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NAB Report: Microsoft Offers a Window into Azure Media Services
London Olympic Games will be an early showcase for the services, which offers custom media solutions for companies with widespread delivery needs.
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At the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) show today in Las Vegas, Microsoft announced the culmination of several years of transitional moves in the online media space,  leveraging a series of technology demonstrations at last year's NAB into the new Windows Azure Media Services solution.

Noting that almost one-third of online consumer data consumption is focused on video delivery, a figure that is expected to grow by 80 percent year-over-year for the next three years, Microsoft said Azure Media Services is geared toward allowing those companies with widespread delivery needs to take advantage of the Windows Azure cloud infrastructure. 

"Not everyone has the expertise or capital required to build a media infrastructure," said Scott Guthrie, corporate vice president responsible for the Windows Azure application platform.  "Windows Azure Media Services enables companies everywhere to build custom media solutions that easily scale and adapt to meet consumers' needs, wherever or however they consume it."

For a showcase event of the magnitude that Microsoft intends Azure to serve, look no further than the 2012 summer Olympic games. In conjunction with Akamai, Microsoft is gearing up to deliver the London 2012 Olympic Games in HD streaming "across multiple countries through major rights holders in Europe, North America, Central America, and South America."

Akamai, for its part, says it looks forward to combining its SOLA Media Solutions, which is a cloud-based solution that works hand-in-hand with the Akamai HD network, with the Windows Azure Media Services.

"We're eager for the [London 2012] Olympic Games to start," said Bill Wheaton, an Akamai senior vice president and general manager of media, to showcase the "powerful combination of Windows Azure Media Services and Akamai's SOLA Media Solutions to deliver a high-quality viewing experience on a global scale."

While cloud-based media delivery has been around for some time, including options from Amazon and other cloud solution companies, the Microsoft approach with Azure Media Services is arguably the first time that a broadcast-centric approach to cloud-based live event delivery has been codified.

As such, Microsoft today published its first version of the Broadcast Reference Architecture, working with Tata Consultancy, Harris Corporation and others to define and implement best practices around this reference architecture.

"The media business will continue to change, so you need an adaptable business framework," wrote Taras Bugir, Microsoft's worldwide managing director of media and cable, in a Powerpoint presentation that advocates for a trifecta of digital content management, business intelligence, and media business management. 

"Technology and audiences will continue to change, so you need an agile digital infrastructure," Bugir continued.

Microsoft sees its reference architecture consisting of varying combinations of Microsoft's Dynamics, Office, SharePoint, Business Intelligence, SQL, Azure, and the media platform. In addition, at the device level, Microsoft sees Silverlight and PlayReady, along with Bing, as key components.

Bugir then laid out the various pieces of the broadcast reference architecture, from concept development and resource management to rights and license marketing, as well as advertising sales and content / advertisement scheduling. 

"As broadcasters become increasingly multi-medium and multi-channel in nature," wrote Bugir, "these optimizations must take into account customer relationship management system, different audience measurements across mediums and increasing monitoring of content rights management."

A preview of Windows Azure Media Services is available by visiting the Azure site. Scroll down for an introduction to Azure Media Services from Microsoft's director of Windows Azure product management Brian Goldfarb.

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