Store it in the cloud

Producers are becoming more reliant on the cloud to store assets
Cloud looks set to become the de-facto medium for the transfer and storage of digital content.
Cloud looks set to become the de-facto medium for the transfer and storage of digital content.

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Producers are becoming more reliant on the cloud to store and transfer assets although the industry is still learning how software as a utility can fundamentally change business and workflows

There has been a shift in the way that companies use and access data. Not only has the sheer volume of data increased dramatically, but companies have recognised that data can help gain competitive advantages and even support new revenue streams. This is placing a demand on IT to store this data forever and preserve access to that data so the business can extract value.

“As productions increase globally in terms of finance, management and filming, cloud will become the de-facto medium for transfer, collaboration and editing in the TV production community, across most genres,” predicts David Peto co-founder at cloud based production management service Aframe.

Cost is the main reason post houses are turning to the cloud, saving time in transfers, manpower, new on-site tech purchases and associated depreciation.

“Content producers, broadcasters, post studios and distribution companies need to move huge volumes of digital assets, when and where they need it, store it safely and securely, and access it at any time,” says Laurent Fanichet, product marketing manager, at storage vendor Quantum.

In its early incarnation the cloud was viewed as a means to temporarily scale up and down the server capacity required of individual productions without hefty investment in hardware. Producers are now beginning to lean on the cloud as a routine part of longer term asset storage.

“Five years ago a lot of rushes weren’t retained but as prices have come down and data volumes continue to rise, content owners are looking to the cloud as part of their archive mix,” Fanichet says.

The familiar challenges of ever increasing footage in ever increasing file sizes has reached breaking point where on-premises tape and RAID disc storage systems can no longer cope.

“Several post producers told us that there is no way they could handle the scope of a particular project internally,” reports Peto. Adoption of Aframe’s technology is being driven by reality shows where shoot ratios are routinely 200:1, he says.

“A typical series might total 9000 hours of rushes. A facility may have enough capacity for that project for a limited time but over many months it begins to impact on other customers and ends up pressuring even their nearline storage.”

Fortunately, the number of facilities with broadband pipes in excess of 100MB has risen. 100MB enables double real time transfers of 50MB XDCAM [the standard reality TV shooting format].

“In recent years the cloud has matured to the point where infrastructure is stable, security is robust, and the network is available at scale,” says Rino Petricola, SVP at storage management supplier Front Porch Digital. “This maturity has allowed enterprises to use the cloud to centralise data and streamline processes and workflows.”

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In broadcast, it is expected that cloud storage will primarily expand to disaster recovery and business continuity. Disaster Recovery as a Service (DRaaS) offers secure off-site backup capability by ingesting and managing content electronically to strategic regional cloud locations.

“DRaaS includes automated online replication, dashboard view of stored assets, and various restore options — from online and on-demand object restoration to offline duplication of an entire tape library for subsequent shipping,” explains Petricola.

“Combined with a cost-effective disaster playout recovery solution, disaster recovery in the cloud can provide affordable redundancy that can be used if the original facility is down.”

To accelerate the adoption of cloud storage, Petricola says vendors will need to address concerns around cost, transfer times, and security.

“To make storing content in the cloud much more economically viable, vendors have to develop a data tiering strategy in the cloud, with cloud tiers ranging from enterprise-class to archive,” he says.

“Companies currently satisfied with one tier of service (either archive or standard) are looking for ways to support multiple tiers simultaneously as they push more and different data to the cloud. As the first set of cloud data ages, these companies also demand automatic tiering based on age and on technology. The technology itself, and more specifically tape technology, greatly contribute to cost reduction.”

Multi-tenancy also allows for cost savings over and above the basic economies of scale achievable from consolidating IT resources into a single operation.

The advantages of a multi tenancy approach over a third-party-hosted, single-tenancy approach include lower costs as a byproduct of shared infrastructure and economies of scale. Another benefit is that configuration can be done while leaving the underlying codebase unchanged; and vendors have a vested interest in making sure everything runs smoothly.

“Producers tend to have tiered storage, including an active data set they use all the time for work in progress, nearline for infrequent use, and then archive,” agrees Sohonet CTO Ben Roeder.
“Typically, media is archived to tape but more producers are storing to the cloud. It’s no longer a question of why I should do this, but how.”

One advantage of cloud over traditional tape storage media is the random access ability to retrieve any bit almost instantly. Tools such as Marquis Broadcast’s Project Parking make offloading of assets to the cloud from an edit suite as straightforward an exchange as any file system.

Signiant’s VP, product management Rick Clarkson suggests producers have become “more comfortable” using cloud solutions for lower value assets and data while “reserving higher cost on premise solutions for high value assets.”

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While the efficiency benefits of cloud storage are clear, there is a dissenting voice when it comes to the economics.

The post-production director of UK-based production services outfit Timeline TV, Eben Clancy agrees that “cloud is a massive benefit” but he can’t see cloud storage matching the ever decreasing cost of physical storage: “In the same way you don’t want to keep media in a facility once they start charging for it, keeping media in the cloud long term is expensive.”

Aspera’s Jay Migliaccio, director cloud platforms and services, looks to the increase in competition from cloud infrastructure vendors in general, and storage in particular, to benefit users with better SLAs and reduced cost.

“One constant is that end users still need to get their content into the cloud to take advantage of the cloud storage, infrastructure, and applications, and Aspera On Demand is intrinsically enabled for Amazon Web Services S3, Microsoft Azure BLOB, and OpenStack Swift,” he says.

Naomi Climer, president of Sony Media Cloud Services (which is positioning Ci as part of the dailies workflow for film and TV from pre-pro to visual effects), predicts it will take several years for the majority of organisations to migrate across to the cloud in part because of the company-wide change required in budgeting for operational as opposed to capital expenditure.

Even to get to this stage though, clients have to be confident that the security issues that dogged cloud’s early stages have evaporated. Peto reckons this perceived risk has all but disappeared.

“The proliferation of personal cloud solutions has aided business to business cloud vendors enormously,” he says. “When was the last time there was any genuine data loss from the cloud? Trust is implicit.”

Nonetheless, the growing prominence of public cloud storage has brought high-profile outages – temporary shut downs – to international attention. Amazon, GoDaddy, Windows Azure and Google Gmail have all suffered outages in the last six months, and late last year users of US cloud service Nirvanix scrambled to retrieve their data in two weeks before it went bankrupt.

“Add the near-daily data privacy stories resulting from the Edward Snowden breach, and the market is constantly reminded to remain cautious,” says Petricola. “Security has become the number one concern for companies when dealing with data.”

Security strategies need to be reinforced. Strong encryption, with keys that are locally managed off-cloud by customers, “will become table stakes,” he says.

Thanks to the [NSA’s clandestine data mining] PRISM program, Petricola expects to see more companies outside the US wanting to stop their data from being hosted in the US.

“This will force the deployment of regional clouds,” he says. “This year won’t just be about getting data into the cloud or managing the data once it’s there; 2014 will see more innovation around getting data out of the cloud, and moving it from one cloud to another. Users are looking for clear answers about outages and cloud commitment, and, eventually, cloud-to-cloud migration exit strategies in case of a cloud emergency.”

Vendors will have to come up with more comprehensive service-level agreements to include data export, migration, and mobility, not just data security, access, and availability.

Peto advises users to choose their cloud storage provider carefully asking questions such as “how many copies of your assets will they hold? how many fibre networks is it plumbed into? how frequently is data refreshed so it doesn’t rot on a disc? Is everything redundant with twin switches and firewalls? These are issues a CTO of a post house would expect inside their facility and they should expect nothing less of the cloud.”

Ironically, these security concerns will prolong the life of tape as a physical insurance. Quantum and Front Porch offer hybrid tape/cloud systems where “tape still offers the best cost per terrabyte but it’s hard for users to predict asset retrieval time,” says Fanichet.

“As a result there will be increased focus on tiered storage with technologies such as object storage (in which data is distributed over multiple network nodes) and linear tape file systems being widely adopted.”

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