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: Tell us about the background and reasons for developing the Qvest.Cloud platform?

We have been looking into the future of system integration. So, we asked how would System Integration in the future look, say in a 5-year horizon, how would one build media systems? 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 know about APIs and so on.

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

Meaning that we are not only looking at orchestrating the cloud deployment but also orchestrating the workflow in between and connecting the dots. We are also looking to monitor and measure the systems and the workflows and we are also having a look at the cost implication and provide a component for cost control.

So it’s an end to end cloud management platform that will facilitate the move into the cloud and deployment of media systems into the cloud. It’s built for enterprises in general. Our current core customers are broadcasters and sports organisations but also post-production companies, OTT providers and also corporate customers who deal with video.

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 so we can’t be the best in cloud orchestration or workflow orchestration or monitoring solutions. There are many specialized products in out there, but every product addressed 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 de facto standard in the cloud, and to integrate them into one platform, and then to add the media specific functionality on top of it.

For example, we ensure that the platform knows about media files and formats and that it is designed for long running tasks such as transcoding and it is really media aware. According to our research and feedback, we got from clients this was something so far not existing in the market.

We wanted to build a management and integration platform with a broad scope and footprint specialized for media enterprises and 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 also shows that for a customer to acquire these skills on its own is a quite complex and expensive process. We are working with almost 20 developers for a year on this, so we have already 20 man years invested in this effort and we will invest much more. This is something one single media enterprise usually can’t afford to do and therefore it makes sense to offer it as a productised approach.

We are not offering the actual business functionality – so we are not a MAM system or playout system or 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. And the goal is to have a large and open partner ecosystem to make it easy for enterprises 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 bit scared that we are might be a bit too early with this in the market, and we were more prepared to explain the challenges to customers along with the solution. But we were kind of surprised that every customer was getting the point – they were actually aware of the need for this solution. Many customers have the need for it so the feedback was very positive.

IBC was a pre-launch and the final availability at NAB in April. We have a lot of customers and also partners so the same positive feedback from the partner side. So there are a lot of customers and partners lining up and waiting for a product launch at NAB. 

However, people interested are always invited to get in touch with us. We are not stopping communication until NAB and we continue to bring clients onboard. We can start the work now even if the final product is launching only at NAB.

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

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

We are also talking 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 also as something that will not be on just a cloud-native stack.

So you can run a cloud stack with Dockerize and all the cloud-native stuff, but you also can run cloud on-premises and we are providing the software stack for this. Cloud does not always mean public cloud like AWS - you can use run it in your own data centre or another private data centre.

In the Middle East, there are a lot of broadcasters that are not yet ready to move to a public cloud. Therefore we also can help them with a private cloud on their premises or with a telco’s data centre for example.

We are working with beta clients and when we launch at NAB we will be ready to name the early customers. 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 definitely. That is why for the basis of Qvest.Cloud, we acquired a software company to acquire the software skills - HMS Media, a German company known for mid-sized playout automation systems, because they have the experience and they know how to organize product development in software.

The Qvest.Cloud Product development team was added on top of their legacy work because their expertise was crucial - from there we got the methodology of how to do the software product development.

At the same time, we are training our broadcast engineers to get skills in the cloud, in web services, in JSON, JavaScript etc. So that the actual integration work where you have to understand what are the capabilities of APIs and where you have to use the toolset of Qvest cloud to do the integration - that this work can be done by trained broadcast engineers.

This is how we did the IBC showcase also 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 core developers at HMS are developing the base product but 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 the distribution side but this still does not render everything else irrelevant. There is still a huge demand for building studios and building production facilities and remote production. There is huge demand in live production and high-quality sports production with all the remote capabilities. Today you also have a huge demand for automated production capabilities - i.e. for doing more in higher quality with fewer people.

Then the entire shift towards broadcast IP with SMTPE2110 and so on – we are doing large projects in this area. For example in Switzerland, we have done 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 area. In each of these projects, we are evaluating what can we bring in new technology. So for example, can we do the existing project with 80% on-premise and then offload the rest to the cloud - if there is a peak then it offloads to the cloud.

When we do something new we are trying to bring as much new and future-ready technology as possible but of course, we keep in pace with the capability of the client to transform. We are helping in this transformation, but you have to start where the client is today. There is no other way.

We just did the Sky Germany sports facility where they are doing football coverage all over Germany and we created remote production capability so they can do a program that switches from stadium to stadium with the operators all sitting in the main facility. We are working with Simply Live for a remote system in a box where you can do an entire live production at a much lower price than the OB truck you needed before. And this then gives you the ability to do more content with less money.

Our OB vehicles partnership with Akkermans is also a sign that the OB area still grows – this is a business we have done a lot in the past. In between, we thought that this is a diminishing business that we did not focus so much on, but it’s still there. Even with all the remote stuff, there is still the need to go there and have equipment on site.

In general, regardless of how you transmit, the overall amount of video consumption is growing. A big portion of the content is live events – be it music or sport and so there is still money and business is growing in the OB area.

That’s why we are focusing also on OB vans and since one year we have constant work on OB vans. Its real physical engineering work and mechanics while at the same time working on the cloud to virtualise the business. So there is a broadness of scope that we are dealing with at Qvest in our daily business.

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