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Diving in Deep with Digital Rapids Kayak and Azure Media Services

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When we covered Windows Azure Media Services at the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) show a month ago, one partnership highlighted in the mock-up demonstration that caught our eye was Digital Rapids' new Kayak technology.

At this week's Streaming Media East show, we asked Mike Nann, Digital Rapids director of marketing, to expand a bit on the tie between Kayak and Azure.

"At NAB, we demonstrated our solutions working with Windows Azure Media Services in two different ways," said Nann. "One way is in the context of Transcode Manager, and one is in the context of the Kayak workflow platform itself. While Kayak is our new workflow platform, Transcode Manager 2.0 is a specific solution built on the much-broader Kayak platform that can also run on Windows Azure."

Nann explains that Digital Rapids sees the tie-in to AMS taking on two forms when Transcode Manager 2.0 and Azure Media Services (AMS) are both launched later this calendar year.

"The first way we integrate with Windows Azure is what we'd refer to as the 'built-on' approach," said Nann. "Windows Azure Media Services enables Transcode Manager 2.0 to launch Kayak-based transcoding engines in the cloud as an extension of on-premises processing capacity. This provides dynamic and elastic compute power and resources that Transcode Manager 2.0 can use to complete jobs."

The second form, which Nann calls the "built-in" approach, offers a broader exposure to Kayak beyond the typical Digital Rapids customer.

"With Kayak's workflow and media processing capabilities 'built-in' under the Windows Azure Media Services umbrella of services, we are able to make our technologies accessible to Microsoft customers and ecosystem partners for creating their own cloud-based applications," said Nann. "As previewed at NAB, users building solutions on Windows Azure can select Kayak engines for the media processing workflow, alongside other third-party technologies -- such as DRM -- available within Windows Azure Media Services."

With the Kayak platform, Nann says that Digital Rapids has introduced a workflow platform that is incredibly modular and granular.

"Every function is broken down into discrete components, each representing a specific action," said Nann. "These functions could be things like 'encode to H.264', 'multiplex for UltraViolet', 'apply DRM #7', 'send an e-mail notification' or 'decode format #9' in any order the workflow demands. There will literally be hundreds of such components -- most our own, plus many third-party -- under the hood, although the typical user will be largely abstracted from that set of choices to make it simpler."

The abstraction concept that Nann refers to is, in some ways, similar to the hardware abstraction layer (HAL) that is used by complex computing systems to allow for simple tasks, such as watching a DVD on a laptop computer. Yet Kayak performs both a HAL and a software abstraction layer to allow business rules to be converted in to performance requests without necessarily requiring an expertise in the performance areas that high-performance computing solutions like Azure might add to the mix.

So is the component catalog just a glorified set of presets, like other transcoding solutions offer? Nann says that transcoding is just one part of the larger workflow, and that components encompass actual actions.

"Presets isn't an accurate description," said Nann. "A preset implies, in my opinion, an easier way to access functionality that exists within software. For example, a preset for encoding H.264 for Blu-ray means you don't have to manually configure the H.264 codec and multiplexing in the software.

"In our case, the components aren't just presets to access the functionality," he added. "They're the functionality themselves, so if the component didn't exist, you couldn't do it, manually or not."

Given this underlying functionality in the workflow-creation platform, Nann says one of Digital Rapids' main tasks after the NAB preview of Kayak is filling out the catalog of components for early customer adopters prior to general availability later this summer.

"Transcode Manager 2.0 is currently in a pre-release form, and a number of existing and potential customers are already assessing it for production work using its current functionality -- in Kayak terminology, a particular set of components -- so that they can take advantage of that functional efficiencies even before the official ship date," said Nann.

Expected to ship this summer with its full range of initial functionality, "Transcode Manager 2.0's component set will always continue to grow to meet customer workflow demands," said Nann.

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