​Calculating the Cost of Cloud Storage for Cloud DVR

Service providers worldwide are migrating key services from the home to the network with revenue, cost saving, improved service and customer stickiness some of the advantages. The cost of doing so can still be high because of the cost of storage and different interpretations of the law around private and public copyright. Imagine Communications outlines the problem and suggests a solution.

The larger operators see the operational value of offering a centralized service and are (basically all, at least in North America) actively working on cloud DVR tests and deployments, explains Yuval Fisher, CTO, Multi-Program Video Distributors (MVPD), Imagine Communications.

“The aggregate cost of storage is expensive on home devices,” he says. "For example, you give each user a Terabyte of data but you can't take advantage of the fact that some users only record half a TB of data. With cloud DVR, you can do this. Cloud also provides unlimited recording and centralised storage. You don't have to have truck rolls and you can aggregate all the costs of power supply and kit but best of all can further monetise the service. When delivering the content from the network you can insert ads on fresh content and relevant fresh ads on old content.

“Cloud DVR is also a sticky service. Customers get attached to their libraires of stuff. Perhaps we are all natural hoarders. Once you've got your Game of Thrones library you really want to keep it rather than switch service provider.”

An impediment to rollout and to optimizing revenue, though, are the technical challenges around the so-called 'Private Copy Ruling.' These are surmountable, but operators are still sorting out all the implications.

This includes knock-on costs to storage. "There are a number of technologies that mitigate storage costs and a number of approaches that give operators the flexibility (that they need, even if they don’t always realize it) in an evolving legal and negotiated copyright landscape.”

The reference for private/public copy is the action brought against Cablevision in 2008 by content owners. Although Cablevision won on appeal, service providers in North America, in particular, have adopted a conservative interpretation of the ruling. Basically this states that as long as every user has their own unique copy of a show they record it doesn't constitute any copyright infringement. Cablevision couldn't initiate the record on behalf of the user and the user had to initiate playback so that it didn't constitute a public performance.

“There are a lot of vague issues with this ruling," says Fisher. "One of them being, if a service provider only makes one physical copy of an asset and then symobolic links to millions of copies as a storage optimisation then does that constitute a storage optimisation or an illegal copy? This is unclear.

“For content owners that really want to stick to the exact letter of the ruling it means a million users with 300 hours of recorded content per user will require a 120 Petabytes of storage. Even though storage prices are coming down to the low hundreds of dollars per TB that's still millions of dollars of expense. Even in locations which have different interpretations of copyright and don't do private copy – as is the case in some European countries - we still have a significant amount of storage required.

“If you just store one physical copy of a year's worth of content for 500 channels – which is a use case from one of our customers – then it means 20 Petabytes of storage. So whether in private or shared copy mode there are huge storage costs.

“To make matters worse, when you have to deliver to multiple devices there are mutliple delivery formats for the video. These range from Apple HLS which is fragmented into two differnet flavours, to Microsoft Smooth Streaming. All this means that you have to store four to six times more content than just the master itself and this quickly becomes an even more expensive proposition.”

Fisher detailed some calculations of cost. “For a use case where the aggregate bitrate is 15Mbps with 3 ABR formats and 200 hours of recorded content for every subscriber and we assume the cost per TB is $300 then you get a cost per sub of $1215.”

In another example, taking the aggregate bitrate at 10Mbps with 2 ABR formats and 75 hours storage per user and a TB at $200, the cost is $135 per user. “Even with a very extreme scenario and very low bitrate and very low quotas you still end up with a cost of $22 per user.”

Multiply any of those scenarios over millions, in the case of any large service provider, and you can see how the costs quickly stack up. “Even if you lose low capacity disks you don't get any advantage. You need a lot of them to get the right throughput to make the private copies.”

The storage options include hard drives (SDD) – this says Fisher is the benchmark device. Others are tape and solid state drives (SSD). Roughly speaking tape devices cost a tenth that of hard drives per unit of storage but is ten times slower, and solid state costs 10x that of hard drives and give ten times as much read write power.

“SSDs are good for low user quotas to get the throughput you need for private copies. SSDs are also good for when you need to ingest large volumes at one time and a SDD provides that buffer. SDD's on the other hand are great for private or shared copy while tape is opimal for archive.”

Fisher suggests that 80% of content is viewed in the first 72 hours after transmission and that service providers can use such user behaviour data to model the optimal time to archive an asset and migrate assets to different storage tiers.

Imagine also advocates just in time packaging (JIT) to encrypt and JIT transcoding to minimise storage costs by 50%. “Store assets in a single format but deliver in all Adaptive Bit Rate formats for multiple devices. “The basic premise of our Cloud Xtreme DVR solution is that it captures live video sreams and channels in multibitrate format into cloud based storage for either shared or private copy. These can be event based or contiuous channels. Operators or users can schedule the recording through the middleware.

“One of the features we offer that operators really like is the ability to shift between interpretations of the private copy ruling, giving them flexibility at the program level.

“The strategy is to find the optimum architecture and system design to ensure the operator can be as profitable as possible with their services.”

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