The ability of microservices to deliver core production requirements as well as very specific customisations means they are set to achieve greater traction as cloud migration continues


Microservices: Offer flexibility, scalability and cost-efficiency for broadcasters

Providing the opportunity to trade ‘waterfall’-style workflows for a more agile, individual service-based approach, microservices is a concept whose time has now arrived in broadcast.

Geared most fervently towards public and hybrid cloud deployments, microservices can offer broadcasters increased flexibility, scalability and cost-efficiency for different aspects of their workflows.

The ability for services to be ‘spun up or down’ more easily and for broadcasters to achieve efficient content delivery to multiple platforms means that microservices have appeared even more timely during the pandemic, with significant amounts of workflow management being undertaken from home.

Consequently, there is a general expectation that microservices will only become more dynamic in their accommodation of ingest, search, branding, graphics, scheduling and other activities.

But before digging into the specifics, Tedial CTO Julián Fernández-Campón shares a useful metaphor for the move towards microservices.

Tedial Julian Fernández-Campón

Julian Fernández-Campón

“If you think about transport you can compare the old, monolithic system to having a big lorry that is able to transport a lot of things in one journey,” he says. By contrast, “microservices is like a series of compact vans carrying smaller amounts, but offering more flexibility. You don’t need the capacity of the large lorry that’s there regardless of what you have to transport; instead, you only use what you need” – at any given time.

Live routing elasticity
The fact that microservices are at a relatively formal stage is underlined by the considerable number of ‘think pieces’ and blogs to have been written on the subject lately. In one of the most thoughtful, by Net Insight head of strategic alliances Kenth Andersson, it is suggested that cloud-native microservices “will be mainstream in the broadcast industry” by 2025.

In contrast with the old-style approach in which production, encoding and playout comprise a siloed workflow with their own management, control and operations team, we will move towards an approach in which workflow is separated into distinct features – such as baseband over ST 2110 support, channel encoding and channel branding – that can communicate together but all have their own independent resources, believes Andersson.

Net Insight urko_serrano

Urko Serrano

Expanding upon the theme, Net Insight product manager Urko Serrano suggests that live media routing will be one of the main beneficiaries of microservices. “The ability to scale up to the demand and the elasticity that it provides there – for example, if you have 50 or 100 streams coming into the cloud then need to route to 1,000 different destinations – will be very attractive,” he says.

Microservices will also make it easier to regionalise streams – a feature that is likely to become more critical as services work to differentiate their offers in a highly competitive market. But in order to cope both with changing and intensive traffic, microservices will have to be delivered in conjunction with “advanced orchestration that optimises the mapping of microservices onto the COTS servers and cloud infrastructure” so resources are used with maximum efficiency, says Andersson, noting in his article that Net Insight will be releasing an API to “open up” its Nimbra Edge hyper-scale media cloud platform.

Ease of upgrade
Harmonic’s vision for microservices has effectively been in development for more than five years. Acknowledging the potential of microservices and orchestration to facilitate numerous independent workflow elements, the company’s VOS Cloud-Native Software platform was created for video processing and delivery, and built with docker containers and microservices using Kubernetes. Widely cited as being a crucial enabler of microservices taking off in broadcast, Kubernetes is an open-source container-orchestration system for automating computer application deployment, scaling and management.

“Microservices is like a series of compact vans carrying smaller amounts, offering more flexibility. You don’t need the capacity of a large lorry that’s there regardless of what you have to transport; instead, you only use what you need,” Julián Fernández-Campón, Tedial  

Alain Pellen, senior market manager OTT & IPTV at Harmonic, says that the ability to undertake ongoing upgrades – rather that one or two major overhauls each year – will be a key benefit of microservices adoption. “It will give broadcasters the ability to take advantage of updates more quickly,” he confirms, adding that cloud-based microservices allow customers to experience a greater “space of innovation”.

Ultimately, though, the speed of adoption will be shaped by the rate at which broadcasters move across to cloud-based workflows. It is likely that circumstances caused by the pandemic will have affected this variably for different broadcasters, but the “overall direction of travel” is evident, says Pellen: “A lot of customers are still on-premise for now, but there is a lot of momentum behind moving to the cloud. [So in time] I think microservices is going to be everywhere and used for every part of the video workflow.”

Customisation and remote working
There are plenty of different takes on the hierarchy of microservice benefits, and for Ramon Duivenvoorden, CCO of streaming video specialist 24i, it seems to be the ability to offer specific client customisations that stands out. In his own recent article on the subject, he refers to a “customer-centric approach based upon micro-services” that allows the company to deliver on common requirements “while offering the freedom to break free for that custom 5% that enables our customers to set themselves apart from the competition or fulfil unique business needs.”

Invited by IBC365 to elaborate on this theme, 24i VP of product Pim Verbij offers examples such as the “opportunity to customise trailers in line with different viewer preferences – for example, you might have a trailer that features lots of action sequences then another that focuses more on the comedic elements.” Correspondingly, he also envisages “great benefits in terms of being able to do more with data and building [the findings into] new services.”

A Tedial microservices architecture

A Tedial microservices architecture

For Tedial, Fernández-Campón discusses microservices in the context of the current global crisis and the dramatic increase in demand for effective remote working solutions. “Elegant and simple workflows that support remote operations and are easy to deploy, maintain and update, or modify will be a fundamental system parameter. Microservices architecture and component-based media management are key drivers for this,” he says, alluding to the microservices-related potential of Tedial’s aSTORM content management solution.

Changing mindsets
All in all, there is a sense that with cloud-based microservices, it is very much a case of ‘when’ and not ‘if’. Tony Jones, principal technologist at MediaKind, is sure that the technologies are increasingly in place, but emphasises the importance of broadcasters also “embracing the DevOps and agile culture”.

“There is definitely a change of mindset involved here,” confirms Jones, adding that a continued separation in some organisations between streaming and linear broadcast activities can be problematic. “There are still companies who have separate departments, which does not make sense as they are basically doing the same thing.” Hence he sees greater “convergence between linear and streamed output from the same basic head-end as the way forward”.

“A lot of customers are still on-premise for now, but there is a lot of momentum behind moving to the cloud. [So in time] I think microservices is going to be everywhere and used for every part of the video workflow,” Alain Pellen, Harmonic 

Final word goes to Ian Fletcher, chief application designer at Grass Valley, whose cloud-based SaaS Agile Media Processing Platform, GV AMPP, is built on a microservices architecture and has been implemented by broadcasters including Eurosport. He highlights the relevance of microservices to businesses with more variable usage patterns, such as e-sport channels whose premium services “may only be on air for a certain period of time at the weekend, and who therefore [don’t require availability all the time]. It makes a lot more sense for them to leave the data plane in the cloud and then spin out [virtual capacity] for the live sport – then turn that off when they are finished each time.”

In this regard, the adoption of microservices can often be perceived as being “more of a business decision than a technical one”. But as cloud technologies continue to mature, microservices are also an eminently logical development that heralds greater flexibility at precisely the time broadcasters most need it. “And once you have experienced that kind of agility,” muses Fletcher, “why would you go back?”