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Media Processing in the Cloud or On-Prem—Which Is Right for You?

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If you’re like most readers, you’ve probably heard the cloud argument more times than you can count now. Most articles and conversations on the subject expound the virtues of bringing everything to the cloud as soon as possible. While there are certainly workflows and scenarios where that will be true, it’s also true that those with investments in on-premises systems need to do their own calculations when it comes to the pros and cons of moving media processing and delivery to the cloud. The right way to go is not always black and white, and I think it’s important to acknowledge that up front. In this article, I’ll share some of the situations I’ve been in that warranted moving to the cloud, and then other situations where it didn’t make sense to do so.

When the Cloud Makes Sense

When I was working for a service provider, it became obvious that parts of our infrastructure needed to move to the cloud and move quickly. In those cases, we were feeling a lot of pain and pain makes people get creative. A typical painful example is when capacity requirements shift underneath you, such as a service becoming more popular than you had initially allocated resources for. For example, when running a media services operation, there are many situations that can stress systems. High traffic on an OTT service can create capacity planning problems with things like packaging, origin services, authentication, etc. In media processing, full-catalog licenses, mergers, or content migrations can cause enormous capacity requirements for transcoding and QC.


You can start to eliminate those stress points by using cloud computing because you have a better ability to scale horizontally than you do in a private data center where there are limited resources. The ability to react to those kinds of things was a key one for me to move things to the cloud. Although virtual machines can help, the amount of capacity, and solutions that are hardened in the public cloud makes it far superior to an in-house VM farm. Another key for me was to get out of the hardware maintenance business. It can be very stressful when you’re trying to repair or upgrade servers that are running critical services and you have limited backup resources. Having suffered those kinds of situations, it became obvious how much less stressful it would be to simply spin up new servers in the cloud and just move traffic over to new servers with the new configuration.

If you’ve already investigated moving some or all your organization’s media workflows into the cloud, you’ll have discovered that it’s not necessarily cheaper to do so. However, most people forget to include many of the costs when doing this, and they also don’t factor in the benefits gained. Each organization’s itemized costs are different (e.g., operating a data center within NYC real estate is much more expensive than one in Iowa) but there are common costs we must all account for. The way I ultimately found my cost was to take my entire data center budget including all equipment, personnel, travel, connectivity, etc., and divide by the number of usable rack units. This gave me a cost per RU which I add to any value calculation when comparing on-prem to cloud.

In addition to looking at costs, there are other factors that must be considered in order to evaluate cloud computing suitability. During our early trials we saw that the ability to dynamically create resources in the cloud allowed our team to solve challenges in different and often much simpler and less risky (i.e., stressful) ways. I could not put a value on the amount of stress that our team would be relieved from, but I knew it was significant and important. In addition, we were able to execute projects faster (sometimes by orders of magnitude) which allowed our company and often our customers to seize additional revenue opportunities and bring revenue in sooner.

These non-cost factors are what clinched it for me. As an engineering or operations team, you want to be able to say “yes” when a customer asks for something. Moving to the cloud enabled my engineering team to say yes much more often which turned out to be invaluable for our business. Time spent caring and feeding for a server farm was replaced with activities that directly related to closing new business opportunities and adding functionality desired by customers.

When and What Services Should You Move?

When it comes to deciding what services to shift to the cloud first, the prevailing wisdom is to not move critical services first. Choose an internal application or a test system so that any teething issues can be worked out without impacting the organization. Once the first move is successful and the organization understands how to operate in the cloud, you can look to move more critical services that can benefit from the expanded capacity.

Hybrid

For many companies, a wholesale move may feel too risky, so a hybrid approach works well by allowing excess capacity requirements to burst into the cloud as required. This allows run rate systems to continue to function while taking immediate advantage of cloud scaling when and if required. Depending on the needs of the service, a hybrid setup could continue to run indefinitely and very cost effectively if on-prem CapEx resources have already been spent and the resources are in place to keep them running. Hybrid solutions can offer a smooth migration, allowing companies to move services over at their own pace. For many businesses, hybrid means leaving existing on-prem systems to function as designed while any new services or requirements get built in the cloud.

Staying On-Prem

With all the advantages of the cloud, it makes you wonder why anyone would keep media workflows on-premises or in a local data center. However, for organizations that already have significant capex investments, including those doing traditional cable-based TV delivery, they already have a commitment to facilities. It’s considered an amortized or sunk cost. For the many thousands of busy on-premises servers processing run-rate media workflows throughout the world, they’re efficiently and cheaply doing what they need to do and will no doubt continue to do so for a long time.

Of course, there are certain places on the planet that may not have reliable interconnectivity to a cloud provider. For those organizations, the cloud as a technology for media workflows, is not yet tenable. It’s also possible that the software that some servers are using has not been ported effectively to the cloud or perhaps it’s at the end of its life. In that case, there’s no sense in moving it now.

Summary

There’s no question that any media company investing in new services or wanting to have the capacity to say yes to any customer request will want to do this with a public cloud provider. It’s the most flexible and safest way to ensure business continuity and it can certainly be shown to be cost effective. In fact, I’d argue that the cost of running your own data center is going up all the time, whereas the cost of operating a virtual machine at AWS, Microsoft, Google, or similar is going down.

On the other hand, any steady-state, on-premises service that is happily functioning as designed and only occasionally requires a small capital refresh is going to be happy to stay the course. Making the correct decision requires that you take a close look at your organization’s goals and your current situation. The good news is that there are some smart people that will happily sit down with you, go over your media supply chain, and see if and where the cloud would benefit your business. It’s one of my favorite things to do. If this sounds like it would be valuable for you, submit a request for us to contact you at go2sm.com/contact.

About Telestream

Telestream® specializes in products that make it possible to get video content to any audience regardless of how it is created, distributed, or viewed. Throughout the entire digital media lifecycle, from capture to viewing, for consumers through high-end professionals, Telestream products range from desktop components and cross-platform applications to fully-automated, enterprise-class digital media transcoding and workflow systems. Telestream enables users in a broad range of business environments to leverage the value of their video content. Telestream customers include the world’s leading media and entertainment companies: content owners, creators, and distributors. In addition, a growing number of companies supplying and servicing much larger markets such as ad agencies, corporations, healthcare providers, government and educational facilities, as well as video prosumers and consumers, are turning to Telestream to simplify the access, creation, and exchange of digital media. Founded in 1998, Telestream corporate headquarters are located in Nevada City. The company is privately held.

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