The cloud is a particularly hot technology, gaining immense impetus in the Indian M&E domain
By Anisha Gakhar
IP is the talk of the town – it allows computer processes to communicate directly to each other, and run each task down to a fine granularity, as a separate micro-service which can connect to any workflow at any time. These micro-services run on commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) hardware under well-proven virtualisation management techniques. They can run in the broadcast machine room, in a corporate data centre, or in the cloud. The cloud provides virtually instantaneous scalability, allowing systems designers to minimise the investment in hardware, and tie the costs of providing a service directly to the revenues accruing from it. There is no doubt about the fact that broadcast and media companies are increasingly looking to the cloud to provide some or all of their workflows.
Software-defined architectures – whether implemented on premises or in the cloud – might be the future for the media industry. The key challenge lies in making an orderly transition from existing systems to IP-connected, software-defined technology.
Anas Hantash, director, Middle East, North Africa and South Asia, Imagine Communications, said “The transition has been at the core of the Imagine Communications offering. Every broadcaster has an existing capital investment in traditional hardware, and it would be wrong to say that this must be thrown out in favour of new solutions. Our plan has always been to integrate legacy systems during their lifetime with new technology as it is added, in a way which is seamless in operation. At Imagine Communications, we have created a host level for microservices called Zenium.”
This approach ensures that operationally the architecture continues to work in the way that its operators expect, irrespective of the underlying technology being used. For instance, to route a signal from a source to a destination, the operator presses a couple of buttons on a router control panel. “In a well-managed transition, the operator need not know if the source is SDI or IP, if the destination device is traditional hardware or software-defined technology, and how many routers and translators that signal has to go through. He or she simply selects source and destination and presses take,” added Hantash. Successful implementation of software-defined, cloud-hosted media infrastructures depends upon a strategically planned transition, along with tools that fit into both: legacy and new environments.
COSTS AND EXECUTION
A pivotal driver for the change is the move towards commercial off-the-shelf computer hardware. This dramatically reduces the cost of the equipment, and perhaps focuses the investment on functionality: what you are paying for is the application-specific software.
“Virtualisation and the cloud transform the economic basis of media technology, away from capital expenditure – you buy a rack full of gear to do a specific task – and towards operational expenditure – you run processes only when they are needed, releasing the hardware for other tasks when you do not need them,” asserted Hantash. Cloud enables allocation of processor cycles and their cost to specific tasks, to each service one offers to viewers, making it easier to determine profitability. It shifts the costs to OpEx from CapEx, and provides a swift implementation path, which in turn enables early enabling of services to the market, bettering competitive edge.
“With regard to execution, most broadcasters will have some legacy investment which they will need to maintain alongside software-defined services until its end of life. Managing the transition, and ensuring that legacy and new technology work seamlessly alongside each other, is a critical part of planning for success,” explained Hantash.
THE CLOUD EXPERIENCE
The essence of a virtualised micro-services architecture is agility, according to Hantash. Instances of specific functionality can be spun up when needed, and consequently released when finished. It means practically any tool can be created in just a few moments. In production, that might mean a need for more logging and editing workstations. “During the IPL season, a production company might need twenty or more logging stations, but not need them for the other 45 weeks of the year. A major drama production might need to exchange content between editors in a post house and the director and producer on location. One can set up viewing and commenting functionality on set with precisely the tools you need,” explained Hantash.
This sort of pop-up functionality can be extended to whole pop-up channels if required. Major sporting, cultural and religious events can have their own multi-channel coverage using virtualised production, asset management and playout running on cloud hardware.For the consumer, this translates into more specific content. New services, like delivery to mobiles or OTT channels, can be added in an equally swift manner, making the broadcaster attract viewership, and in turn boosting revenues.
Globally, broadcasters and media companies are moving rapidly towards cloud solutions. The 2018 broadcast technology market study by IABM and Devoncroft Partners, found that 85% of broadcasters foresee that they will be using the cloud in the next two to three years, and 28% are already using it.
In India, Imagine Communications implemented a compact, cloud-native disaster recovery solution for ZEE Entertainment Enterprises Ltd (ZEEL), in Mumbai. “This is a software-defined, IP-connected, fully virtualised business continuity solution running on a network of Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) servers, managed by the Zenium virtualisation network. It provides backup playout for 15 ZEE channels. It happens to be housed in a remote location in Mumbai, but it could as easily provide fully mirrored coverage in the public cloud,” affirmed Raj Yadav, regional sales head, South Asia, Imagine Communications.
Broadcasters and production companies are finding reassurance in the many proof-of-concept projects which have shown that cloud implementations can provide the performance and resilience required for mission critical applications. “The security concerns which were raised around storing intellectual property in the cloud have also been eased: AWS has a service which is secure enough for the CIA!” exclaimed Hantash.
For its flexibility, agility and ability to manage costs on an OpEx basis, the cloud is all set to pave the way for a large part of the broadcast production and delivery infrastructure. “As we saw with IP connectivity, given a standards-based approach and a way of managing the transition, the cloud will become a primary platform very soon,” concluded Hantash.