Integrating the Cloud into Production Workflows

Media companies today rely on the cloud for significant elements of their operations. Many small and mid-sized production companies already have implemented the cloud for long-term content storage, and now an increasing number of these companies are migrating production tasks — indeed their end-to-end workflow — to the cloud. Although bandwidth and application challenges remain, the shift is under way and surely will accelerate as bandwidth to the cloud becomes more affordable and as a growing number of vendors rewrite and tailor their applications to allow users to take advantage of the cloud’s unique capabilities.

If implemented correctly as part of the larger production workflow, the cloud offers substantial advantages, particularly as familiar content creation and delivery models give way to continuous “always-on” production models required to meet the voracious demand of binge-watching consumers. Chief among these advantages is the option of adopting a pay-as-you-go model for virtual applications and resources. With constrained delivery windows and an extremely competitive environment making margins tight, this option has become vital to many media companies. By providing creatives with ready, consistent access to content and compute resources, no matter where they work, the cloud also allows media companies to establish geographically dispersed collaborative workflows that make the most of staff time and talent.

The cloud was initially considered as best suited for archive applications. However, today’s cloud workflows can provide an always-on production environment, designed to serve today’s fast-paced content generation.

The cloud was initially considered as best suited for archive applications. However, today’s cloud workflows can provide an always-on production environment, designed to serve today’s fast-paced content generation.

To capitalize on the cloud, the media company must ensure that media files of all kinds and sizes are part of an optimized end-to-end system that works seamlessly with content management tools. Although the increasing resolutions of 4K, 8K and beyond still call for on-premises storage to support content creation, integration with the cloud for collaboration, graphics, transcoding, review and approval, and even distribution is becoming an essential part of the workflow. With this model in place, built on private clouds, public clouds or a hybrid of the two, it is possible to realize greater efficiency in creating, finishing and delivering content that adds to the bottom line.

Supporting the Workflow with Public Cloud
The public cloud offers an economical option for flexible and highly scalable storage of content. As early concerns over security started to wane, media companies began using the public cloud as a means to extend data protection and disaster recovery to an offsite target, often in the pay-as-you-go model that continues to make the cloud attractive. Through this approach, they can replicate and store media files in multiple geographic locations.

More recently, media companies have turned to cloud-enabled media asset management (MAM) systems to address the shortcomings of the public cloud in handling extended file information. Whereas the movement of content to and from the cloud commonly had been undertaken with Web or cloud protocols such as HTTP POST or cloud storage bucket manipulation with the potential to strip valuable file information such as creation, modification dates and extended tags, the MAM system retains critical and carefully tended content metadata and possibly cloud object ID information in its database, simply using the cloud as a storage target and making retrieval calls as needed.

A media workflow benefits from being able to leverage cloud-based storage with on-site production tools and capability. Image: Cloudnewsdaily.

A media workflow benefits from being able to leverage cloud-based storage with on-site production tools and capability. Image: Cloudnewsdaily.

Going beyond the MAM, file management software has made it even easier to leverage cloud-based storage within production workflows. Presenting media stored in the cloud as part of the larger storage infrastructure, such software gives media companies scalable, on-demand capacity that can be adapted on the fly to accommodate increasing numbers of ever-larger media files, to facilitate broader collaboration, and to address the demands of specific clients and projects. Policy-based management can be used to simplify the transfer and storage of media files, and also to enable dynamic scaling of cloud-based capacity in accordance to workflow demands.

With the benefit of a managed storage environment on-premise and the agility to adapt storage instantly to changing demands, media companies are using public cloud services to achieve a new level of freedom and control. In fact, a 2015 third party survey shows that 19 percent of business and technology professionals in the media and entertainment space expect 25 to 50 percent of their data being stored in a public cloud within three years. Clearly, the public cloud is widely considered ideal as a cost-effective backup for high-value content. However, as media companies consider the cloud as a means of addressing modest and large-scale workflow requirements, many are turning to the power of private cloud.

Integrating Private Cloud into the Production Workflow
An effective collaborative production workflow demands that team members have the ability to share content and that their access to stored media be seamless and independent of the way the people work. The cloud now makes this possible. (In fact, one could argue that cloud-based collaboration tools and capabilities are responsible for the incredible deadlines that content creators are asked to meet).

Both file system and cloud technology have advanced to the point that private cloud models can offer not only storage and compute resources, both optimized for media, but also cloud-based applications that support the on-premise production workflow. In most cases, the private-cloud solution involves a primary production facility and one or more secondary production facilities, connected to one another via the Internet with content moving via WAN-accelerated transfer or a similar mechanism. Also connected to a private cloud (hosted at a data center or locally), these sites ingest content and push it up to the cloud, where it becomes available to the full creative team.

Tight integration of the private cloud with the file system enables use of a policy-based software layer to align cloud-based resources to specific workflow requirements and, with the help of a cloud-enabled MAM, make media available when and where it is needed. Encryption in transit and at rest ensures the ongoing security of content throughout this process.

The integration of private cloud with local storage enables group policies to be tailored to an individual’s work requirements and needed resources. Image: virteva.

The integration of private cloud with local storage enables group policies to be tailored to an individual’s work requirements and needed resources. Image: virteva.

The integration of private cloud solutions with popular production applications has allowed media companies to migrate portions of their existing workflows to the cloud without  disruption of their usual operations, enabling them to reduce either their costs or their delivery time. Widely deployed software suites enable all connected (and authorized) users to view, edit and finish content collaboratively in distributed workspaces — and do it without making proxy copies.

The automation of ingest and delivery processes helps to streamline this workflow and maintain the feel of a local production model. Advanced transcoding and streaming engines deliver the speed necessary for real-time production workflows. A workflow automation system manages the full inventory of assets and content, whether on premise or in the private cloud, to keep content and assets in sync within a single collaborative production environment.

Enabling and Embracing Growth
A media company may choose to use the public cloud to stand up an instant archive, or opt to implement a more extensive solution in which public or private cloud is tightly integrated with its file-based workflows to support the complete content life cycle. In either case, the cloud enables greater agility and efficiency in meeting increasing demands on time and capacity. Giving the full creative team immediate and flexible access to content and key production applications on scalable, cost-effective cloud-based storage, media facilities position themselves to take advantage of any new opportunities that come their way.

Geoff Stedman, Senior Vice President, Scale-out Storage Solutions at Quantum

Geoff Stedman, Senior Vice President, Scale-out Storage Solutions at Quantum

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