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The Digital Delivery Dilemma

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TV and video production and distribution are undergoing a period of disruptive change. Dramatic growth in IP-delivered and over-the-top (OTT) video, the rise of multiscreen viewing, and rapid evolutions in consumer devices will dictate the future of media. According to Strategy Analytics, the OTT video market in North America was up 57 percenttotaling $9.9 billion in 2013. By 2019, it’s expected to triple to $27 billion, with growth rates driven by rising consumer demand for video content on multiple devices.

To take advantage of the opportunities offered by such massive changes—and deal with the challenges they present—content owners, producers and broadcasters, and the service providers who support them are looking at new ways to create, store, manage, and distribute TV and digital video content. They're increasingly adopting end-to-end IP workflows and cloud and software-based services to stay relevant and competitive.

However, determining how fast and how far to move into the cloud is a complex endeavor, and media companies must consider costs, content, and security challenges when architecting their infrastructure approach.

Don’t Deny a Dedicated Model 

Though use of the cloud is on the rise, security and privacy of content remain key drivers for large broadcasters and multi-system operators (MSOs) who are still deploying dedicated hardware or on-premises virtualized infrastructure for core workflow applications, storage, and archiving. The benefits of dedicated infrastructure shouldn’t go unnoticed for the larger players: The larger the media enterprise, the more likely it is they can capitalize on existing data center infrastructure and IT resources, maximizing ROI assets. Additionally, their scale keeps the cost of purchasing commodity hardware down. Most significantly, they believe on-premises deployment offers better control and content security, which they prize over everything else.

In a recent report from IDG Connect, information security was the predominant factor driving IT decision makers to keep their workloads within their own data centers (53%), followed by data protection and governance rules (41%). [Figure 1]

Figure 1

A Case for the Cloud

The cloud delivers scalability, flexibility, and cost-reduction benefits that aren’t easily achieved from a dedicated environment. Major studios, broadcasters, and production houses are already adopting cloud-based collaborative and editing solutions in the production and post-production stages of digital video workflow. Look no further than the benefits Fox Sports 1 is seeing as a result of Aframe’s secure private cloud video production platform. The synergy enables Fox Sports to streamline the entire production workflow as well as sports and news collection, ultimately giving Fox a mover-first advantage in broadcasting breaking sports news and insider content.

Other benefits of cloud meet the requirements of media owners, producers, and distributors amid this shifting landscape. Variability in demand is inherent in delivery of multiscreen OTT content; the recent mishap involving SlingTV, which for all intents and purposes failed a major stress test during the NCAA Final Four competition, producing choppy, error-ridden, or non-existent streams.

Instances like these, characterized by an influx of users and exponential demand, are best handled with the public cloud—infrastructure as a service (IaaS) or software as a service (SaaS)—because it’s flexible and the lowest-risk way to accommodate variation. Netflix’s success with AWS—serving content to a myriad of mobile devices and tablets to meet fluctuating customer demand—exemplifies the capacity for the public cloud to be flexible and provide scalability capacity without excessive investment. Like public cloud, private cloud and virtualized environments will deliver flexibility and cost-reduction benefits.

Media owners and distributors offering OTT services have implemented the most robust cloud-based deployments to date and will be most likely to take advantage of third-party SaaS transcoding and delivery, or host their own applications and services on IaaS. The dedicated, optimized hardware traditionally used for functions like transcoding and playout can be replaced by software-based deployments running in a virtualized environment on commodity hardware. As well as lowering the cost of hardware purchase and operational support, this use of private cloud or virtualized infrastructure delivers processing and storage capacity that can scale more easily in line with variable demand.

Harmony with Hybrid IT

The security benefits from a dedicated environment and cost and flexibility advantages from the cloud from are influencing media companies to try their hand at varying their infrastructure deployments for certain workloads. Recently, NBC adopted Microsoft Azure and iStreamPlanet's live streaming services to deliver coverage of the Sochi Winter Olympics. This deployment forecasts growing industry perception: in three to five years, most media providers will have some part of their operation in the cloud and use a mix of on-premise, hosted private cloud and public cloud.

Similar to considerations around a pure-play cloud or dedicated environment, getting the balance right with hybrid IT will require media enterprises to understand the implications around cost-effectiveness of the infrastructure and security of content. For instance, optimizing the cost balance in a hybrid model means balancing CAPEX and OPEX, hardware efficiency and cloud service provider pricing.

Media players should ask themselves: Will private cloud deployments using commodity servers be cheaper to maintain and upgrade than dedicated specialist video hardware?

Also, public cloud services could remove the CAPEX barrier but only when used effectively: To enable rapid, regular and reliable transfers of large data volumes to and from the cloud, media providers should absolutely ensure they have private connectivity to IaaS and platform-as-a-service (PaaS) providers, which is faster, higher performing, and cheaper than internet. In the recent report from IDG Connect, when asked about how their corporate data centers are, or will be, connected to the cloud, 41% of IT decision marker asserted that the internet is no longer good enough and say they bypass it based on security and performance concerns.

Another key consideration in deploying a hybrid IT model is the interoperability of different infrastructures, platforms, and services at play. A mix of dedicated infrastructure, private cloud, and public cloudand IaaS, PaaS and SaaS offerings – is bound to create complexities. How can media enterprises ensure that a workflow supported by a mix of vendors and services providers will run smoothly?

Fast, reliable connectivity to and between cloud providers, ideally within a connectivity-rich third party data center, is a key enabler of interoperability. Implementing more structured and standardized APIs will also work wonders for integrating applications from different providers across multiple cloud environments. The industry isn’t there yet, but the progress by OpenStack and OpenCloud to manage large-scale cloud platforms across data centers has the potential to catapult cloud adoption among media providers.

Like everything in life, there’s no right or wrong answer to hybrid infrastructure deployments. Still, media enterprises can rest assured that a mixed architecture will help them take the changes around them in stride. With a best-of-both worlds IT approach, they will progressively take advantage of the flexibility and workflow innovation that cloud offers, without risking content security or operational performance, or disrupting core workflow processes.

[Bryan Hill is Director of Marketing and Business Development, Digital Media Sector, for Interxion. Streaming Media accepts vendor-written articles base solely on their value to our readers.]

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