While some media organisations are moving completely to the cloud, it appears that a judicious hybrid of on-premise and cloud-based infrastructure will be the preferred route for many broadcasters for some time to come, writes David Davies.
When is the moment to commit to a new technology and begin to implement it in your infrastructure and workflows? It’s an enduring question that soon attaches itself to any significant new media technology trend. Cloud is no exception, but its inherent characteristics lends itself to a more varied pattern of adoption, in which many broadcasters are successfully operating hybrid models. In this context, hybrid meaning that elements of on-premise infrastructure are retained alongside the new cloud-based capabilities.
There are several compelling reasons for this approach. First and foremost, it allows broadcasters to ‘dip their toe’ into the cloud and assess its effectiveness for specific services or aspects of production. Secondly, it makes it possible to determine the long-term cost implications, which are not straightforward, especially when it comes to egress charges. Finally, it allows for a more targeted methodology in which the organisational elements that can most benefit from cloud platforms are transferred first.
Ian Redgewell, Head of Media Management at Globecast, indicated that a focus on service is tending to determine broadcasters’ operational models at the present time. “As a global media services supplier, what we see from our customers is there’s now a lot more acceptance of the cloud and a lot less fear,” he said. “Because of this, customers really aren’t concerned with whether it’s cloud or on-premise as long as they get the service they pay for from us at a price that suits them. Whether it’s in the cloud or not is not top of their list of priorities.”
Nonetheless, he added that: “Strategically, cloud use may be beneficial to them because they are operating – at least partially – in the cloud and in terms of inputs/outputs, it suits them. They are buying a service – or services – from us, and as long as we deliver absolutely the service that we have defined with them, it’s not a concern for them.”
‘Meeting business objectives’
Julian Fernandez-Campon, CTO of media and content management solutions provider Tedial, put his finger on the essential truth informing individual companies’ adoption of hybrid operations. “This really depends on the specific business requirements of the media company,” he said. “The main reason for moving to a hybrid cloud approach is that it gives the ability to meet business objectives quickly while maintaining full control of media archives and costs, and ensures a low-risk transition into the cloud by moving the operation in-line with business needs. [It also allows them to] pivot between local and remote operation depending on their requirements.”
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By providing the “best of both worlds”, hybrid models also recognise that some capabilities are most optimised or only accessible in one particular domain. For instance, said Fernandez-Campon, “there are more and more services that are offered only in the cloud, such as AI tools, content validation etc. Then there are others, like editing in high-resolution, that are still more likely to be done on-prem.”
Tedial’s focus on delivering “an easy-to-use toolset that distills complex workflows into simplified processes” is serving it well in the hybrid era, yielding solutions such as the smartWork Media Integration Platform that launched at NAB 2022. “It provides future-proofing and scalability, both of media operations and resources, and is designed with the NoCode paradigm to enhance flexibility and minimise risk in operations,” said Fernandez-Campon. “And because it follows Infrastructure as Code (IaC) it can be deployed on-premise, on any cloud, or in a hybrid architecture for incredible flexibility. The platform broadens the scope of media management operations with seamless integrations, quick time to delivery and reduced vendor dependency.”
‘Straddling both worlds’
Brett Beers, VP of Technology at digital supply chain services and software company TMT Insights, highlighted two other primary considerations when a company starts to think about implementing hybrid operations – the readiness of personnel and the amount spent (sometimes in the recent past) on existing infrastructure.
“Ongoing trepidation about moving to a fully cloud-based workflow is less about whether it works than about whether an organisation feels it has the engineering experience and knowledge necessary – and the confidence – to move forward and maintain control,” said Beers. “At the same time, it’s a cost issue. Some organisations are reluctant to move to the cloud because they have incurred an enormous amount of expense over the years for their on-prem environments. They’re thinking, ‘We can’t just throw that away and abandon all of that!’ It’s not just legacy gear they’re attached to, but processes and workflows as well. As a result, they continue to straddle both worlds, which is difficult because they are half in and half out of everything.”
There is also an argument to be made for the predictable costs of permanent infrastructure, especially in the current, highly uncertain economic climate. As Beers noted: “On-prem does allow organisations to capitalise infrastructure, and naturally the fixed-control tends to be more appealing to finance departments vs an opex model that may fluctuate month by month. For example, cloud-based services that have no capacity limits, in theory, therefore may have no financial limits.”
Echoing Redgewell’s comments, Beers indicated that processes “requiring heavy human interaction” – such as editing and visual effects – are still more likely to be kept on-premise for now. Instead, broadcasters will be more inclined to turn to the cloud for “‘fire and forget’ processing” as well as other “automatable functions” and, perhaps above all, long-term storage: “Over the past seven or eight years, organisations have come to understand that long-term storage in the cloud is a more cost-effective model for a number of reasons – security, disaster recovery and reliability, among others.”
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TMT Insight’s own positioning is an “expert that can help [clients] move to an entirely cloud-based model”, with its Polaris operational management platform created “to give users all the tooling and information they need – within a single pane of glass – to manage their end-to-end cloud-based media supply chains. The platform organisers and monitors fulfilment data from various integrated systems, surfaces actionable insights in an interactive UI, and provides granular control over specific tasks and jobs – both manual and automated. In other words, it takes the complexity out of working with technology in the cloud and makes it easier for users to do the work they know.”
‘Moving everything to the cloud’
As a broadcast service provider, Globecast is well-placed to track the nature in which hybrid operations have evolved. In terms of its own diverse offering of services, said Redgewell, “we’re far along the process of moving all relevant processes into the cloud. We started by identifying those that we could move first and that was largely around media management and where we are working across file storage and processing, including things like the aforementioned VOD logistics and cloud playout. Driven by customer demand, now we are moving into wider signal distribution via the cloud. We’ve sold services where customers are shutting down their satellite distribution and moving to IP and we need the cloud to do that. This is now happening.”
He added: “All of the playout channels we operate are cloud-based now, even if for distribution they have to come out of the cloud to go to a traditional satellite uplink: the backend processing is in the cloud. Cloud playout and our VOD services are mature now and we do that all our major regions – Hallmark Media in the US and Virgin TV Ultra HD in the UK – are benefiting from this, as examples.”
In terms of the company’s service offerings, Redgewell highlighted increasing take-up of the Globecast Managed Cloud Network service. “This allows content providers to select very precisely what takers receive specific content – which parts of an event they want to air – and they can select as little or as much, depending on the rights, without the need for any fibre or satellite connectivity,” he said.
‘Getting past any hesitation’
For vendors and service providers, the work of helping media companies to adopt hybrid models – frequently as part of long-term cloud migration strategies – will continue, informed by the realisation that every organisation’s preferences and preferred pace of change will invariably be different.
Gabriel Baños is CEO and Founder of Flowics, which provides a cloud-based platform for remote and in-studio production of live graphics and interactive content. “New production workflows are in our DNA,” he said, “but at the same time we understand that [moving to the cloud] is not a transition that happens overnight. It does take time. As everyone has said, the pandemic did accelerate the change, but we at Flowics are focused on taking our clients through it step-by-step and giving them the chance to adopt it little by little.”
Olivier Karra, Cloud Solutions Marketing Director at Broadpeak, said that there is a general awareness that cloud-based technologies “have now reached a real maturity level in terms of addressing most technical workflows, whether that involves live streaming or VOD.” As a result, we are at a point where “some companies are almost considering a project only if it can run in the cloud now or at some point in the future” – meaning a hybrid capability is increasingly an essential capability.
In the meantime, Beers asserted that the benefit of moving existing process to the cloud – ‘lift and shift’ – without profound change to the underlying workflows should not be undervalued: “As to the means of making this migration, there has been an active conversation taking place in the industry about ‘lift and shift’ versus ‘cloud-native’. Our view is that ‘lift and shift’ is an incredibly valuable process, [not least] because it gets an organisation past any hesitation over being all-in the cloud.”
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