Interview with Ulrich Voigt, Qvest Media Head of Design

At IBC 2018, Qvest Media introduced Qvest.Cloud an advanced management platform to integrate and operate media services and applications using web technologies. Qvest Media’s Head of Design Ulrich Voigt explains the reasons for developing the platform and benefits of solution design and system integration using cloud-native technology.
Ulrich Voigt, Qvest Media Head of Design
Sandra Wildeboer plus4media
Ulrich Voigt, Qvest Media Head of Design

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DS: Can you tell us about the background and reasons for developing the Qvest.Cloud platform?

We have been looking into the future of system integration. Thus, we wondered how system integration would look like in the future and how media systems would be built over a 5-year horizon. Our conclusion was it becomes more and more software-based and cloud-based. So, the capabilities and expertise that an SI needs have to be software based – you have to be familiar with APIs and so on.

We saw that we could either become a custom software developer or take a standardized approach with a standard set of tools. We decided to go for the former and to develop a cloud management platform focused on media, hybrid cloud and multi-cloud deployment, so that you can make use of any of the big cloud providers and build the bridge to your on-prem system and to look at this from an end to end holistic point of view.

We are not only intending to orchestrate the cloud deployment but also to orchestrate the workflow in between and connecting the dots. Furthermore, we focus on monitoring and measuring the systems and workflows and we have also looked at the cost implication and provide a component for cost control.

We are therefore looking at an end to end cloud management platform that will facilitate the migration into the cloud and the deployment of media systems into the cloud. It is built for all kinds of enterprises. Our current key clients are broadcasters and sports organizations as well as post-production companies, OTT providers and corporate clients who produce videos.

DS: What were the main considerations in your approach to designing the platform?

The main considerations were to really provide something that covers the full scope and one cannot be the best in cloud orchestration and workflow orchestration and monitoring solutions and so on. There are many specialized products out there, but every product addresses one area. We would like to provide a comprehensive end to end solution that makes use of a lot of the open source tools that have become the actual standard in the cloud business and integrate them into one platform. The media specific functionality will be added on top of that.

For example, we ensure that the platform is compatible with media files and formats and that it is designed for long running tasks such as transcoding and that it is really media aware. According to our research and the clients’ feedback, this was something that has not existed in the market so far. We wanted to build a management and integration platform with a broad scope and a footprint specialized for media enterprises. We also wanted to figure out the areas where we have to do our own coding and areas where we can use existing products. This has been the main focus and main challenge.

It shows that the acquisition of these skills on one’s own is quite a complex and expensive process for a client. We have been working with almost 20 developers for a year, so that we have already invested 20-man years and there is even more to come. This is something one single media company usually can’t afford to do and therefore it makes sense to offer it as a productized approach.

We are not offering the actual business functionality – so we are not a MAM system or a playout system, or a workflow system etc. These all come from our partners and we are going to integrate them. We demonstrated the use cases at IBC where we integrated with 22 partners and the goal for NAB is to significantly increase the number of partners. For everything we are doing, there is an API along with descriptions and packages of how a partner can connect to it. The goal is to have a large and open partner ecosystem to make it easy for companies to benefit from Qvest.Cloud.

DS: How was the response from clients and partners to the Qvest.Cloud demo at IBC?

The response was very, very positive. Actually, much more positive than we had dreamed of. Before IBC, we were a little scared that we might be a bit too early for this in the market, and we were prepared to explain the challenges to clients along with the solution. That is why we were surprised that every client was getting the point – they were actually aware of the need for this solution. Many clients have the need for it, so the feedback was very positive.

IBC was a pre-launch and the final product will launch at NAB in April. We have a lot of clients and partners, so we received a lot of positive feedback from our partners, too. There are a lot of clients and partners lining up and waiting for a product launch at NAB. However, people that are interested are always welcome to get in touch with us as we continuously bring partners and clients onboard.

DS: How can broadcasters that are still working with traditional workflows adopt the cloud platform?

We would like to try to help clients with this solution and our overall consulting and SI expertise to move into the modern world. That means that we start where our clients are today, and then perhaps start out with a small scale such as transcoding in the cloud, some distribution in the cloud, or Artificial Intelligence. Then we expand the capabilities of their current systems into the cloud.

We also talk to the main legacy media technology enterprises like Sony, Avid, Grass Valley, Imagine etc. to see how we can start from their systems and then expand into the cloud, always knowing that we define cloud as something that will not be on just a cloud-native stack. 

You can run a cloud stack with Docker and similar cloud-native tools, but you can also run an on-premise cloud – which we provide the software stack for. Cloud does not always mean public cloud like AWS - you can run it in your own data center or other private data centers.

In the Middle East, there are a lot of broadcasters that are not yet ready to move to a public cloud. We can support them with a private cloud on their premises or with a telco’s data center for example. We are working with beta clients and when we launch at NAB, we will be ready to name the initial clients. The goal is to have clients not just in Europe but also a reference in the Middle East.

DS: Do System Integrators today need to have IT skills and is the industry moving away from traditional broadcast expertise?

Yes, they definitely do. That is why we work with a software company to acquire the software skills for the basis of Qvest.Cloud - HMS Media, a German company known for mid-sized playout automation systems. They have the experience and they know how to organize software-based product development. The Qvest.Cloud product development team was added despite their legacy work because their expertise was crucial - we obtained the methodology of the software product development from them.

At the same time, we are training our broadcast engineers to acquire skills regarding the cloud, in web services, in JSON, JavaScript etc. The actual integration work where you need to know the capabilities of APIs and the Qvest.Cloud toolset has to be done by trained broadcast engineers.

This is also how we performed at the IBC showcase where we integrated a small broadcast station, so all the usual bits and pieces were integrated by our broadcast engineers using the toolset that Qvest.Cloud provides. The key developers at HMS are working on the base product, whereas the integration of the product can be done by our trained broadcast engineers.

DS: What were the major shifts in the market you noticed at IBC?

There is, of course, a shift towards OTT in distribution, but this does not render everything else irrelevant. There is still a huge demand for building studios and building production facilities and remote production. There is a huge demand in live production and high-quality sports production with all the remote capabilities. Today, there is also a huge demand for automated production capabilities – which means higher quality with fewer people involved.

Then we have the entire shift towards broadcast IP with SMTPE ST 2110 and so on – we are doing large projects in this area. In Switzerland, for example, we did the consulting and planning for the largest IT project in Europe. In the future, OTT services will move on-premise production facilities to 4K and IP and we are at the forefront with large projects in this field. From each of these projects, we evaluate what we can transform into new technology. An example would be to run the existing project 80% on-premise and then offload the rest to the cloud when the peak is reached.

Whenever we do something new, we try to bring in as much new and future-ready technology as possible, and yet considering the current client’s transformation capability. We support our clients during this transformation and the only way to do so is by acknowledging their actual situation. We just created remote production capability for the Sky Germany sports facility for football coverage all over Germany which enables them to create a program that switches from stadium to stadium with all the operators located at the main facility. We work with Simplylive and their remote system in a box which makes an entire live production much more cost-efficient than the OB truck you needed before. This gives you the ability to produce more content at lower costs.

Our OB vehicles partnership with Akkermans is also a sign that the OB area still grows – this is a business we have been very busy with in the past. Now and then we thought that this was a diminishing business that we did not really focus on, but it is still there. Even with all the remote business, there is still the need for on-site equipment.

In general, regardless of how you transmit, the overall video consumption is growing. A big portion of the content is live events – be it music or sports and so the OB area is still a profitable, growing business. That’s why we also focus on OB vans. It’s real physical engineering work and mechanics while at the same time working in the cloud to virtualize the business. So, there is a broadness of scope that we are dealing with at Qvest Media in our daily business.

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