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AWS Elemental Bridges On-Prem and Cloud with Link

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In Streaming Media's recent State of Streaming 2020 survey report, sponsored by AWS Elemental, one of the key takeaways was that live event producers are about evenly split between using on-prem and cloud workflows. But when we dug deeper, we discovered just how many are in transition, or at least taking a hybrid approach—mixing on-prem equipment with cloud services for the best of both worlds.

AWS Elemental's own customers told the them the same, and so the company set out to create a bridge between on-prem and its many cloud services. The result? The AWS Elemental Link remote-control device for real-time video transport, a $995 plug-and-go device the size of a Kleenex box and weighing less than a pound. Link allows customers to transport live video from on-prem cameras and other production equipment and securely process that video with AWS Elemental MediaLive through the AWS Console.

"In the past there has really been a sense that a customer is either an on-prem customer or a customer is a cloud customer, a customer has migrated or a customer has not migrated," says Kevin Moore, product manager for live solutions at AWS Elemental. "As we looked at it more and more, what we really found was that like many of the things that are keeping customers on prem are because it can be challenging to set up a contribution workflow for live events to the cloud. The very act of contributing live signal reliably to the cloud is somewhat challenging. You have to source the right device. The device has to be reliable, rugged. It has to be the right price. It has to be compatible with your cloud-based solution."

Moore listed off a slew of challenges, including networking, security, IP white listing, and managing a large number of devices. "So we began to ask ourselves, instead of thinking of this as either, or can we build a product that really bridges those two worlds together? So it brings the best of cloud scale, cloud control, cloud monitoring, cloud security, and cloud reliability, but also with an on-prem presence. And so that's why we created AWS Elemental Link," Moore says.

One of Link's key selling points is its ease of use. Customers power it up, connect it to an HD-SDI or HDMI input source and their IP network, access their video on the AWS Console for processing with AWS Elemental MediaLive, and then stream the content to viewers. Users can also use AWS Elemental MediaPackage for formatting, MediaStore for storage and origination, and CloudFront for distribution. Each device is tied to the customer's AWS accounts, so requires no onsite configuration.

"Most importantly, we have a system by which we respond to changing internet bandwidth availability," Moore says.  "So as the internet bandwidth goes down, the device itself actually reduces the encoding bandwidth. Because what we found in talking to our customers is that many of them had the problem where they would set devices up one week, they would configure them for say, 8Mbps. And that worked great for a while. And then internet weather changed or something happened or a different app was running one Sunday on that network. And now 8Mbps didn't work." 

Link uses HEVC for encoding up to 1080p60, and an ARQ-based protocol to ensure streaming reliability. It's also totally silent, which means it has proven extremely useful in the small, home studio setups that beta customers have found themselves using while many venue-based live events have been shut down by the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Some of our most avid beta testers have been looking for flexible solutions immediately to deal with some unique challenges based on COVID," Moore says. "'We have a studio, it's great. It's amazing. It has cameras and encoders and everything's perfect. I'm not allowed by my governmental authority to go there. What I have is a background, a light, a camera in my house. What can I do?' Some of our beta testers have looked at this product cause they've heard us tell them about it, and they've said, 'Let me have one.' So link actually has solved some problems for customers in a coven situation already. I won't claim clairvoyance and say that's why we built it."

Because it's got a small form factor, it's relatively low cost (and so doesn't require an approval cycle or RFP), and is silent, it's perfect for home studio setups, Moore says. "You can send it to somebody who is traditionally a news sports or entertainment talent. They're probably going to be able to get it on their network and get it running. We've had people interface GoPro cameras to it and say, 'This is great. I'm up and running total solution. I can stream super high quality 1080p60 out of my living room. And then the technical team takes it from there because all the other infrastructure is in the cloud'."

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