By Peter Collins
Over the past few years, we have seen a huge audience uptake of UHD and 4K technologies. The increase in resolution offering more detailed imagery, and the adoption of HDR bringing bigger and brighter colors.
UHD technologies are a significant selling point, and are quickly becoming the “new normal ” for many commissioners. VOD providers, in particular, are behind the wheel and pushing things forward rapidly — it’s not just a creative decision, but one that is now required for delivery. Essentially, something the cinematographers used to have to fight for is now being man-dated by those commissioning the content.
This is all very exciting, but what does this mean for productions in general? There are wide-ranging implications and questions of logistics — timescales for data transfer and processing increase, post production infrastructure and workflows must be adapted, and archiving and retrieval times are extended (to say the least).
With these UHD and 4K productions having storage requirements into the hundreds of terabytes between various stages of the supply chain, the need to store the data in an accessible, secure and affordable manner is critical.
The majority of production, VFX, post and mastering facilities are currently still working the traditional way — from physically on-premise storage (on-prem for those who like to shave off a couple of syllables) such as NAS, local storage, LTO and SANs to distributed data stores spread across different buildings of a facility.
With UHD and 4K projects sometime generating north of half a petabyte of data (which needs to stick around until delivery is complete and beyond), it’s not a simple problem to ensure that large chunks of that data are available and accessible for every-one involved in the project who needs it — at least not in the most time effective way. And as sure as death and taxes, no matter how much storage you have to hand, you will miraculously start running out far sooner than you anticipated. Since this affects all stages of the supply chain, doesn’t it make sense to have some central store of data for everyone to access what they need, when they need it?
Across all areas of the industry, we are seeing the adoption of cloud storage over the traditional on-premises solution and are starting to see opportunities where a cloud-based solution might save money, time or, even better, both! There are numerous cloud “types” out there and below is my overview of the four most widely adopted.
Public: The public cloud can offer large amounts of storage for as long as it’s required (i.e., paid for) and stop charging you for it when it’s not (which is a nice change from having to buy storage with a lengthy support contract). The physical infrastructure of a public cloud is shared with other customers of the cloud provider (this is known as multi-tenancy), however all the resources allocated to you are invisible to other customers. Your data may be spread across several different areas of the data center (or beyond) depending on where the provider’s infrastructure has the most availability.
Private: Private clouds (from a storage perspective) are useful for those needing finer grained control over their data. Private clouds are those in which companies build their own infrastructure to support the services they want to offer and have complete control over where their data physically resides.
The downside to private clouds is cost, as the business is effectively paying to be their own cloud provider and maintaining the systems over their lifetime. With this in mind, many of the bigger public cloud providers offer “virtual private clouds,” in which a chunk of their resources are dedicated solely to a single customer (single-tenancy). This of course comes at a slightly higher cost than the plain public cloud offering, but does allow more finely grained control for those consumers who need it.
Hybrid: Hybrid clouds are, as the name suggests, a mixture of the two cloud approaches outlined above (public and private). This offers the best of both worlds and can be a useful approach when flexibility is required, or when certain data accessing processes are not practical to run from an off-site public cloud (at time of writing, a 50fps realtime stream of uncompressed 4K raw to a grade, for example, is unlikely to happen from a vanilla public cloud agreement without some additional bandwidth discussions — and costs).
Having the flexibility to migrate data between a virtual private cloud and a local private cloud while continuing to work, could help minimize the impact on existing infrastructure locally, and could also enable workflows and interchange between local and “cloud-native” applications. Certain processes that take up a lot of resources locally could be re-located to a virtual private cloud for a lower cost, freeing up local resources for more time-sensitive applications.
Community: Here’s where the cloud could shine as a prospect from a production standpoint. This cloud model is based on businesses and those with a stake in the process pooling their resources and collaborating, coming up with a system and overarching set of processes that they all operate under — in effect offering a completely customized set of cloud services for any given project.
From a storage perspective, this could mean a production company running a virtual private cloud with the cost being distributed across all stakeholders accessing that data. Original camera files, for example, may be transferred to this virtual private cloud during the shoot, with post, VFX, marketing and reversioning houses downloading and uploading their work in turn. As all data transfers are monitored and tracked, the billing from a production standpoint on a per-vendor (or departmental) basis becomes much easier — everyone just pays for what they use.
MovieLabs’ “Envisioning Production in 2030” white paper, goes deeper into production related applications of cloud technologies over the coming decade (among other sharp in-sights), and is well worth absorbing over a cup of coffee or two.
As production technologies progress, we are only ever going to generate more and more data. For storage professionals, those managing systems, or project managers looking to improve timeframes and reduce costs, solutions may not only be financial or center around logistics. They may also factor in how easily it facilitates collaboration, interchange and fostering closer working relationships. To that question, the cloud may well be a clear best fit.
Studio Images: Goldcrest Post Production / Neil Harrison