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Cloud Archiving

NEW YORK—With the onset of 4K and higher-resolution video formats comes the inevitable impact on storage. By some accounts as much as 12 terabytes of content is being produced daily, and it has to be stored somewhere.

The cloud is increasingly becoming an option. Cisco’s annual Global Cloud Index report predicts cloud data centers could execute 78 percent of all IT workloads by 2018, compared to just 22 percent for traditional (on premise) data centers.

Numerous broadcast vendors, as well as major players such as Microsoft, Google and Amazon offer off-site storage solutions where video can be transferred for longtime archiving and backup. With so many options, the time to make the transition to the cloud could be now, especially if existing hardware systems are due for an upgrade.

“For those operating on production systems that were installed in the 2007–09 timeframe, they are reaching the end of life, and now is the time to look to an infrastructure that is cloud-ready,” said Jay Batista, general manager of Tedial’s U.S. operations, a division of the Spanish-based provider of media asset management software.

The cloud can be used to archive content and also provide access as needed.

“This is a great time to look at your business,” Batista added. “If you are producing scripted programming and push it over to a distributor or syndicator the cloud offers a way to save daily raw cuts as well.”

Production facilities can also leverage the cloud and pump up the storage or ramp it down as needed for short-term storage said Batista, especially as there can be times when more media comes in due to peaks in a sports or news cycle.

Mike Palmer, vice president of business strategy at Masstech Innovations “For those looking at the news model or daily content that might need to be retrieved often, a privately hosted cloud service works best,” said Mike Palmer, vice president of business strategy at Masstech Innovations, a Markham, Ontario-based provider of digital media management systems. “It offers immediate access and the storage cost is low.”

It may be necessary to watch key performance indicators to determine when more or less cloud storage is needed in the short term.

“Those business analytics are available, and can be set up to measure traffic and how it corresponds to storage on the cloud,” said Batista. “It is this cyclical nature of business that will determine the best way to leverage the cloud.”

Although increasing file sizes could prompt more broadcasters and media companies to turn to the cloud for longterm archiving, the move is not without issues. In many cases the cloud could be a “send and forget” option primarily.

There are three main issues to consider when determining whether to archive to the cloud, according to Alex Grossman, vice president of media and entertainment at Quantum, a San Jose, Calif.-based provider of storage management systems.

“The first issue is how secure is the cloud, so that you know it is archived but won’t get touched by anyone,” Grossman explained, adding that content owners should be able to feel secure that the cloud is reliable. “Are multiple [backup] copies maintained and how do you prove that?” he asked. The only way to ensure that the content has been actually backed up is to do auditing by downloading it and that can cost money.

The third issue isn’t just that the content will be there but that the cloud provider will be as well.

“What happens if the cloud vendor opts out of the business?” Grossman asked. “This leads to how you might move the content to a new place. These are the things not so much to worry about, but to consider when moving content to the cloud.”

The biggest issue however could remain cost, especially as video production moves to 4K, where files truly put the “big” in big data.

“One aspect to keep in mind with the cloud is that this isn’t a onetime payment,” said Chris Luther, director of professional services at SGL Broadcast, a U.K.-based provider of archive and storage management software for post production, news, sports and government. “You are in fact paying for that storage every month forever. It might only be a fraction of a cent per file, but files larger than 2GB often have to be broken up, and consider that 4K is about a gigabyte a minute. So every production needs to be broken up into two-minute chunks. In many cases we are seeing that broadcasters may be expecting too much of the cloud at this time.”

Michelle Munson, CEO, AsperaON THE DOWNLOAD
What goes up to the cloud will need to be downloaded when needed, and this is another factor that has to be considered, especially as cloud facilities could be geographically far from a production facility. The cloud is only going to be as reliable as the infrastructure to transport that data over vast distances, and should the connection be slow or unreliable, the data can be difficult, even impossible, to download or otherwise access. This creates more pressure on available bandwidth, according to Michelle Munson, CEO of Aspera, an Emeryville, Calif.- based next-generation software technologies transport vendor.

“We’re seeing that volume has grown and that only serves to take more bandwidth on the pipe,” she said. “Today you need to move terabytes of data, and we are striving to make all storage equal, independent of location or the amount of any data.”

The size of the files remains that issue, for the up and download.

“It is a double problem,” said Colin Dixon, founder and chief analyst of nScreenMedia a research firm that covers online media. “Today’s video files are massive if they are uncompressed and this takes up a lot of bandwidth, but every time the file is needed it can take a long time to download it.”

The time it takes to download is the other half of the equation, as the content might be safely archived but not immediately accessible when it is needed.

“It can take a long time to get the content, so in many cases you need to plan around it,” said Savva Mueller, director of product management at Masstech Innovations.

Some of the issues surrounding cloud archiving can also be overcome by creating a private cloud as opposed to utilizing a public cloud-based solution from Amazon or Microsoft.

“Public [cloud] at a price per gig can add up, and that can be a hard model to justify for archiving,” said Palmer. “Local storage to your own cloud servers can be a larger upfront cost, but you own that [cloud server] forever.”

Such a solution could be hosted externally or in a company’s own data center, and could take advantage of the economy of scale. A lot of this depends entirely on the type of content that is being archived and when it might be needed.

“If you are looking at a news model then a privately hosted model could be better,” added Palmer. “There is immediate access and the storage cost is low.”

By contrast, for short-term storage with a finite amount of data, a public cloud could be the better option. Yet the public option does mean giving up some control.

“There are still a lot of execs out there who are worried about the cloud,” noted Tedial’s Batista. “The content may not be secured and that can be a problem.”

In some cases these concerns are magnified based on where the public cloud may be located.

“You don’t have control where the data is stored,” said Luther. “Why would anyone trust that their content might not end up on a server in China and be replicated even before it is officially released in America?”

For the coming year, Munson expects that demand for cloud storage will continue to grow, even as issues such as file size, security and cost need to be addressed.

“The use of cloud infrastructure will become more commonplace,” she said. “It is no longer an experiment. We are seeing the industry take techniques from high-performance computing and tie it to video production.”