Archiving Media: Cloud or On-Prem?

(Image credit: Imagine)

OTTAWA—With their unmatchable capacity, flexibility and absence of capital costs/hands-on maintenance requirements for broadcasters, the cloud-based video archiving systems offered by cloud vendors like Amazon Web Services (AWS), and software providers like Avid and Telestream, among others, make on-premises (or “on-prem”) video archiving seem antiquated and inadequate by comparison. 

Yet some of these vendors still see a place for on-prem archiving in today’s video production environment, albeit in a transitionary capacity to the cloud.

Why Cloud Has the Edge
When broadcasters store video content with a cloud-based archiving provider, they immediately gain access to a host of advantages that on-premises archiving can’t match.

First and foremost is capacity: AWS and the cloud providers used by Avid and Telestream have access to staggering amounts of server space in locations scattered across the globe. This ensures that broadcasters (and other content creators) have all the storage headroom they could ever need, with fast broadband access available to their people anywhere on the planet. On-premises systems can’t match this capacity.

Price is also important. When broadcasters install on-prem archiving systems, they have to pay the same price for hardware and software whether the stored content is being used on a regular basis, or filed away for historical reasons in case it is ever needed again. 

In contrast, cloud-based archiving providers offer price breaks for content that doesn’t need to be readily available. The deeper the content goes into storage (resulting in longer retrieval times), the less it costs to store it, although cloud vendors like AWS are making strides in providing real-time retrieval/access capabilities in these “coldest tiers” with newly announced features like S3 Glacier instance retrieval.

Usman Shakeel

Usman Shakeel (Image credit: AWS)

“By supporting a tiered approach to archiving, these technologies can save companies on costs, ensuring that they’re only paying for what they use,” said Usman Shakeel, AWS’ director of solutions architecture for M&E. “Additionally, they support global connectivity across a range of regions and feature automated services that allow customers to automatically copy data across regions. With these capabilities, facilities can build the highly resilient and durable workflows that traditional broadcasters expect.”

A third benefit of cloud-based archiving is the sophistication of processing options available to users. Many of these options use cutting-edge artificial intelligence algorithms to support highly precise keyword-based content searches at lightning-fast speeds. This is possible because AI-based archiving systems compile databases derived from the content’s metadata during the upload process.

Dave Colantuoni

Dave Colantuoni (Image credit: Avid)

“Cloud-based archiving has access to the massive computing power that’s needed to do this sort of cataloguing,” said Dave Colantuoni, vice president of product management for Avid. “After all, your archived content is only valuable if you can find, retrieve and use it.”

“These solutions have proven a game changer for facilities that may have previously kept their video archives stored on tape,” Shakeel said.“Not only have they helped media companies to generate new revenue with existing content, but they’ve also made it easier for them to move into the direct-to-consumer [D2C] space to expand their subscriber base.”

The Power of AI
Better yet, the ability of cloud-based archiving systems to search stored videos using a wide range of parameters just keeps improving thanks to advances in information technology. For instance, “as AI-enabled archiving features expand, you’ll be able to search content using facial recognition and other advanced tools,” said Michael Boucke, product manager for Telestream’s Content Storage Management platform.

Michael Boucke

Michael Boucke (Image credit: Telestream)

Yet another reason that cloud-based archiving outstrips its on-premises counterparts is speed. With the combination of AI-enabled search tools and global access via the web, broadcasters and media creators can create new content derived from their archives in a quick and efficient manner. “It makes their content more compelling,” Colantuoni said. “It makes them respond to breaking news stories more immediately.”

Finally, there’s reliability. The vast array of redundant servers employed by cloud-based archiving providers translates into them keeping archived video truly safe and intact. By sheer virtue of scale, a much smaller on-premises archiving system cannot match AWS’ ‘99.999999999% durability’ rate for data preservation.

Where On-Prem Fits In
Given the many advantages provided by cloud-based video archiving, one might reasonably conclude that the era of on-prem archiving has passed. However, there are valid reasons for broadcasters and content creators to maintain the on-premises archives they have, as they move to a cloud-based platform. 

Time and money is one reason to maintain existing on-prem archives. “It will be awhile before those on-premises repositories can be transferred into the cloud, plus it costs money to do so,” Colantuoni said. “You can also store huge amounts of data for relatively low cost on existing on-premises systems. So I think there’s still a need for it, at least until the time comes for this equipment to be replaced.” 

Another reason to maintain existing on-prem archiving systems while simultaneously storing new content into the cloud: Companies such as Telestream can configure their software to make the two work together seamlessly.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re using LTO [Linear Tape-Open], ODA [Optical Disc Archive], hard drives, and/or multiple cloud vendors,” said Boucke. “We can provide a transparent layer to link them altogether and access their content easily.”

While the move to the cloud-based archive is happening, media companies need transitory solutions in the interim while the software vendor solutions catch up.

“AWS is helping our customers bridge to the cloud archiving easier with capabilities such as Amazon snowball and Amazon outposts that offer on-premises storage/compute capabilities for on-set production, as well as AWS Local Zones in major metro areas for low-latency storage and compute,” Shakeel said. “We are also working closely with our ISV partners that offer asset management and content processing applications to port these applications to the cloud fast in order to accelerate this transition.” 

The bottom line: Cloud-based archiving is the most logical option for TV broadcasters and content creators wanting to make the most of their video assets, but leveraging the advantages of this technology does not require them to dispose of their existing on-premises storage systems. Cloud-based archiving providers can work with both.

James Careless

James Careless is an award-winning journalist who has written for TV Technology since the 1990s. He has covered HDTV from the days of the six competing HDTV formats that led to the 1993 Grand Alliance, and onwards through ATSC 3.0 and OTT. He also writes for Radio World, along with other publications in aerospace, defense, public safety, streaming media, plus the amusement park industry for something different.