We are swimming in the cloud. Consider how universal the cloud is with the Web services of apps, email, search, social, games, video, music, messaging, docs, personal storage and so much more. Who of us can go through a day without touching any of these?
But how many of us are using cloud resources to help run a media business? Not many. Running at least portions of a media facility demands high levels of reliability and many real-time, synchronized, AV processes to work seamlessly together. Hence, media infrastructures use few cloud resources in 2013. So how long will this position persist?
From the broadcast perspective, the business drivers of new media workflows, social media interaction, interactive TV modes and more are forcing facility designers to rethink how they build systems. What facility designs will be needed to support the upcoming functionality of ATSC 2.0 with pushed file content and potential one-to-one communications with every viewer? Welcome to audience engagement at a new level.
The consumption of content is continuing to expand; video everywhere, the second screen (mobile companion to main screen) synchronized experience, over-the-top Internet programming and publishing to end points galore. Throw in cinematic production, other professional media operations and the constant drumbeat of “doing more with less.”
Bottom line, we need new and less expensive ways to build infrastructure. The days of hard-coded methods/flows are not cost-effective and sufficiently flexible.
So what will make it easier to meet these new functionalities? For starters, we need configuration agility, “push-button activated” workflows, extreme reliability, Web apps, on-demand resources, pay-as-you-go economics and universal platforms.
IT has what it takes to meet the new requirements and will have a commanding role in the future infrastructure.
However, the cloud is mostly a no-show as a component of a media facility. Sure, there are some notable exceptions. In past “Cloudspotter’s Journal” columns cases were made for cloud usage. Some topics were: Web apps, deep archive, functional QoS, reliable access and Ethernet for streaming media transport. There are several reasons why the cloud is getting a slow start for media production. One is the belief that the cloud is not cost-effective. Many believe, “I can do it cheaper myself.” Is this true?
A BUSINESS CASE
A 2012 report from IDC analyzed the economic value of the public cloud for 11 business organizations deploying the cloud to run operations. The organizations interviewed in “Report: The Business Value of Amazon Web Services Accelerates Over Time,” ranged from small and medium-sized companies to companies with as many as 160,000 employees. None are strictly media enterprises. Still, the conclusions are applicable to many workloads of the media facility. The use cases covered a wide range of steady state and variable workloads. Here is a brief summary of the proved values:
• Reduced on-premise IT infrastructure and service costs by $276K per application, on average;
• Optimized staff productivity by 52 percent;
• Enhanced end-user productivity by reducing downtime by 72 percent, and
• Increased business benefit by opening new avenues for revenue.
These are impressive results that should make the facility manager take notice. True, the analysis focused on Amazon’s cloud products, but the conclusions likely extend to other vendors offering similar functionality and pricing. Your mileage will vary depending on your scale from local station to large network. Sure, there are obstacles to adoption for media workloads, but these are being overcome with clever design and knowledge of how to work with the cloud in the context of media solutions.
The agility of the cloud and time-to-market benefits are often cited as cloud advantages. In the same IDC report seven of 11 companies reported significant improvements in agility. Here are few edited quotes from the interviews:
• “With [the cloud], we are able to launch some services instantaneously. It would take many months, if not a year or more, to build out that whole infrastructure from scratch. Estimated additional annual revenue is $2 million+.”
• “In half a year that we’ve had this service on market…it’s become almost our most popular service. Estimated additional annual revenue is $3 million+.”
• “[We found value in] our ability to go to market with our new program. Estimated additional annual revenue is $200,000 to $500,000.”
Again, these are not media production-focused reports. But, don’t overlook this aspect. The media facility has many operations that are not strictly time critical and can leverage the cloud’s advantages. Look for the easy migrations, sporadic workloads and clear opportunities first.
WHAT ABOUT RELIABILITY?
Service interruptions are inevitable. Is your facility infrastructure more reliable than Google’s? The major cloud vendors each offer a toolbox of architectures to enable reliability to almost any level. Occasional cloud failures get lots of press and some people like to focus on the malfunction and then apply this discount to all cloud operations. This is disingenuous.
In reality, cloud performance is directly related to your budget for business continuity. Frankly, some business operations can be down for several hours a year while others can only tolerate minimal downtime.
Companies can architect their applications across cloud “Availability Zones” in either active or passive ways that are commensurate with the level of availability required. Many system designers are not familiar with the many ways to architect cloud resources to manage failures and keep operations running smoothly.
Netflix, which runs many crucial operations in the cloud, relies on Chaos Monkey, a software service that randomly disables virtual machines during live operation, to ferret out problems. Netflix’s system is architected to continue operations even with failures occurring.
According to Netflix, “In 2012 Chaos Monkey terminated over 65,000 instances running in production and testing environments. Most of the time [there are no effects]. We continue to find surprises caused by Chaos Monkey, which allows us to isolate and resolve them so they don’t happen again.”
The cloud is being successfully deployed by many thousands of companies with real productivity, reliability and revenue benefits. There is no excuse to ignore these values when planning infrastructure changes to keep up with the demands of new workflows.
Al Kovalick is the founder of Media Systems consulting in Silicon Valley. He is the author of “Video Systems in an IT Environment (2nd ed).” He is a frequent speaker at industry events and a SMPTE Fellow. For a complete bio and contact information, visit www.theAVITbook.com.