When it comes to workflows and storage, content creators are in the midst of a profound – but hugely exciting – “period of transition”, Dell Technologies business development manager, M&E, Alex Timbs tells David Davies.

The buzz around cloud-based workflows and storage has become so intense in the last 18 months that it seems almost inevitable that an interview with Dell Technologies’ Alex Timbs should commence with an enquiry about precisely where the broadcast and content creation sectors are on the trajectory towards more comprehensive cloud operating models.

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Dell’s Alex Timbs says content creators are in an exciting “period of transition”

“It’s an excellent question,” says Timbs, “and in general terms, I would say that we are in the midst of a period of transition. We observe a continuing evaluation of the cloud [throughout the industry], with a lot of people realising that the cloud model makes a lot of sense in terms of enabling new ways of working, such as more collaborative workflows.”

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For the short-to-medium term at least, Timbs anticipates that a variety of operational modes will prevail, including on-premises, remote and hybrid cloud. Accordingly, the company is continuing to offer broadcasters and content creators a host of solutions as it maintains its focus on “understanding the challenges that customers face, and which particular solutions and models help them to address those challenges.”

This commitment to helping customers overcome their unique challenges became apparent in the Dell 2020 launch programme, which began in February with the roll-out of a new subscription-based model for hybrid cloud deployments called Dell Technologies On Demand. Allowing customers to sign up for a one- or three-year subscription, the latest offering includes hardware and software, as well as the services necessary for “relatively quick deployments”, such as support, deployment and asset recovery.

In terms of new storage systems, the PowerScale platform announced in June arguably constitutes Dell’s most significant introduction of the year to date. It acknowledges the continued dramatic rise in the amount of unstructured data being stored by enterprises as file or object storage. This is particularly acute in Media & Entertainent (M&E), where the consumer’s insatiable demand for content has been unrelenting. “Dell EMC PowerScale is a family of storage systems that include Isilon all-flash, hybrid and archive nodes and introduces two new 1U nodes. It brings together the strength of Dell PowerEdge servers with the legendary M&E heritage of Isilon.”

Geared towards effective data management in data centres, edge locations and public cloud, the Dell EMC PowerScale family runs on the next generation of OneFS – the operating system best known for powering Dell EMC Isilon. According to Dell, the PowerScale systems can deliver up to 15.8 million input-output operations per second (IOPS) per cluster, making then suitable for handling demanding AI, analytics, IoT, digital media, healthcare and life sciences workloads.

“PowerScale could be described as the next generation of the Isilon systems, which are widely used across broadcast and media,” says Timbs. Of particular relevance for demanding production tasks is the inclusion of new all-flash F200 nodes, which help position PowerScale as “a solution for high-performance streams for workloads such as editing and colour correction. It’s a value-centric performance solution that offers unprecedented granularity for our M&E customers.”

Driving data demands

Timbs also highlights the announcement of Dell’s DataIQ software, which allows companies to achieve better control and usage of their unstructured data by breaking down data silos to deliver a single view of all file and object data across Dell EMC, third-part and public cloud storage. The software is part of an acute awareness of evolving media expectations of data, which – like many observers – Timbs agrees will increasingly be met through the implementation of AI and ML.

When it comes to M&E, suggests Timbs, it helps to perceive these technologies as “concerning automation – not just for the sake of it, but in terms of how it can eliminate repetitive tasks and ultimately allow your team to do higher levels of work. Examples might include reducing the amount of repetition experienced by a compositor who has to rotoscope something. From our perspective, we also feel that ML could be beneficial to organisations looking to get a better grip on their data, with its capacity for smart searches, scanning, tagging and indexing.”

The need to manage content-related data effectively has become even more acute during the pandemic, with broadcasters obliged to draw more extensively on older material with the scope for live content – such as sports and flagship entertainment shows – significantly reduced. Timbs agrees with the suggestion that Covid-19 may well serve to increase the appetite for AI/ML-related automation, but indicates that it could also lead to a greater awareness of what he terms “production intelligence. At present, there is still a lot of interesting data that is, for one reason or another, impenetrable to customers. So I reckon that we will continue to see a lot of activity regarding the resource side of production.”

Timbs is not alone in suggesting that one of the other legacies of the current crisis will be an even more concerted move towards remote production and related working methods across broadcast. “The M&E sector was already shifting towards decentralised production methods to mitigate risk and cost,” he remarks. “Building and maintaining facilities is all about commercial real estate costs, and I think that companies will be reviewing those [in light of successful remote working during the pandemic]. Decentralisation also makes it easier to bring in talent from all parts of the world, so I am sure that companies will be looking to leverage disruptive technologies and remote operations when applicable.”

A significant level of home-working predating the crisis helped Timbs’ team to adjust to Covid-19 very quickly, and whilst he expects this to continue for the foreseeable future he is hopeful that it will not define the future of everyone’s working lives. “We are humans, and the way that we interact and build trust with people has not changed fundamentally during the last six months,” he says. “I am sure that, in terms of trade events and so on, local engagement will be more important, and there will be a focus on smaller events. But it is still going to be very important to get out there and meet customers, and I certainly look forward to the resumption of those kinds of interactions.”

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