Cloud computing comes of age

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The cloud brings promises of quickly adapting infrastructures so businesses can swiftly adjust to the demands of an ever-changing consumer landscape. Cloud solutions are up and running worldwide but do they have the capacity to traffic volumes of high resolution video? Is the content hosted on remote servers secure? Will the marriage of broadcasting and IT equipment integrate well or be fraught with problems? IAN DORMER provides some answers.

The term cloud computing was inspired by the cloud symbol that is often used to represent the Internet in flow charts and diagrams. It is the convergence of three major trends – virtualisation (where applications are separated from infrastructure); utility computing (where server capacity is accessed across a grid as a variably priced service); and software as a service (where applications are available on demand as a subscription service).

Implementation of cloud-based solutions was jumpstarted by the troubled economy, as broadcasters soon realised the value that hosted-service models offered in reducing capital costs. This also allowed non specialists to take on a larger share of content creation and allow broadcasters to run on smaller budgets.

At the recent IBC2011 in Amsterdam, I attended a conference session on cloud computing for the broadcaster chaired by Paul Drinkwater of IBM Global Business Services, with panelists Mark Lemmons, CTO of Thought Equity Motion and Julian Wheeler of Tata Communications’ Global Media and Entertainment business. Also present were Michael Frey, president of Global Digital Services for Sony DADC and David Peto from Aframe, a UK company specialising in off-site production services.

Drinkwater’s introduction highlighted the fact that while the cloud is not new, it is new for broadcasters and its adoption should cut costs, increase productivity, reduce risk and improve the agility of the broadcaster. He noted that security and redundancy were key factors that concerned everyone in the broadcast industry.

Essence

“Redundancy is the essence,’ said Peto, who started Aframe when he saw the motion picture industry struggle under the sheer volume of what it creates.

“As ever-increasing volumes of footage are generated, every company has been forced to become what it doesn’t necessarily want to be – an IT company. Perhaps more to the point they simply couldn’t afford not to be,’ commented Peto.

Aframe offers a service that simplifies the process by storing the customer’s footage on servers in two remote locations, providing media asset management and transcoding services and a digital video production tool – all on a cloud for a subscription fee that varies according to the project.

Frey maintained that security is the key to success of any company that adopts the cloud within its business to ensure that only authorised individuals access their content. Sony DADC provides services to create, manage, build, monetise and release music, video and gaming content to the world market with virtual warehousing and locker services.

Ironically while writing this article I received notification from Sony indicating that they had found a “large amount’ of’unauthorised sign-in attempts on its PlayStation Network and other online entertainment services, forcing the temporary suspension of about 93 000 user accounts…again!

Hi-res capacity

What about the capacity to traffic volumes of high resolution video? Lemmons explained that their thorough research into the choices of enterprise class platforms heralds Thought Equity Motion as a leader in its field. The company delivers archive management as a cloud service. Its technology drives a highly scalable platform for managing, monetising and delivering high quality video content.

Through this custom-built and proprietary set of applications, they deliver the complexity of the digital video supply chain as a service, making rights holders accessible and manageable through a web portal and dramatically reducing cost and complexity. With more than 10 petabytes of enterprise class, secure, physically and geographically redundant storage, they expect to scale up to 100 petabytes by the end of 2012. Ingesting over 10 terabytes a day, the content is stored in a digital master format and transcoded on demand to support automated digital delivery to clients and partners in virtually any format.

Is the broadcast industry ready to accept the cloud? The fusion between the traditional broadcast engineer and the IT specialist is a reality, according to Wheeler of Tata Communications. Therefore rather than spend large amounts of capital on a particular application in-house, it can become an operational cost through the cloud.

By uti
lising the service provider’s infrastructure the cloud based model eliminates the cost of installing, integrating and maintaining hardware and software, and negates the costs involved in upgrades and support. This also allows the broadcaster to move more easily with the times with access to the latest technical advancements as and when they happen.

Pie in the sky or a cloud with a silver lining for an economically challenged industry?
We shall see…

SCREENAFRICA Print Magazine – November 2011 (view here)

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