Building a Cloud—From the Ground Up

A conversation with George Kilpatrick, Masstech's new CEO
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Earlier this year, Masstech, a provider of intelligent content storage and lifecycle management solutions, announced the appointment of George Kilpatrick as its new CEO. Kilpatrick joins Masstech from Amazon Web Services (AWS), where he was industry lead, media and entertainment, EMEA. Kilpatrick also previously worked at several divisions at Technicolor.

TV Technology Editor in Chief Tom Butts recently spoke with Kilpatrick about the future of Masstech and the industry's move to the cloud. 

TV Technology: Congratulations on the new appointment! Can you give us a little bit about your background and why you decided to join Masstech?

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George Kilpatrick: I’ve been in this space for about 20 years, originally in the telco business and now media. Before Masstech I was with Technicolor for about nine years and then with Amazon Web Services for about two years, and then I joined Masstech. At Technicolor I ran the U.K. business for media services, which used many of the similar tools to distribute content to Netflix, YouTube, Amazon, and in fact, developed a number of cloud-based products.

At AWS we created a product called Showcase and then a product called Pulse, which worked to help both producers—in Pulse’s case—to develop much more efficient remote workflows for production companies and post houses; that’s gone on to be used by Technicolor now I believe. I also worked on distribution workflows as well.

I guess I got into cloud six or seven years ago. Clearly it was fairly rudimentary when we started, but I could understand and see where the power was, especially for media and entertainment, especially for distribution for production companies. In fact that’s why I went to AWS, because they asked for someone to, in effect, drive that business of the industry from here. And that’s what I did when I was with them.

TVT: What drew you to Masstech?

GK: With Masstech, for me it’s a very interesting space. Masstech was playing in the same area in terms of intelligent management assets and from my perspective, where, I believe, that product line could go given some of my experiences with cloud.

There’s a limited number of people who really understand the intersect between cloud and existing storage solutions and media—understanding in detail different file types, different workflows, different customer requirements and the subtle blends between what does a production company need, what does a distributor need, what does a broadcaster need.

I think clearly there was a wish for someone to bring in more cloud experience and some of the processes and more the way of thinking that is key for a company like Masstech.

TVT: Two years ago, Masstech bought SGL, how has that integration gone?

GK: We’ve combined SGL technology and the MassStore technology in our solutions. Both products—what we call FlashNet—originally came from the background of on-prem solutions but as we talked to our customers, they were all clearly engaged in discussing the full spectrum of options—from a full cloud solution and an on prem solution.

What we have found is that having been evangelists for the cloud for the last two years, we have a more realistic approach and I think hybrid is clearly the way ahead for the foreseeable future. We're uniquely positioned to help clients take that move.

They may take it slow, or in some cases a more aggressive stance, but it's very unusual that we have not found any customers yet go entirely cloud. So, if there's a hybrid element, you need some form of middleware layer to manage their assets in their multiple buckets, some in cloud, some NAS, some on-prem.

TVT: What is the biggest challenge facing broadcasters and media companies in adopting cloud technologies?

GK: Customers are intrigued by cloud but in some cases, maybe confused by what it can and cannot do. Yes, they can store and compute, but they were not aware, for example, that the UI was not provided for them, or that actually their assets are still their own to manage, not managed on their behalf by a cloud provider. So there's a degree of education that is still required.

There are also technical challenges and the cost model are very much at the top cost of any conversation. For example, egress charges—although customers might make a kind of OPEX model where they pay for what they use, they're also concerned about uncontrolled usage and they’re also concerned about egress charges in media workflows and because they work with such large files the costs can build up for pulling files from a cloud bucket.

There's also a degree of honesty needed so that when customers are looking at cloud they need to understand that what their full true costs are today. They need to include all of those things they don't like, such as overhead and engineers that have to go visit their data centers and utilities like air conditioning, etc.

Training and knowledge are also challenges. A lot of the cloud providers do try to do that but I think we are uniquely placed because we are helping people with real workflows and what advantages it can bring. Because we work in workflows with our customers on a day to day basis and support them, often we are the first point of contact for that conversation.

TVT: What impact has AI/ML had on expanding the reach of Masstech's platforms?

GK: We have integrated a number of AI technologies from multiple cloud providers—normally we're doing that on the behest of a customer who has a specific requirement. I think it's fair to say that it's still early. The theory is very exciting, with metadata tagging archives so they're better placed for monetization, for example.

The reality is that these can be slightly cost-prohibitive so we're working with clients to work with subsets of archives and data tools so we can come up with really focused cost-effective solutions for their particular needs.

So we're definitely seeing it and getting requests for it but whether we’re getting fully running production customers I'd say it's still early. We're testing a lot with people but I haven't found anyone in the media universe where we are using it really aggressively yet.

TVT: What other industries are you looking beyond broadcast media?

GK: Clearly our focus is M&E but it's more about video and video knowledge that we have and of course that is transmutable to other industries. We are looking at a number of relevant industries including oil and gas and medical, etc. If you think about airports storing huge amounts of surveillance data and the increase in file size because they're starting to use higher grade formats such as UHD, for example; that is having a massive impact, not only because the amount of storage is higher but then the actual complexity of searching and using that content means that systems like ours are going to be in more demand. It's a very small part of what we do today but I can see it growing.

TVT: What will Masstech be showing at IBC?

GK: We will be introducing our new Clover product to Europe. It has a reduced scale but the same functionality based on our MassStore product.

Going forward, we're going to further develop our microservices architecture and containerized architecture and will be converging the multiple solutions that we have within the product set so that we simplify it for our customers, because I think one of the things I've recognized is the need to make it easier to understand on the ground for customers.

We have multiple parts of our solutions, we have a workflow engine, we have a virtual file system, we have a transcoding engine, but we would like to modularize it so you as a customer can pick and choose what is suitable for them. Traditionally some of our solutions are headless, we're just going to architect them in a more containerized way.