ARTICLE: Does the cloud have substance?

Just at the moment, every customer we talk to wants to move to the cloud. It is not just a techno-buzzword: people are really attracted by it. The idea of getting rid of all hardware and letting someone else worry about keeping machine rooms alive seems like a good plan.
And they sometimes feel a bit deflated when we talk quietly and calmly about what is practical, what the benefits are and where the drawbacks lie, and what they really need to make it work.

I should emphasise right at the start that we have proven, working cloud solutions which we can deliver today. StreamMasterTM provides full playout functionality with sophisticated graphics & DVE, from the public cloud if required. Pixel FactoryTM automates branding and cross-channel promotion.

But the typical broadcast facility needs more technology than these two, admittedly mission-critical, functions. And you need to be able to select the right tools and functionality for what your business needs. You have always chosen the best of breed: why should things change now?
On the surface what we have done is migrated audio and video functionality from software running on hardware we had to build ourselves because it was the only way to get enough power to software running on standard hardware. That in itself does not achieve very much: despite some of the lavish claims it does not save you a chunk of money.

The benefits come when you have a complete rethink the way you build the technology platform.

Thanks to initiatives like AIMS, we are fast approaching a situation where the software from different vendors can talk to each other, using open standards like SMPTE 2110. That is what lets you choose best of breed.

All those software applications can run on the same hardware, so the big leap is to run it on the same hardware while spooling up and down as and when required. When you need to create a package of trailers, Factory grabs as many processors as it needs. And when it is finished, it releases them and the next process takes them. That could be a non-linear transcoder for catch-up TV, or it could be the company payroll.

This is the paradigm shift. This is virtualization. You can rebuild your existing machine room to be a processor farm, or you can co-locate the broadcast functionality with your business’s data centre, or you can rent processing resources from a specialist datacenter, which might be a private cloud or it could be an industry giant like AWS.

I mentioned the paradigm shift for broadcasters, but it is also a paradigm shift for vendors, too. Our customers tell us “we don’t want to buy your hardware, and we don’t want to buy your software either. We want to rent your software, only when we need it, over a virtualized network.”

That’s right. The smart vendor should not be looking to take large sums out of your capital budget: they should be looking to rent you functionality, by the complexity and by the hour. If you need an hour a day of 4k graphics rendering, why should you have to go out and buy a big expensive box that most of the time is sitting there doing nothing except taking up rack space and air conditioning?

That ability to rent functionality as and when you need it is another part of the paradigm shift. Want to test the market with a new channel offering, or maybe an Ultra HD service? The capital cost of setting it up makes trials difficult and unfeasible. But if you just need to rent the branding and playout while the trial service is running, then it becomes a very attractive market-testing idea.

You could set up a pop-up channel for just a day or two, around a big sports or entertainment event. You could even run an occasional channel that test-marketed new content, offered to specific demographics to see if a pilot is worth taking into production. All you are doing is paying for the software while you need it, and the processing and storage in your data centre or in the cloud.

I have two pieces of advice to help you through the paradigm shift. First, our experience is that the biggest problems come not from the technology but from the organisation’s ability to change. You have to create completely new workflows, and you have to take your people with you. The benefits are huge, but the challenges are not insignificant.

And linked to that is the need to work with a technology partner you can trust. Successful innovation in our industry relies on creativity, shared purpose, linked intelligence and trust. With 30 years dedicated to the broadcast industry, demonstrating and earning that trust is a central part of what we do. Through it, our customers know that if we say we can do something there is real substance there. Never smoke and mirrors, even if we are talking the cloud!

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