Playout & Transmission Global Viewpoint – November 2015

Shopping For A Cloud Solution

Around the world and especially in the U.S. it is officially “Shopping season”. Millions of shoppers will be scrambling for the latest bargains and good deals on the newest tech products.

Broadcasters, however, seem to be playing more of a wait-and-see attitude when it comes to cloud technology.They appear to be telling vendors, first “show me”.

Broadcasters are not risk takers

It should be no surprise that broadcast companies seldom rush to adopt new, and often unproven, technology. For example, two-inch quad tape machines were a broadcast mainstay for more than 30 years and cloud playout is nowhere near that mature.

The Broadcast Bridge recently published a series of viewpoint articles on cloud playout, sampling multiple vendors about cloud technology. Links to many of the opinion articles can be found at the end of this editorial. The tutorials offer a prospective buyer background and an overview of cloud features and benefits. What these articles reveal is that cloud solutions are quite varied, offering a range of capabilities and platform technology. Most important, there is no one best solution for every application.

Andrew Warman, Director, P&P Strategy and Market Development,  Harmonic

Andrew Warman, Director, P&P Strategy and Market Development, Harmonic

The first question often asked is why should a broadcaster even consider cloud playout?

Andrew Warman, Director, P&P Strategy and Market Development, Harmonic responds, “We typically find that broadcasters have two or three reasons for thinking about a move to cloud type playout. The first, “is that they are looking to deploy pure software running on customer/service provider furnished hardware. This may go hand in hand with virtualization. An additional benefit is that the cloud is by definition 'IP connectivity'. The expectation is that lower cost Ethernet-based solutions equal savings”, he continued.

SAM’s Director of Playout and Delivery, Karl Mehring

SAM’s Director of Playout and Delivery, Karl Mehring

Not every broadcaster is focused on immediate cost savings says SAM’s Director of Playout and Delivery, Karl Mehring. “If a broadcaster is migrating to a cloud based infrastructure in order to reduce costs it is quite possible that they are focused on the wrong thing. It is a possible outcome, but not a given,” he emphasizes.

K.A. Srinivasan, Co-Founder, Amagi .

K.A. Srinivasan, Co-Founder, Amagi .

K.A. Srinivasan, Co-Founder, Amagi notes that “Traditional asset management platforms, which store content in large proprietary data centers and tape archives, can often be cost-prohibitive. But, asset management on the cloud allows broadcasters to store and archive all necessary content without requiring large capital investments.

“A cloud-based approach to asset management also enables broadcasters to easily alter the content on demand, and reformat it for VOD and OTT multiscreen delivery. Additionally, with built-in replication, the cloud is disaster-resistant and provides easy collaboration across multiple sites.

“By hosting broadcast workflow capabilities on the cloud, including media asset management, quality control, subtitle editing and management and automation and scheduling, broadcasters can speed up operations, increase flexibility, and lower costs,” notes Srinivasan.

The “real” cloud

When considering a cloud solution, one might first ask the vendor for a definition of the cloud. Many vendors rely on hardware-based technologies masquerading as cloud playout solutions.

In addition, says Veset CEO Igor Krol, “The industry itself is suffering from a psychological barrier of insecurity. One of the misconceptions in the broadcast industry has been in defining the cloud as nothing more than a remotely accessed visualized server in a data centre.

“Virtualization and the cloud are separate technologies, albeit with similar goals – to provide a way to run multiple software processes on the same hardware, thus increasing the mean-average hardware resources usable at the same time, and making sure that the available hardware is used to its full potential.

Veset CEO Igor Krol.

Veset CEO Igor Krol.

“Virtualization does not deliver elasticity and pooling comparable to cloud technology, and therefore demands a substantial commitment of IT and engineering resources to manage virtualized applications, Krol emphasizes.”

In addition, Krol advises, “This shift entails an understanding of new technologies, and obtaining new IT/IP skills to be able to understand and re-evaluate playout architectures.

Krol notes, “When it comes to linear television playout, we see that broadcasters are still stuck in their old ways, and struggle to think outside the existing ASI/SDI, proprietary hardware and GPUs paradigm. At best, they try to squeeze new technologies into old packaging. A glaring example of such thinking is the constant request to provide SDI over the internet.

“Broadcasters have to take a step back and understand their actual and commercial priorities and then structure their playout operations/services in a new way”, he said.

Steve Plunkett, CTO, Broadcast & Media Services, Ericsson, offers a parallel caution about cloud adoption. “We run proof of concepts tests periodically with a broad range of vendors, and for particular use cases and we'll do more in the year ahead.

“In some cases we're able to bring up a workable software-only implementation but it's far from a simple install and deploy model. It still takes quite a bit of tuning and collaboration with vendors.

Steve Plunkett, CTO, Broadcast & Media Services, Ericsson

Steve Plunkett, CTO, Broadcast & Media Services, Ericsson

“We have seen functionality and performance issues. The challenge is to create software that sits on a generic IT infrastructure and still be as powerful as today's hardware-based product in order to make the switch economically attractive.” Plunkett notes that getting broadcast-centric software to run on COTS IT platforms can be difficult.

“Broadcasters are very keen to take advantage of the many possibilities that cloud opens up but most of those organizations will also be cautious,” he says.

So, this holiday season, and going forward, the bottom line might be, reach for the clouds, albeit cautiously.

“The principle use case often stated by vendors offering cloud based systems is for disaster recovery. This does make some sense of course since cloud is synonymous with virtualization, and virtualization in theory allows the dynamic reallocation of software based video engines across different hardware in different locations – an ideal architecture when disaster strikes.

But, he continues, “The real benefits of going to the cloud is the ability to drop the reliance on SDI, co-locate your linear playout software with the other OTT platforms to bring targeted commercials and other personalization strategies to your audience. So long term it is less about just reducing costs, but increasing your share of available advertising revenues.”

Let us know what you think…

Log-in or Register for free to post comments…

Related Editorial Content

​Is Cloud Playout Ready For Primetime? Pebble Beach Systems Has A View

Cloud playout, with graphics and branding, holds out the hope to broadcasters of being able to introduce new channels on an operational expenditure basis rather than investing in dedicated hardware. The question is not whether the notoriously risk averse broadcaster…

​Is Cloud Playout Ready? PACE Media Development Has A View

Cloud playout, with graphics and branding, holds out the hope to broadcasters of being able to introduce new channels on an operational expenditure basis rather than investing in dedicated hardware. The question is not whether the notoriously risk averse broadcaster…

Alrai TV Trials Cloud Playout with Imagine

Kuwaiti broadcaster Alrai TV has been trialling a proof of concept IP-based cloud playout solution from Imagine Communications since July. This is the second such win for Imagine in the region following a similar implementation at Doha-based Al Rayyan.

​Is Cloud Playout Ready For Primetime? Cinegy Has A View

Few concepts illustrate the advantage of moving to IP better than cloud playout. Instead of vast banks of machines requiring lots of manual attention, software applications linked to data centres can provide broadcasters with the ability to launch channels, insert…