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Video Demand and Delivery: Transitioning to Cloud-Based Production

To stay competitive, producers have to find ways to provide more and better content, and do so faster and more efficiently than ever before.

To support consumers’ demand that video be available anywhere, anytime and on any device, producers are challenged to deliver video content in an increasing number of formats, resolutions and bit rates. To stay competitive, producers have to find ways to provide more and better content, and do so faster and more efficiently than ever before. Achieving these often antagonistic goals requires the development of new production and distribution workflows.

Supporting these massive volumes of media content is putting enormous strain on media companies’ servers, storage and network resources. To cope, they’re increasingly looking to move their workflows into the cloud, which can deliver operational and financial benefits while helping companies scale out their video production.

The cloud promises virtually unlimited access to compute resources without the large upfront investments required for traditional data centers. From a business perspective, the cloud offers three key advantages: it removes the limitations imposed by computing and storage infrastructure within fixed-footprint data centers; it eliminates the need to over-invest in infrastructure to meet peak demand, which then sits idle during normal operation; and it improves cash flow by shifting investments from a capex to an opex model with pay-as-you-go options that charge only for resources that are actually used.

Digital sports content company PERFORM meets the growing demand for sports video by creating, transcoding and distributing sports news media clips and full match content to broadcasters and digital media services with technology from Aspera. Aspera Orchestrator has helped PERFORM improve its workflow management, increase efficiency and enhance its file delivery capacity.

The scalability of the cloud is particularly important for live video use cases such as live sports broadcasts. The nature of these events brings a huge spike in viewer demand during the event, which quickly disappears once the game, match or tournament is over. Cloud-based workflows enable companies to quickly scale production resources up or down as needed to match this variable demand. This flexibility is what makes the cloud such a critical component of an architecture designed to service the ever-changing needs of live video production.

While the cloud offers many benefits, migration speed is not one of them. Moving large video files to the cloud can introduce unacceptable delays for fast-turnaround video workflows. Legacy transfer technologies such as FTP are slow and unreliable, while the process of shipping physical disks is time-consuming, introduces additional delays, and exposes valuable video to unnecessary security risks.

Typical file transfer acceleration “gateways” upload video to cloud object storage in two phases. First, video is uploaded over the wide area network (WAN) and written to the local virtual machine-attached block storage. In the second phase, video is copied from local storage to the target object storage. The result is a significant delay between when transfer begins and when the video is available for use, as well as increases in local storage costs and compute time and costs.

To become a practical option for video workflows, cloud services need a secure, high-speed data transfer solution to move large video files and large volumes of video to, from and between cloud and on-premises environments. That mechanism must address two main bottlenecks: the degradation in WAN transfer speeds that occurs over distance using traditional transfer protocols, and the “last foot” bottleneck inside the cloud data center caused by the HTTP interfaces to the underlying object-based cloud storage.

Fortunately, recent advances in high-speed transfer software services running in the cloud enable high-speed upload and download of large volumes of video and large video files directly to, from and across cloud object storage systems. Security can be assured through secure access keys, and encryption in transit and at rest.

Collaborating in the Cloud
With media companies needing to create more high-resolution video content in increasingly shorter turnaround times, secure intercompany collaboration is more critical than ever. Media organizations need to be able to quickly, easily and securely exchange and deliver video of any size, over any distance, and between end users across different organizations, combining multiple cloud platforms as well as on-premises storage.

New cloud services can transform cloud-based video sharing and collaboration by eliminating the complexities of sharing large video files with fast and secure transfer of the largest video formats, digital cinema packages, and associated metadata.

Managing Complex Workflows
Creating, capturing, processing and distributing video globally results in complex cloud workflows that require automation, visibility and management. Using an advanced workflow automation system to streamline complex workflows eliminates human error, reduces cycles and guarantees video delivery. A complete workflow automation tool provides a seamless end-to-end solution with third-party integrations that can scale to handle high-speed transfers of large file volumes between any location, whether on-premises or in the cloud.

The system can automatically invoke the right application—whether transcoding, watermarking or file format validation—and automatically manage the processing as well as handle conditional decision making. It can intelligently move workloads between cloud platforms and on-premises environments, ensuring companies can meet processing demands even when they spike to their highest levels.

Media companies can also use workflow automation to prioritize workflows based on user-defined characteristics, pushing the most important projects to the front of the completion queue so that high-priority work is completed first.

A workflow automation system can also monitor the lifecycle of video at any time or point in the workflow, as well as the system health and status of every job. It can automatically notify the team about processing errors and provide a recommended resolution. And if a supporting application becomes unavailable, it can quarantine the application, notify the team, and re-route the workflow to alternative systems.

As file sizes, formats and the sheer volume of video continue to increase, media companies need to deliver video assets faster and more efficiently than ever before. The cloud offers an attraction option to keep pace with demands. Intelligent workflow automation solutions and advances in high-speed file transfer and collaboration services enable media companies to take advantage of the cloud to satisfy viewer demands and efficiently handle the dramatic increase in video volumes, file sizes and formats.

PERFORM: Automating workflows with Aspera Orchestrator
Digital sports content company PERFORM meets the growing demand for sports video by creating, transcoding and distributing sports news media clips and full match content to broadcasters and digital media services. It manages more than 20,000 diverse media files every day for its customers worldwide in a variety of resolutions, bitrates and formats for multiple devices.

Large and unpredictable spikes in data volume and workloads were putting a strain on compute resources during critical times. And managing complex workflows—which involve a range of processes from watermarking to file format validation—with a collection of disparate tools across third-party applications was proving highly challenging.

To overcome these critical challenges, PERFORM created a scalable automated workflow. By automating one of the largest transcoding systems in the industry, it can seamlessly control the flow of data through its content management system (CMS) in a single view and scale out to the cloud when workloads spike, ensuring on-demand delivery of sports video under even the most demanding conditions.

PERFORM chose Aspera Orchestrator to improve its workflow management, increase efficiency and enhance its file delivery capacity with a single, platform-agnostic interface, enabling it to serve sports media content to its customers with even greater speed and efficiency. Aspera Orchestrator automates the process with little human intervention by directing the right video to the correct transcoding workflow, ensuring the platform processes and delivers it where it’s needed and satisfying the increasing customer appetite for online sports video.

“With Aspera Orchestrator, PERFORM now has an automation and management layer that controls all aspects of the workflow and operates seamlessly with our existing content management system,” said Ed Silvester, head of video platform at PERFORM. “This allows us to ingest and transcode more than 20,000 media files every day, with more than 1,000 different transcode combinations, making a significant improvement to the orchestration of our business model. It means our customers receive delivery of their files intact and on time, enabling our business to operate more cost efficiently and with far greater flexibility than before.”

Richard Heitmann is vice president marketing at Aspera, an IBM company.