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Answering questions about ‘the cloud’

By Randi Altman

The cloud is everywhere. Workflows, as well as companies making tools for those workflows, are popping up all over, but still some post pros are dubious. What exactly is the cloud? How will it help beyond regular workflows? How does it keep my assets secure? Those are just some questions being thrown around by those who have yet to make the transition.

We thought reaching out to a company that capitalized on the cloud early and from a post production perspective might be a good way to get some of these questions answered.

David Peto owned London-based post house Unit Post Production until 2009 when he started Aframe, a cloud platform that enables teams and organizations to collaborate, organize and move media. He designed the product from a user’s perspective. Let’s find out more about the cloud and its benefits for post pros…

David Peto

David Peto

Some people don’t have a clear understanding of the cloud. Can you help them out?
In its simplest definition, the cloud is a combination of software and services that run on Internet-accessible servers rather than on local computers.

Can you describe how your company uses the cloud?
Aframe was built as a cloud platform from the very beginning. We recognized that people were shipping hard drives all around the world, making unnecessary copies and versions of their media, losing comments and other metadata, and generally spending too much time just waiting to work with media. Using the cloud gives organizations a central repository — a one-to-many point of distribution — that enables more people to access media and do their work regardless of where they may be located and what time of day it is.

There are private and public clouds. Can you describe the differences? What are the benefits of each?
Public clouds are generally owned and operated by a third party such as Amazon’s Web Services, Rackspace or Microsoft Azure. They are provisioned for use by many different types of users — banks, pharmaceutical companies or content distribution networks featuring the latest grumpy cat video!

Private clouds are owned by one company for the specific use of its employees and partners, and generally have very high security standards and limited accessibility.

Which does Aframe use, and why?
Aframe sits somewhere in between being a public and private cloud, which we think offers benefits from both types. What we offer is sometimes referred to as a Vendor Cloud. Like a public cloud offering, Aframe is globally available and accessible to all, but has been purpose-built for a specific task: handling large and complex media files.

Like private clouds, we offer very tight security, greater flexibility and features tailored to users. We also own and operate all of the equipment in the datacenters and do not outsource any portion of our infrastructure to third parties.

For content creators and owners dealing with large, often complex, high-resolution media files, dedicated processes and services are required to enable post workflows. Far beyond simply storing content is the need to automatically transcode to different formats and extract and add descriptive metadata, while also providing a method to review and approve assets for all stakeholders on any device.

How do you educate people who have concerns about data security?
The best way is to explain the different security areas that must be considered. First there is file transfer security where anytime your media is moving to or from the cloud, it should be encrypted during transit. Media in transit is encrypted with an extended validation 256-bit SSL encryption at all times. This means that our corporate identity and place of business has been verified by SSL certification.

Application Security is where we use 256-bit SSL encryption at all times in the browser. Like banking online, your browser will display a green box that shows a verified connection when you are logged in. For server security inside our datacenters, access is protected by powerful 2048-bit RSA encryption keys. This can only be accessed by senior members of the Aframe team.

For physical security and backups of the data itself, we firmly believe that it is not safe unless it is verified to be stored redundantly in at least two geographically separate locations. Our customers rest easy knowing that their files are backed up hundreds of miles apart at opposite ends of the country.

Why should a post organization consider a cloud-based solution? What are the advantages?
Most post houses, regardless of their size, are experiencing the headaches I’ve mentioned with regards to teams working in different locations, having to FedEx media and having silos of workflows where not everyone has access to the types of files they need. Only certain people need high-resolution files, others are happy to view proxies.

Being able to add timecode accurate notes and comments for the editor or producer is critical, but so are automatically transcoding, uploading and downloading files, as your workflow requires. All of these are necessary to get the maximum productivity to hit ever-shrinking deadlines and budgets. In the end, people should be concentrating on the creative aspects of their jobs, not the mundane moving of files to different departments and other stakeholders.

Can you give any examples of how post facilities are using Aframe?
There are many workflows being used by our post customers today. Some users upload dailies to the cloud so that stakeholders can view and log comments and even embed complete transcriptions. Others are using Aframe as a central repository where team members in offices across town or across countries can collaborate and get access to the latest footage. All metadata is indexed and preserved so that searching for just the right shot is effortless. Avid, Final Cut or Adobe editors benefit by seeing all comments and feedback when they transfer the metadata into the edit.

How is Aframe different from something like Amazon S3’s cloud offering?
That’s a great question. Amazon is a true cloud solution. It’s big, and in use by countless organizations every day. Unfortunately, that’s exactly where it can fall short for companies working with high-resolution files and broadcast masters. Amazon was built to serve many masters and as such, they have a different business model that can be quite costly for content creators.

Amazon charges for uploads and downloads, Aframe does not, which can make uploading a 500GB show master very expensive. With Amazon, it’s not as clear where your media is stored, and where the backup of that media is stored. Finally, Amazon is sharing their bandwidth across a huge cross-section of customers in a way that Aframe is not. It’s just not built for the media and entertainment industry.

A lot of people say the Internet is not fast enough to support upload/download of full-res video for any meaningful post workflows, how do you answer that?
That’s a completely legitimate question, because it is true that your experience in the cloud is only as good as your Internet connection. However, we have optimized file transfer protocols to be the fastest in the industry. Our transfer speeds are 15x faster than FTP, for example. There are many users working from home or from coffee shops that are quite successfully viewing media and making comments over 3G or 4G connections with as little as 5Mbps.

Obviously, you’ll want more than that if you are uploading dailies, but the good news is that Internet speeds are increasing exponentially every year and most post organizations have very capable connections in place today.

At NAB, Aframe showed a collaboration between Aframe and Adobe Anywhere. Can you talk about that?
Since the beginning of Aframe, I’ve dreamed of true, no-download cloud editing. I’ve seen a lot of people fail for various reasons. However, four years ago, Adobe showed me their Anywhere product which allowed full resolution material to be streamed down a standard Internet connection allowing you to edit in Adobe Premiere Pro on your laptop just as if you were back at the facility. I was blown away at the possibility, because I could imagine hosting Anywhere in Aframe’s cloud platform,  allowing full broadcast quality, no-download edit in the cloud using Adobe Premiere on your laptop.

That’s exactly what we showed at this year’s NAB. It’s pretty amazing to see someone upload material into the cloud and never download it again, through the entire post process, until someone actually sees it.

This is significant for our industry because it means that you could now be editing from the office, home, the beach, the local café… anywhere really. It brings editing into the modern world and unchains the editor from all the storage and big iron workstations when you need to be someplace else!

Main image: Stock Photo

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