth from all of those locations when thinking about your needed solution.

Now think of where the facility will be located. If the studio is situated some place where service may be unreliable or has limited access to bandwidth (I have seen this happen to businesses that are simply located in the wrong part of a state) then you need to consider these factors. 

Cloud-based archive services are numerous and when combined with Object Storage a future-proof, hardware-eliminating solution can be the result.

Cloud-based archive services are numerous and when combined with Object Storage a future-proof, hardware-eliminating solution can be the result.

If any part of a workflow is sited outside of the facility or physical presence, be sure there is reliable access to that location. Fortunately, this is not an issue for most facilities, or it is one that has been resolved by newer service provider technology.

The Need to Archive

If we look at common workflows or requirements that can leverage the cloud, the first one that jumps out is archiving. Currently many facilities are archiving media locally either on disk-based or tape-based systems. Tape has evolved over the years and while capacity keeps improving, there is a constant need to upgrade the hardware. Then we have all the moving parts, along with the need to migrate to higher and higher tape density solutions.

It is easy to make all of these issues go away with a move to cloud-based Object Storage. We are fortunate that many cloud-based storage systems are leveraging similar interfaces, so identify the right vendor and the move to cloud might be your last migration.

Safety and Cost

A key goal for many CTO’s is find a storage technology that will be failsafe. Amazon now claims 11 9’s of durability. That means a 99.999999999% chance that you will not lose your data. Once the data is in the cloud, the vendor will manage the back-end technology including upgrading their storage components. All you have to worry about is the file format and making sure you can still use it years down the road.

There are multiple cloud-service vendors. And they all compete with different plans and pricing. Some vendors charge to put data into the cloud, to store it, and to take it out. Other cloud providers offer flat-fee models.

Costs need to be balanced against reliability, longevity and range of services. After all, this means your archives will now be in their data bucket and you want to make sure that they will be around when you need them.

Implementing cloud solutions for many media facilities will involve minimal changes in workflow. Where a user would previously retrieve from archive, they do the same now, but the data comes from its new home in the cloud instead of from a tape. The user may never realize the data is not kept in house.

Managing Workflow

The next step to consider when leveraging the cloud is getting closer to the production workflow. This means using cloud instead of on-premise hardware and storage for most tasks. Such a solution makes sense when the vendor can guarantee availability and functionality at a lower cost.

A managed service will typically let you connect any device to the internet and begin work. The workflow may need to change somewhat because of the demands that media production place on storage performance. Be assured that there are workflows that can perform well, and many of them are hybrid. 

A cloud-centric centralized storage solution provides a secure yet available silo of content for staff that may be located around the world.

A cloud-centric centralized storage solution provides a secure yet available silo of content for staff that may be located around the world.

Leverage Centralized Storage

Multiple applications and desktops should be connected to a central archive. If they share content, you can leverage asset management in the cloud to provide a level of intelligence around that connectivity.

Look for a solution that can optimize the transfer and storage of archive content so you don’t archive the same media twice and are therefore charged twice. This type of product will optimize transfers between locations so you don’t move media that doesn’t need to move. Be sure your selected solution will manage all the security and access rights so collaboration can happen without interruption.

An added benefit is the ability to manage projects across locations. Whether you are following the clock to access resources across your facilities, or whether you are simply trying to tap special expertise in one location for a project in another, cloud-based architecture makes it easy to leverage a distributed workforce.

There are scenarios where the remote installation is temporary. Rather than shipping out a lot of people and equipment one can use existing resources to supplement and support the resources on the ground — allowing them to be nimble and more focused.

Amazon claims 11 9’s of durability that is 99.999999999% reliability. When combined with a cloud company’s full-time security department, there is little reason to DIY.

Amazon claims 11 9’s of durability that is 99.999999999% reliability. When combined with a cloud company’s full-time security department, there is little reason to DIY.

The Cloud is Flexible

Expect new cloud-based media solutions and services to be developed. Cloud can already allow us to ramp up functionality as needed. You can already see this with AI analysis engines where the media is passed to a system that scrubs through it and returns extracted metadata.

Rendering, transcoding, delivery, IP capture and other services also will find a home in the cloud. All of these tasks increase the importance of keeping media close to those services because it makes production more cost effective.

Early adopters are now launching new cloud-based projects and will ultimately work through the details of such workflows. Eventually the entire industry will benefit from what they learn.

I encourage technical managers to begin their own cloud migration by focusing on solving today’s definable tasks. However, plan to revisit those workflows and tasks with an eye to leveraging new cloud services as they become available.

David Schleifer, COO, Primestream.

David Schleifer, COO, Primestream.

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