Demystifying the Cloud for Post-Production

Published on in Advice / Tips & Tricks

One of the biggest challenges facing post houses today is unrelenting pressure: pressure to create more and better content, utilize fewer resources to do it, and get it completed faster than ever before. This challenge comes at a time when the fundamental technical underpinning of the industry is changing rapidly, which adds a significant layer of complication.

The IT world is the future. Because of this, many post houses have already started the process of transitioning away from traditional hardware in favor of file-based, software-defined networks.

New opportunities also mean new ways of working, therefore the traditional, silo approach to system design is becoming less relevant. The industry is picking up the pace. Today, the assumption is that anyone in a post-production environment who needs access to content should have it as soon as possible, which also translates to "immediately."

This is one of the benefits of moving from traditional hardware to software-defined networking. Many processes can run on common hardware — IT servers — that changes tasks depending on prearranged priorities and management software. So a set of processor cores could be used for editing, then grading, followed by transcoding.

This is virtualization: a set of processing resources in the machine room that can run virtual machines as post houses need them. It’s highly efficient and delivers great flexibility. For example, if there’s a major peak in mastering, you can designate a lot of resources to it to deliver the performance needed.

However, there’s still only a fixed maximum number of processor cores in the machine room, so if lots of operations reach a peak, you remain limited by the available hardware.

The IT industry addressed this issue a decade ago by extending the idea of virtualization into the cloud. The cloud gives you, in effect, an infinite number of processor cores, along with an infinite amount of storage. If you experience multiple peaks in demand, your cloud service provider simply allocates more processors to you. When your operation is quiet, processors you were previously using can be allocated to other, completely unrelated businesses.

The benefit is that customers pay for processing time and storage space as needed. This eliminates the need to invest in capital expenditure on hardware as a safety precaution. The business model moves to operational expenditure as resources are rented by the moment.

This model has been hugely successful in the IT industry, but has yet to catch on in the media industry. Aside from the issue of moving large content files to and from the cloud — which is being solved by high-speed file transfer technologies — we frequently hear five common reasons that are hindering post houses’ migration to the cloud:

• It’s not secure
• It’s not reliable
• It’s not based on mature, trusted and proven technology
• You’re handing over control of assets
• It’s hard to administer rights management

The only fact is that these are all myths. The reason for these concerns is largely through a misunderstanding of the cloud's nature. Cloud service providers offer processing power and storage space — nothing else. You choose the applications that use this power and space. 

Far from having to worry about the technology being immature or unproven, post houses can use familiar applications that deliver the same standards of security, reliability and performance to which they’re accustomed. User privileges, secure partitions, and restricted viewing lists can all be set in the cloud, just as they would in an on-premise system.

In addition, cloud providers maintain the highest standards of security and reliability. Dedicated solely to operating their infrastructure, their security and uptime are far greater than any post house could achieve on their own.

But for those not yet convinced about the security and reliability of the cloud, a hybrid cloud architecture offers the best of both worlds. Post houses can choose what they move to the cloud based on risk, keeping high-risk content and processes on premise.

Just because it works, though, isn’t reason enough to move to the cloud. What are the key advantages for post houses?

The first and most obvious advantage is the ability to scale operations, virtually instantly, with no capital investment. When a new project comes along, post houses can simply spool up the extra resources, and when the project goes away, cloud usage can be scaled back and costs reduced. 

At a broader level, any operation gains flexibility by being able to coordinate people and resources wherever they’re available, not simply wherever the content happens to be. Location productions can upload content to the cloud from site. This is in addition with rough cuts that can now be finished back at the facility, or any other location. Just as consumers are no longer constrained in how and where they watch content, the cloud has liberated post-production professionals from the walls of their physical facility. 

By enabling remote collaboration, the cloud can actually decrease the complexity of production. The move to an OPEX model will prove attractive to many companies, particularly when it allows services to be set up quickly and taken down when no longer needed. All these benefits of the cloud are available to post-production houses today.

Contributed by: Dave Colantuoni, senior director, product management, Avid

As senior director of product management at Avid, David is responsible for product vision, strategy and business management for Avid's MediaCentral Platform including Media Composer, Media Composer | and ISIS shared storage. Before joining Avid in 2008, David was director of product development at Boris FX and Media 100.  He has a B.S. degree in Mass Communications from Emerson College.
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