Services Global Viewpoint – January 2017

Is The Hybrid Cloud Your Best Choice?

Broadcasters and production companies are being encouraged to adopt cloud solutions, with vendors claiming many benefits. Buyers should enter this arena with eyes wide open. Just because the purchase order says “cloud” does not necessarily make it a best choice for any particular application.

Broadcast and production trade shows are replete with banners offering “cloud solutions.” They sometimes remind me of the Vegamatic commercials. The announcer says, "Quick get one now they do everything."

A closer examination of cloud technology reveals that not every application, task, transcoding or distribution requirement is best served by a cloud. Then, there is the decision whether to use a private cloud, public cloud or a hybrid approach. Let’s look closer at the benefits of cloud solutions, private, public clouds and hybrid.

A cloud is a cloud: Not!

Why adopt a cloud solution at all? Today’s facility workflows are fairly efficient and well understood. Except when they are not. Maybe things flow smoothly until a client arrives with his latest 4K production. Do you have sufficient on-line storage?

Maybe you manage a distribution network using a private data center. Yet, famous personality X just died and now your servers are swamped trying to meet the increased demand. Could a cloud solution help?

Perhaps the GM is enamored with the cloud and wants to know how much money she will save by moving the current workflow out-of-house. She envisions laying off most of the operation staff. You are charged with answering the questions.

The future looks bright for cloud applications. Software as a Service, SaaS is a common application.

The future looks bright for cloud applications. Software as a Service, SaaS is a common application.

While cloud solutions may at first appear identical, there are key differences. And, a cloud solution may not be a specific end point. Perhaps you only need a cloud for particular workflows or at particular times of the year. In this article, we will examine how a hybrid solution might best fit many applications. Some companies find that rather than hybrid cloud being just a transitional pause on the way to a full cloud implementation, it is their end point.

A hybrid solution may well offer sufficient benefits that a full-time, full-workflow cloud solution is neither needed or cost effective. A hybrid approach may actually offer a lower total cost, enhanced performance, greater availability and resiliency and an improved workflow.

There are several compelling reasons that companies increasingly view hybrid cloud solutions—solutions that combine both on-site private and off-site public resources—as their target end state, rather than merely an interim step towards running all applications in the public cloud.

Private, public, or hybrid?

The primary options used to run applications include: legacy architectures. This might include location-based servers with special-purpose technologies, often running on dedicated and siloed resources in a facility. Increasingly common is the use of private clouds either in an external data center or even within the facility. Some facilities may simply choose to use public clouds.

Broadcasters may lag other industries with cloud implementation.

Broadcasters may lag other industries with cloud implementation.

A key difference in computing options may be seen as a dichotomy; either the resources are dedicatedand owned, and incur a fixed cost regardless of whether or not they are used. Or, the resources can be shared on pay-per-use basis and incur a variable cost as they are utilized.

In this industry, we often refer to this difference as CAPEX versus OPEX. But, consider that even fixed resources can be leased and thereby charged as operating expenses, and some reserved data center instances can be capitalized. All this makes the CAPEX versus OPEX distinction less precise. For this discussion, any mix of the two pure approaches will be considered a hybrid architecture.

Transition or end state?

While some engineering managers consider the public cloud as the end goal for all computing, that viewpoint may be incorrect. An examination of data from other industries that use cloud technology reveals several key points.

First, although the degree of cloud usage penetration varies by industry, the public cloud model—short-term, on-demand, pay-per-use “rental” of resources—almost always exists and is not only viable, but a highly successful business model offering compelling customer value.Second, the ownership, private cloud, model also almost always exists.Third, seamless interoperability between the two is critical.1

Broadcast and production cloud applications are only now becoming a reality.

Broadcast and production cloud applications are only now becoming a reality.

Rationale for hybrids

Hybrid cloud solutions are common in many industries. Reasons include economics, option value, ease of migration and switching costs, available performance tuning, and human behavior, in broadcast terms—workflow.

Generally, in the presence of a varying demand, hybrid resources represent an optimal mix of lower cost of operation when using dedicated resources that can handle normal loads. When workflows increase, the cloud solution assumes a portion of the load. That cost represents a pay-per-use expense for that part of the demand that is variable.

There is option value in this kind of flexibility. For example, being locked into long-term leases and owned equipment can be economically unwise if public cloud providers drop prices, as has been the case for the last few years. On the other hand, being locked in to a public cloud provider could mean disaster if that company goes bankrupt.

Also, consider that moving your applications to a public cloud can incur migration costs. Do not forget to include those costs in the overall project costs. Also ask the vendor about future migration costs. Will you be ‘stuck’ with a company because it is too expensive to move the data elsewhere?

Performance

Consider carefully how your applications may perform when run in a public cloud. While public clouds offer substantial options and configurations, the ultimate control over the physical architecture lies with the cloud company.

It may be that your current broadcast or production architecture is better tuned to the application requirements resulting in better overall price-performance. But, that performance may come at the loss of potential flexibility.Some applications are more sensitive to these kinds of differences. Be sure to investigate such issues with potential cloud providers before making a decision.

Finally, it is key to understand what these changes will mean to staffing and morale. Do not assume that use of the cloud automatically results in a smaller staff. It may not.

Editor's notes:

This article is based on a series of blog posts by Joe Weinman, which can be read here.

Weinman is the author of Cloudonomics: The Business Value of Cloud Computing, and the book Digital Disciplines, which explores four business strategies to exploit emerging digital technologies such as cloud computing. Both books are available from booksellers.

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