By Alex Grossman
The cloud is everywhere, and media facilities are constantly being inundated with messages about the benefits the cloud offers in every area, from production to delivery. While it is easy to locate information on how the cloud can be used for ingest, storage, post operations, transcoding, rendering, archive and, of course, delivery, many media facilities still have questions about the public, private and hybrid clouds, and how each of these cloud models can relate to their business. The following is a brief guide intended to answer these questions.
Public cloud is the cloud as most people see it: a set of services hosted outside a facility and accessed through the Web, either securely through a gateway appliance or simply through a browser. The public nature of this cloud model does not mean that content from one person or one company can be accessed by another. It simply means that the same physical hardware is being shared by multiple users — a “multi-tenant” arrangement in which data from different users resides on one system. Through this approach, users get to take advantage of the scale of many servers and storage systems at the cloud facility. This scale can also improve accessibility and performance, which can be key considerations for many content creators.
Public cloud is the most versatile type of cloud, and it can offer a range of services, from hosted applications to “compute” capabilities. For media companies these services range from transcoding, rendering and animation to business services such as project tracking, billing and, in some cases, file sharing. (Box and Dropbox are good examples of file sharing enabled by public cloud.) Services may be generic or branded, and they are most often offered by a software vendor using a public cloud, or by the public cloud vendor itself. Public clouds are popular for content and asset storage, both for short-term transcode to delivery or project-in-process storage and for longer-term “third copy” off-site archive.
Public clouds can be very appealing due to the OPEX or pay-as-you-go nature of billing and the lack of any capital expense with ongoing hardware purchase and refresh, but the downside of this is that public clouds remove control over workflow. While most public cloud vendors today are large and financially stable, it remains important to choose carefully.
Moreover, taking advantage of public cloud is rarely easy. This path involves dealing with new vendors, and possibly with unfamiliar applications and hardware gateways, and there can be unexpected charges for simple operations such as retrieving data. Although content security concerns are mostly overblown, they nevertheless are a source of apprehension for many potential public cloud users. These uncertainties have a lot of media companies looking to private cloud.
Private cloud can most simply be defined for media companies as a walled machine room environment with workflow compute and storage capabilities offering outside connectivity, while at the same time preventing outside intrusions into the facility.
A well-designed private cloud will allow facilities to extend most of their production and archive capabilities to remote users. The main difference between this approach and most current (non-cloud) storage and compute operations in a facility today is simply that a private cloud can isolate the current workflow from the outside world while extending a portion to remote users based on preferences and polices.
The idea of remote access is not confined to private cloud. It is possible to provide facility access to external users through normal networking protocols, but the private cloud takes this a step further through easier access for authorized users and greater security for others. The media facility remains in complete control of its content and assets. Furthermore, it can host its applications, and its content remains in its on-site storage, safe and secure, with no retrieval fees.
A facility that embraces private cloud cannot take advantage of the scale or pay-as-you-go benefits of public cloud. Thus, in order to provide greater accessibility and flexibility, some media companies have adopted a private cloud model as an extension of their online operations. Private cloud can effectively replace much of the current hardware used today in post and archive operations, so it is a more cost-effective solution for many considering cloud benefits.
Hybrid cloud is an interesting proposition. In the enterprise IT world, hybrid cloud implementations are seen as way to bridge private and public and realize the best of both worlds — lower OPEX for certain functions such as SAAS (software as a service) and the security of keeping valuable data back in their data centers.
For media professionals, hybrid cloud may have even greater benefits. Considering the changing delivery requirements facing the industry and the sheer volume of content being created and reviewed — and, of course, keeping in mind the value of re-monetization — hybrid cloud has exciting potential. Well-designed hybrid cloud can provide the benefits of public and private cloud while taking advantage of the cost savings and reduced complexity that come with maintaining on-premise end-to end-hardware. By sharing the load between the hardware at a facility and the massive scale of a public cloud, a media company can extend its workflow easily while controlling every stage — even on a project-by-project basis.
Choosing between public, private and hybrid cloud can be a daunting task. It is a decision that must start with understanding the unique needs and goals of the media company and its operations, and then involve careful mapping of the various vendors’ offering solutions — with cost considerations always in mind. In the end, a facility may choose neither public cloud, private cloud nor hybrid cloud, but then it may miss out on the many and growing benefits enabled by the cloud.
Alex Grossman, a cloud workflow expert, is VP, Media and Entertainment at Quantum. You can follow him on Twitter @activeguy.