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Cloud-Based Media Systems: From Good Idea to Necessity?

(Image credit: OSA)

We have been dipping our collective toes into the cloud-based world of media for some time now. To continue the analogy, some media companies have dived right in and fully embraced a shift to the cloud in many facets of their operation. However, others have taken more of a “wait-and-see” approach, preferring to let the pioneers suffer the inevitable arrows in their backs, and make a later entry into this area.

As an industry, we have always been quite cautious when it comes to big shifts, but once the momentum is there, things can happen relatively quickly. 

Recent worldwide events have proven much of the value of cloud and service-based media systems. The ability to minimize on-premise equipment, maintenance and operations was thought of by many in the past as primarily something an organization would do to save costs. 

However, “social distancing” and quarantine has shown us that there may be an advantage here even greater than any cost savings. An architecture that minimizes the requirement of people in physical locations can help operations to continue much more smoothly when natural disasters, pandemics, terrorism or other events that interfere with our staff members getting to work.

So, shifting things to the cloud would seem to be a pragmatic thing to do, and perhaps falls more in the “must-have” rather than “nice-to-have” category than before. 

OSA member Lee MacPherson of San Francisco PBS member station KQED has had some recent real-world experience with this.

While working remotely, MacPherson has found that having shared resources (including the media) that are organized and accessed equally by everyone makes it all seem easier. Commonality in metadata schemes and user interfaces is something he believes will eliminate a whole inefficient layer of translation between different group’s ways of organizing their assets. Time will be saved. Time-wasting communications will be reduced. This bigger effort to make media interchange standards seems to offer the same potential advantages to a much wider group in the same way

He’s also a proponent of a hybrid cloud approach. Whether the ratio of an operation is 100% on premises, 100% in the cloud or somewhere between, a uniform approach to defining what the content is will help equally in each case and it will make a shift to 100% cloud (for business continuity, for instance) much easier.

As we shift more and more to the cloud, we need all of these things to interoperate smoothly. This is where the Open Services Alliance comes in. This collection of media companies, vendors, platform providers, consultants and other like-minded organizations and individuals is laser-focused on just that—making sure that service-based media applications interoperate.

Don’t they just work together already?

That’s what some people ask. If you believe the hype, media services just “plug and play” together, and it’s as easy as deciding to use one today and replacing it with another tomorrow. Sadly, it’s not that simple. 

There are fundamental challenges to making media services interoperate. Some that we have begun to tackle are as basic as taxonomy. Referring to things by the same name across services is a must if you’re going to avoid a cumbersome layer of middleware and translators in your workflows. Here’s a simple example. You identify your content with an in-house identifier. The services that could touch that content might call that a House ID, a House Number, a Content ID, a Media ID, and well, you get the picture. Multiply this by the increasing number of metadata elements we use to manage content, and it’s easy to see the potential scope of this challenge.

Another fundamental issue we hear that media companies endeavoring to create multi-vendor, multi-service solutions encounter is in status and error reporting. This area is also a bit of a wild west at the moment, with different vendors reporting these states back in a variety of ways. The burden of being the overall interpreter of these mixed signals falls on the organization trying to make it all work together.

One of the most revolutionary developments in the world of file-based workflows has been the Interoperable Master Format (IMF). We are working on developing a standardized set of open services that can be used by anyone (from media organizations to vendors) to leverage the amazing capabilities of IMF packages.

These are just a few examples of projects brought to us by our members. As a purely member-driven organization, we welcome anyone to join the Alliance who has encountered challenges in the area of interoperability among service-based media systems, and who would like to participate in making a difference in our industry in overcoming those challenges in an open way.

For more information on the Open Services Alliance, see www.openservicesalliance.com or contact Chris Lennon directly at chris@openservicesalliance.com.