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Broadcasters look to the cloud

Much is being written about cloud-based storage for data applications. Certainly the advantages of offloading large-scale storage needs holds promise and efficiency to some users. When looking at production applications, the choice may be less clear because only now are A/V solutions starting to become available.

Cloud-based computing is rooted in data-sensitive applications. In October, the GAS announced that Verizon, Amazon and nine other companies had won parts of a $76 million contract to provide federal agencies with remote access to cloud storage. In a world of work-from-home employees, it is crucial that data be secure from loss or theft. With cloud computing, secure information is no longer stored on employees’ computers or tablets. Even if the device is stolen, the data remains secure because it’s not stored on the machine. “The sensitive data is not there to get," said Bernard McMonagle, associate director for Verizon Wireless.

At IBC one company, Vidyo, was making no bones about its reliance on cloud storage for a portion of its production solution. The company claims to provide a suite of broadcast products and services that “unlock the potential for TV networks and stations to employ cloud-based solutions” while expanding field operations and production capabilities. OK, that’s a pretty huge claim. What’s behind it?

The company’s solution relies on H.264 SVC encoding to squeeze video into as small a bandwidth channel as possible. And it relies on application-based cloud (off-site) storage for users’ media. The company’s CEO, Ofer Shapiro, said “Because Vidyo can deliver HD video transmission at optimal data rates and the lowest possible latency, conversations between anchors-reporters-interviewees-contributors-panel members are smooth and exceptionally natural.” The company’s MCR product claims to rely on cloud storage for backup, providing, “cloud-based master control backup and zone control … along with path redundancy for MCR backup.”

OK, that’s one example, but why haven’t we seen more cloud-based broadcast and production applications? There are at least two reasons for a slow rollout.

Cloud challenges

The first hurdle to cloud-based computing is that it requires a reliable and sufficiently-large path to the off-site (cloud) storage. Moving large, high-bandwidth signals back and forth requires a sufficiently-wide data path to that storage. Running a GigE cable between a desktop and a server is easy. Achieving similar connectivity over perhaps a 1000-mile telco/satellite/fiber path is much more difficult. And, a GigE connection may be the minimum speed that will suffice. Not all production locations may have access to such performance. Or if it’s available, it may prove too expensive.

A second hurdle concerns the issue of data security. The last thing a news producer wants to discover is that his o her 10 p.m. exclusive story was hijacked and is already on YouTube. Can your cloud storage provider and your application work together to ensure absolute security? If not, then the A/V media has to remain “in-house.”

Cloud benefits

Cloud storage does offer a couple of key benefits that producers and engineers can embrace. First, the applications can reside as small desktop clients. It’s no longer necessary to install full and expensive production seats for every application. Nor will such A/V applications require powerful (expensive) computers. Tablets and even smart phones may be able to manage basic tasks.

A second benefit is that the content stored in the cloud is available to anyone on the network. An entire news feed becomes immediately available to studio editors once it’s fed into the cloud. While a news crew is editing a short clip for immediate airing, a studio editor can simultaneously be assembling a longer clip for a later newscast.

Cloud-based functionality can enable a news crew to capture, store, edit and transmit from almost anywhere with minimum equipment. Assuming there’s a sufficiently-wide path to the cloud, a basic laptop, tablet or smart phone is all a clever producer or news reporter needs to capture, edit and feed content back to the station.

Expect many more applications to move to the cloud-based storage this year. Deciding which solutions are best for your needs may be the tougher decision.