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Into the Cloud: Exploring the Next Generation of Video Services

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“If you consider all those factors, it was advantageous to choose a cloud-based service that not only hosts our media content but makes it accessible to our production and sales staff around the world,” Khadilkar says. “Instead of shipping physical media, like hard drives or thumb drives, or doing FTP and UDP file transfers, which can be a cumbersome, time-consuming process, we upload our content and it’s immediately available for screening or download by authorized parties around the world.” Veria Living has uploaded more than 1,200 hours of broadcast-ready video to the cloud service Aframe, making it accessible for promotions, marketing, ad sales, collaborative editorial, and other purposes by its partners and distributors worldwide.

Khadilkar says that the benefits of using Aframe are time efficiency, capital investment, and manpower costs, as well as the more streamlined, automated workflow it enables. Aframe, a private video cloud production platform and asset management solution, offers storage, asset management, and collaboration (and eventually transcoding). Users can upload and store a mix of full resolution, native video, and file formats. Aframe then provides that media as H.264 proxies to facilitate searching, logging, rough cut editing, and playback over the internet.

“Our goal is to get technology out of the way of people who are trying to be creative and make great television,” says Mark Overington, president of Aframe’s North American operations, in Boston. “Aframe lets media professionals collaborate with others around the world, pick and choose the media they want from the cloud, and download it when they’re ready. This makes the process much more efficient for everyone involved.”

More Functionality in the Cloud?

At San Francisco-based Brightcove, Casey Wilms, a solutions architect and product manager, says, “If a customer wants to build a massively scalable encoding platform, with future-proof support for the latest devices and players, ad insertion, closed captioning, and analytics, among other features, it would be cost-prohibitive to build what we’re able to offer our customers.

“The amount of effort it takes to maintain and upgrade a video transcoding and streaming platform and to make sure it’s compatible with the latest devices is not trivial,” Wilms adds. “But the nice thing about a cloud provider is upgrades happen almost invisibly to the user. When Zencoder [owned by Brightcove] makes a change, say it’s a 10-20% improvement in video compression for HLS, users realize those gains for free, without having to do anything to make it happen. They can just focus on creating great content.”

Besides Zencoder, Brightcove offers Video Cloud, an online video platform for multibitrate streaming to mobile phones, tablets, social media, and more. Video Cloud users include General Motors Co., Showtime, Discovery, Sky, NBCUniversal, Macy’s, and Purina.

“For live streaming, there are many advantages to leveraging a cloud transcoding environment that is also live, not file-based. Users that have limited connectivity, budget constraints and a need to reach all Internet connected devices should consider live transcoding as an option,” says Chance Mason, executive vice president of Haivision’s internet media division, in Atlanta.

“Using Haivision live transcoding, content creators can offer viewers a high bitrate stream [of their camera or switcher output] via a single Internet connection -- then we package it into multiple ABR, Dynamic Flash, and Adaptive HLS codecs,” Mason adds.

Haivision has three tiers of service and pricing: HyperStream Live, which is pay-per-use; HyperStream Concierge, which includes managed services and on-site event support; and Haivision Video Cloud, which licenses live transcoding software to customers to deploy at their cloud facilities. Customers can use Haivision or third-party encoders.

“Customers are seeking to monetize the value of their streaming content, but typically not through advertising,” says Mason. “Live streaming of events can save on travel and other operating costs, promote more efficient learning and communications, allow organizations to work more efficiently, and offer live broadcast quality video where they otherwise couldn’t.” HyperStream customers span large corporations, government agencies, house-of-worship centers, universities, and medical institutions.

Cloud Security Risks: Real or Hype?

Third-party video cloud services can also base their services on a private cloud, meaning that they build and equip their own Big Data centers around the world rather than rely on Amazon, Google, or others to host them. Since one of the biggest concerns in the public cloud is fear of cyberattacks and piracy, private cloud service vendors often tell customers that their data will be safer since they control every aspect of their private cloud facility.

While Brightcove has its own private cloud facilities, its Zencoder public cloud-based video encoding service is built on AWS. “Amazon has a lot riding on the security of their facilities,” says Brightcove’s Wilms. “In my opinion, a public cloud infrastructure like theirs is much more secure than other private data facilities, especially one that you’re just spinning up yourself. We’re seeing a broad acceptance and adoption of our service.

“Brightcove and Zencoder are extremely careful to handle customer files with the utmost security,” Wilms adds. “With encryption of content, seamless integration with our customers’ infrastructures, and obfuscated assignment of encoding jobs to servers, it’s near impossible for content to get stolen out of the Zencoder stack.” Zencoder users include PBS, The Wall Street Journal, Scripps Networks Interactive, and AOL.

Of course, that’s exactly what you’d expect to hear from a cloud services provider. But the high-end video postproduction market has serious concerns about using public cloud services to store or compute their Big Data. “There are two chief concerns for high-end post houses: security risks and technology limitations,” says Hartmann. “When movie studios, cable networks and other major production companies entrust them with their high-value assets, post houses don’t want to lose control of this content, and they feel the public cloud is still too risky. They even take the precaution of not putting Internet connectivity on their local storage networks.

“Since the RAW assets are terabytes of HD, 2K, or 4K resolution data processed at up to 200 megabytes/second, you can’t work on a cloud due to Internet bandwidth limitations,” Hartmann says. “Yes, you can work with proxies, but we’re years and years away from moving these demanding applications off-site, especially to the public cloud.”

Jim Frantzreb, Avid’s director of media enterprise segment marketing, says, “For our customers, security is the number one concern because they don’t want to lose control of their client’s valuable media assets or the content they’re developing for their own distribution. Avid customers shy away from public cloud services because they don’t feel the security concerns have been adequately addressed.” Avid’s Interplay Sphere is structured as a private cloud for real-time editing even from remote locations, and upfront capital costs are offset by increased productivity.

Harmonic’s Yoav Derazon agrees: “Mass adoption of offsite cloud transcoding for media processing will take time. It’s likely that over the next three to five years, a big portion of media processing will be done on-premises (with fixed hardware and software). The reasons include conservatism, fear of content piracy, and the economics of uploading content to the cloud,” he says.

“On the other hand, private cloud is likely to be adopted more quickly for media processing because it provides flexibility,” Derazon continues. “A private cloud lets users perform video transcoding locally and purchase cloud-based transcoding software on a per use basis ... so a combination of private cloud processing with pay-per-use [cloud] services seems like the fastest solution for optimizing our customers’ operations.”

Cloud Quality of Service

Live streaming is one of the most demanding and unforgiving applications you can execute via the cloud. Since events take place in real time, if the on-site or cloud systems fail, the opportunity to live stream that event is lost. With this challenge in mind, Haivision built multiple layers of transcoding redundancy across its data centers.

“The greatest single point of failure is typically the Internet connection at the live event site. As long as users can push the stream up to us, we’ll do whatever we need to do to ensure their live events stream as planned,” Mason says. For mission-critical live events, he recommends that customers have a redundant internet connection to ensure the stream is successful.

“The cloud can provide immense flexibility for publishing to browsers, tablets, social media, and mobile outlets. When customers want to stream live video, they send a single encoded stream of that event to Haivision where it’s packaged into multiple bitrates and codecs needed for multiple devices and published via a video content management system,” says Haivision’s Mason. “It’s far better video quality than they could get by trying to send multiple high bitrate streams from their on-site Internet connection.”

Canada’s National Ballet School (NBS) in partnership with the Global Campus Network at Ryerson University -- both in Toronto -- used Haivision encoders to present an innovative live streaming event of the performance Stream.

Presented as one of several public performances at the Assemblée Internationale 2013 (AI 13), held in May 2013 in Toronto, Stream enabled AI 13 dancers from ballet schools around the world to collaborate and perform on a Toronto stage. With the help of Haivision live media streaming, they were joined virtually by dance students performing the same dance at the Dutch National Ballet Academy in Amsterdam.

Canada’s National Ballet School partnered with the Global Campus Network at Ryerson University in Toronto to present a live-streamed collaboration of its dancers with dancers in Amsterdam, using Haivision encoders in the cloud.

The Global Campus Network, which coordinated the event technology, used a Haivision Mako high-performance low-latency video codec to bidirectionally stream live video and audio of dancers on location at the Dutch National Ballet Academy onto onstage displays while the Toronto dancers were performing. Low latency was critical to ensure the proper synchronization and timing required for a flawless collaborative dance on one stage from two locations. A Haivision KulaByte internet encoder then streamed the blended performance to internet audiences via the AI 13 website.

Collaboration in the Cloud

In the social media era, when people are increasingly communicating with others around the world via Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, and other platforms, cloud video collaboration platforms such as WeVideo offer public cloud-based video creation platforms for storytelling with video.

Palo Alto, Calif.-based WeVideo lets anyone -- including educators, marketing executives, and consumers -- upload video from their personal devices such as Android phones, HD cameras, and even some social media sources. With a multitiered pay-as-you-go subscription, WeVideo users can manage and edit their video, collaborate with others, and publish to multiple destinations such as Facebook, YouTube, and Google Drive.

“Today, the way people consume video via the web is changing. People want to communicate and engage with others using video and they’re looking for simple, accessible tools that help them do that,” says Bjorn Rustberggard, head of product, CTO, and co-founder of WeVideo. “Many of our users either don’t have on-premises video editing capability or don’t want to own it due to the cost or complexity involved.” While WeVideo can be used to create a video of any length, users typically create 1-minute to 5-minute clips.

One example of how this is being used is the Qatar Foundation in Doha, Qatar, which uses the WeVideo platform to share videos that it creates about environmental issues. It also encourages students in Qatar and the U.S. to collaborate and share stories using the WeVideo platform. And in May 2012, Walt Disney Pictures and Marvel used WeVideo to promote The Avengers, allowing movie fans to remix their own movie trailers.

What Does the Future Hold for Cloud?

Is it advantageous for a media company to use multiple kinds of cloud video services? Dallas Audio Post’s Machado says yes, because cloud service providers don’t all support the same applications or tasks. Dallas Audio Post also uses an Amazon S3 public cloud service for massive storage to distribute a sound design library it sells called echo | collective, which is a division of Dallas Audio Post. Machado says, “Many buyers can buy those files -- sometimes 500 gigabytes or more each -- and download them all at once without having to consume our on-premises storage or bandwidth. Since Amazon is well-positioned to store and stream gobs of data efficiently, it just makes sense to use the cloud for this application.

“Video cloud capabilities are now a pre-requisite of being in business, like having a website has been. While Dallas Audio Post has a physical facility in Dallas, we actually operate in cyber space,” Machado says. “So either you have a video cloud strategy [for moving and processing media] or you just wither away.”

This article appears in the August/September 2013 issue of Streaming Media magazine as "Into the Cloud."

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