One of the biggest challenges facing broadcasters today is the unrelenting pressure to create more and better content with fewer resources, and to get it on air—or online—faster. This is happening at a time when the fundamental technical underpinning of the industry is changing rapidly, adding a significant layer of complication.
Many broadcasters have already started the process of transitioning away from traditional broadcast hardware in favor of file-based, software-defined networks. Few have completed the shift. Yet all agree that the IT world is the future, so it makes little sense to invest further in the old way of doing things.
New opportunities also mean new ways of working, so the traditional, silo approach to system design is becoming less relevant. Today the assumption is that anyone in a broadcast environment who needs access to content should have it, simultaneously, and as soon as possible after the start of ingest.
This is one of the benefits of moving from traditional hardware to software-defined networking. Many processes can run on common hardware—IT servers—that change task depending on a set of priorities and management software. So a set of processor cores could be a character generator, then a transcoder, then an editing workstation.
This is virtualization: a set of processing resources in the machine room that can run virtual machines as broadcasters need them. It’s highly efficient and delivers great flexibility, so if there’s a major peak in ingest, for example, you can allocate a lot of resources to it to deliver the performance needed.
However, there’s still only a fixed maximum number of processor cores in the machine room, so if lots of operations reach a peak, you’re still limited by the available hardware.
The IT industry addressed this issue a decade ago by extending the idea of virtualization into the cloud. The cloud gives you, in effect, an infinite number of processor cores, along with an infinite amount of storage. If you experience multiple peaks in demand, your cloud service provider simply allocates more processors to you. When your operation is quiet, processors you were previously using can be allocated to other, completely unrelated businesses.
The benefit is that customers pay for processing time and storage space as needed. This eliminates the need to invest in capital expenditure on hardware just in case. The business model moves to operational expenditure as resources are rented by the moment.
This model has been hugely successful in the IT industry, yet it still has not caught on in broadcast. Aside from the issue of moving large content files to and from the cloud—which is being solved by high-speed file transfer technologies—we frequently hear five common reasons that are hindering broadcasters’ migration to the cloud:
- It’s not secure
- It’s not reliable
- It’s not based on mature, trusted and proven technology
- You’re handing over control of your assets
- It’s hard to administer rights management
The fact is that these are all myths, as evidenced by media organizations successfully rolling out cloud solutions today—from major broadcasters like NBC Sports to regional PBS stations like WTTW in Chicago.
The reason for these concerns is largely through a misunderstanding of the nature of the cloud. Cloud service providers offer processing power and storage space—nothing else. You choose the applications that use this power and space.
So far from having to worry about the technology being immature or unproven, broadcasters can use familiar applications that deliver the same standards of security, reliability and performance they’re accustomed to. User privileges, secure partitions, and restricted viewing lists can all be set in the cloud, just as they would in an on-premise system.
In addition, cloud providers maintain the highest standards of security and reliability. Dedicated solely to operating their infrastructure, their security and uptime are far greater than any broadcaster could achieve on their own.
But for those not yet convinced about the security and reliability of the cloud, a hybrid cloud architecture can offer the best of both worlds. Broadcasters can choose what they move to the cloud based on risk, keeping high-risk content and processes on premise.
Just because it works, though, isn’t reason enough to move to the cloud. What are the key advantages for broadcast professionals?
The first and most obvious advantage is the ability to scale operations, virtually instantly, with no capital investment. If a new platform comes along, or an opportunity for a new channel, broadcasters can simply spool up the extra resources and they’re ready to go. If the opportunity goes away, cloud usage can be scaled back, and costs reduced. Broadcasters can experiment with services at low risk or plan short-term services, around a music festival or sports event, for example.
At a broader level, any operation gains greater flexibility by being able to allocate people and resources wherever they’re available, not where the content happens to be. Location productions can upload content to the cloud from site, along with rough cuts that can be finished back at the broadcaster, or any other location. Just as consumers are no longer constrained in how and where they watch content, the cloud frees media professionals from the walls of their physical facility.
By enabling remote collaboration, the cloud can actually decrease the complexity of production, while the move to an OPEX model will prove attractive to many enterprises, particularly when it allows services to be set up quickly, and taken down when no longer needed. All these benefits of the cloud are available to broadcasters today.