MAD Perspectives Blog

problem solving in the cloud

Peggy Dau - Monday, June 10, 2013

Cloud computing - it's all the rage. It will reduce your infrastructure costs. It will create new revenue streams. It will increase collaboration. It will provide all the data you could possibly analyze. Well, that sounds great, but it's often hard to figure out where to start. It's helpful to identify not necessarily the technology challenges, but the business problem the technology can resolve. Hopefully the this problem is something, that when overcome, will help your business better serve its customers. There are increasing number of cloud solutions serving the media industry. Here are just a couple of the solutions i've seen - and the problems they addressed.

Problem: Capture, edit & manage content at live events

Solution: Cloud based video asset management and workflow.  With prosumer cameras providing higher quality video than in the past, anyone can produce a live event. These can be large scale, global events, regional sporting contests, local concerts or business events. The challenge, in the past, has been the ability to ingest and edit content quickly and easily, on location. Cloud based video asset management/workflow solutions from vendors such as AFrame or Forbidden Technologies, provide a customizable workflow enabling on-site or remote editing of content. Like high-end professional solutions from Avid and Apple, these cloud solutions allow customers to establish roles and tasks for each user. The difference is that they don't require heavy infrastructure investments. The user interfaces for these cloud solutions are intuitive. These cloud based workflow solutions provide scalability fulfilling requirements for the small, local content producers, as well as professionals. They also provide the required flexibility for content format, file size, interfaces to editing systems and metadata and essence definition. The value in these solutions may start with cost savings, but truly provide flexibility previously unavailable to video producers.

Problem: Develop apps for mobile content consumption

Solutions: The growth of mobile content consumption is challenging media companies from large to small. Publishers clearly understand the importance of apps as means for accessing and enjoying content. Apps address the challenges for presenting content in an manner intuitive to the type of device being used. The challenge of cross platform solutions lies in the ability of these cloud platforms to simplify app development for operating system, device parameters and content format. The benefit of cross platform solutions is they break down app ecosystem barriers as they simplify development across iOS, Android, Windows, Blackberry and others. They lower the cost of entry and time to market for smaller developers, and  for large brands and publishers. Vendors offering solutions in this space range from the large, well known Adobe and the up and comers like Appcelerator and PhoneGap.  Each of these are focused on cloud-based development tools, cloud APIs for integration, publishing apps to an app store or to an private enterprise app store and content management.

The problems reviewed here reflect the complexity faced by many organizations as they work to get the right content to their audiences at the right time, in the best format for any given consumption device. The cloud offers new solutions for familiar issues. However, audiences expectations continue to rise as they become increasingly attached to their smartphones and tablets.

What's your perspective?



Content Delivery - The Original Cloud Service

Peggy Dau - Wednesday, June 05, 2013



With all the talk across the IT sector about cloud computing, one would think that this was the newest, biggest technological advancement since the Internet...or the TV. However, in my opinion, cloud computing is great marketing of an existing solution that evolved in the late 90s. That is Content Delivery Networks (CDNs) enabled by the Internet Data Center (IDC).  IDCs helped CDNs to provide intelligent routing and edge caching for content delivery. CDNs allowed corporations and media companies, be they publishers, broadcasters, advertisers or studios to position content in the network in such a way as to guarantee users quick access to that content. 
 

Rather than procure large volumes of servers, storage, routers, etc., CDNs like Akamai, Speedera (acquired by Akamai), Mirror Image and others created relationships with companies who paid monthly fees based on the volume of content delivered and, eventually, service level commitments. The CDN owned responsibility for the network and IT infrastructure needed to enable content delivery. Doesn't that sound like cloud computing? 

CDNs evolved from a focus on dynamic (e.g., audio, video) and static content (e.g., data, text, pictures) to peer-to-peer content sharing to being a critical element of any cloud service now available. They matured their capabilities to ensure, measure and quantify the effectiveness of the service. We've all benefited from CDNs as we prowled websites, procured products via e-commerce sties and enjoyed all forms of streaming media. As companies look to the cloud to create new revenue opportunities, expand distribution channels, improve infrastructure capacity or enhance internal collaboration, they will be assessing the content delivery elements of the cloud. In fact leading cloud providers, Amazon Web Services and Microsoft, emphasize their content delivery expertise when promoting their cloud services. My media industry centric clients are seeking cloud solutions for  multi-channel content delivery, collaborative workflows, centralized storage or transcoding on-demand, with a demand that content will be where it needs to be, when users need it. 

CDN requirements continue to evolve thanks to increased interactivity, user-generated content, peer-to-peer sharing and social networking. With the volume of content literally exploding (see Cisco's just released Visual Network Index!), global network users will generate 3 trillion Internet video minutes/month; that is 6 million years of video per month or 1.2 million video minutes every second of more than two years worth of video every second), networks must manage the distribution of dynamic and static content to consumers and business users wherever they are. As a result, as cloud services increase so does the content delivery market with revenue expected to reach $1B by 2015.

Most technology oriented companies are pursuing Software-as-a-Service, Infrastrucure-as-a-Service or Platform-as-a-Service cloud offerings. They will need to fulfill user expectatios for presentation and availability of content as well as functionality and performance of the service. This increases datacenter demand, be it hosted in a public, private or hybrid cloud.  Cisco's Global Cloud Index indicates that in North America, cloud data center traffic will represent 65% of the total datacenter traffic by 2016 as compared to 40% in 2011. The cloud is here to stay although I anticipate it will be rebranded at some point in the future. It lowers the barrier to entry for new market players as they can replace potentially heavy capital infrastructure costs with operating costs that are more closely aligned to the growth of their business. And, with the cloud there will always be a requirement for content delivery.

What's your perspective?




The Creative Cloud Dilemna

Peggy Dau - Monday, May 13, 2013

Image courtesy of blurmediaphotography.com

Adobe's announcement last week regarding its commitment to the SaaS based Creative Cloud over its packaged Creative Suite software has created a big fuss online and elsewhere. Over 10,000 customers have signed a Change.org petition insisting that Adobe continue to offer packaged software. Adobe's decision and ongoing challenge as it relates to software development and sustainable business model is one that many other software companies are facing. The changes being proposed were not made in isolation or without consideration for customer need.  They are not decision made lightly.

Any company offering cloud-based software, infrastructure or services must determine a business model that is acceptable to their customer base, while ensuring that the cloud offer provides a more than acceptable quality of service. Software companies benefit from low variable costs when developing their product. An established company, like Adobe, has solid customer base who anticipate new products as well as product updates and upgrades. Any investment in product development is recouped through a combination of software licenses and maintenance fees. Software has typically been a relatively high margin business with high, defined fixed costs and low variable costs.

When shifting to a SaaS model, Adobe not only continues its fixed costs related to software development, but picks up the variable costs related to infrastructure (e.g., servers, network, security, HVAC). There must be a "leap" to a new, predictable revenue stream. It is a massive shift in business model, where the recurring revenue from a client subscriptions must cover ALL costs.  The benefit for new customers is a less costly manner to gain access to robust creative tools. However, existing clients can only see the large investments made over many years and the loss of control over their creative environment. Their is concern in paying for access to more applications than they need or want; AND losing access to files if they are late making a monthly payment.  I read a great blog by Eric Hansen with his perspective on the pros and cons.

I honestly don't see that there is any way for leading software vendors to avoid a shift to the cloud. The challenge will be how they implement it. Will it be a cloud only option, a hybrid offer or will there be a transition period (something Adobe might have considered). From a completely different perspective, it's interesting to note that Harmonic is offering transcoding in the cloud via private cloud, managed service or Amazon Web Services. This provides options for all types of users from large to  small and for those that need frequent access to transcoding services or those who are addressing infrequent spikes in demand for transcoding.

Advancements in technology are great, but they really do challenge known business models. In every case there are pros and cons. Education is a key element to helping vendors and customers manage the transitions. I anticipate we will see further communication from Adobe about the benefits of Creative Cloud. Hopefully we also see a model for helping existing Creative Suite users migrate to Creative Cloud.

What's your perspective?



Clear Skies Ahead for Cloud-Enabled Media Solutions

Peggy Dau - Wednesday, April 24, 2013

NAB provides an opportunity to view emerging solutions addressing the needs of the broadcast and media industries. Cloud computing has been a topic of conversation for the past few years, yet it did not seem to be a mainstream solution. Last year, every storage vendor was talking cloud and it was the first year for a "cloud pavilion" on the show floor.  The progress over the past 12 months is incremental at best, yet cloud solutions do continue find traction, as do enabling technologies (more on this in a future blog).

The media industry is rife with software-based solutions for editing, transcoding and digital asset management. In fact, the shift to file-based workflows is still ongoing. This transition is the only reason broadcasters can even think about alternative remote production solutions, lowering their costs for producing and delivering live sports and entertainment. While the current focus for this topic is still squarely on decreasing the OB van footprint, initial forays into the cloud are focused on enabling collaborative content creation. Two options that represent different approaches for cloud-based workflow and collaboration are: 

Forbidden Technologies' FORscene: This post-production toolkit is a Software-as-a Service platform that enables cloud-based workflow collaboration around centrally stored content. However, it is not just cloud-based storage, the intuitive interface provides the tools for content ingest, logging, frame-accurate editing, and content reviews and approvals. FORScene has been on the scene since 2004 and has proven that cloud-based workflows can work and provide measurable value to content producers.  Others capitalizing on this trend include, Adobe and Avid.  Their Adobe Anywhere and Interplay Sphere solutions address the collaboration needs geographically distributed professionals. However, both solutions still seem to require on-premise hardware and software, Forbidden Technologies does not.

Microsoft Windows Azure Media Services: This cloud-based media platform enables media companies to develop their own solution for ingesting, processing, managing and delivering media content. The demo at NAB captured real-time content, encoded the content and presented it in "typical" user interface for editing and delivery. It leverages Microsoft's investment in Windows Azure to provide media processes (e.g., ingest content; encode, convert and generate media assets; log and tag assets) and Windows IIS Media Services to enable content delivery. The flexibility of the platform will be appealing to media companies that want to create their own cloud-based platform for managing assets.

In both cases the challenge is the ingest of high quality content. Each option is dependent on the use of low-res proxies for editing. Advances in codecs and bandwidth availability continue to accelerate the adoption of alternative solutions. For true disruption to occur, both types of solutions will need to address the demands of live content and the requirements for delivering GBs of content. Why focus on cloud? Across the media industry, beyond broadcast, the requirements for streamlining access to assets, collaborating across work teams, distributing to multiple outlets are creating new challenges. Solutions that can address the demanding requirements of broadcast prove that emerging technologies can facilitate cost effective improvements for managing and distributing digital media.

What's your perspective?






Cloudy Days Ahead for Broadcasters?

Peggy Dau - Wednesday, May 02, 2012

One of my current clients is in the broadcast space.  As a result, i've been paying a lot of attention to the technology shifts in this space. The two hottest technology topics being discussed online, and just about anyplace else, will impact this industry dramatically.  These topics are:  Tablets and Cloud.

You're not surprised, right? Apple's iPad has changed the way we consume content until the next great innovation comes along. We watch TV with our iPads in hand, reviewing news, checking our Facebook accounts, sending email or watching complementary content to that which is on our TV screens. Just about every broadcast network has an iPad app (or, at least has one in development). Getting content to the iPad requires some effort behind the scenes It is expected that the content will be a combination of video and text; that it will enable some level of interactive; and that its design will be extremely user friendly and enticing.  However, the broadcaster must now produce content in formats useable on the iPad. This requires editing transcoding, distributing and delivering the content itself. These are familiar tasks for any broadcaster, but it adds to the already heavy workloads of the personnel responsible for preparing and managing that content.

At the recent NAB conference, multi-channel content delivery was front and center for many vendors.  This is a primary investment area for all broadcasters.  The challenge is how will they integrate tablet content preparation into their existing workflows. Will they create separate a "tablet" team to edit and adapt content for the end device? Or will they partner with other vendors who will manage this challenge for them.  This introduces the other hot topic - cloud.

To a certain extent, content delivery has been in the cloud for ages. The original content delivery networks provided the infrastructure and network resources to internet companies to enable the efficient delivery of their content to consumers. They invested in the technology (e.g., algorithms, edge cache servers, bandwidth, etc.) and created service level agreements with customers, who paid a fee based on the amount of content served or the bandwidth consumed.  

Today, additional tasks along the broadcast workflow can be performed in the cloud. CPU-intensive functions such as rendering and transcoding or content management challenges such as storage or metadata management are the already happening in the cloud. Across the board, every storage vendor at NAB was promoting its cloud capabilities.  Companies that could be considered pure product companies were introducing and showcasing their cloud storage capabilities.  Why is this of interest to broadcasters?  It converts capital expense to operating expense.  It provides centralized access to users, regardless of their location.  While the largest broadcasters may elect to build their own centralized archives, they may still choose to use cloud storage for disaster recovery.

Cloud computing provides broadcasters with investment alternatives. The challenge will be defining which functions can exist in the cloud, developing the relevant interfaces to access the functionality and integrating cloud services with in-house functions for a seamless workflow. NAB even had a Cloud Pavilion this year with companies offering video production in the cloud. Broadcasters, across the board, must find cost-effective, agile solutions to address internal and external pressures to produce meaningful content and deliver it to the consumer device of choice. Perhaps a cloudy day is just what they need.

What's your perspective?