A look at the pros and cons of cloud services for the media industry

The broadcast industry loves a good buzz-word, and when we’re not talking about 4K and Ultra-HD, we’re talking about the cloud. Cloud storage and services are certainly on the verge of becoming major factors in broadcast and production workflows for storing and accessing content. This article aims to examine what a cloud is or should be, the pro’s and cons of trusting your precious assets to the cloud, and whether it can provide a cost effective way to manage and distribute your digital assets. These days it seems that everything is in the cloud, and this is why it is worth understanding what this actually means. The term ‘cloud’ derives from the use of a cloud-shaped symbol used to encompass the network infrastructure representing the internet. In the simplest of terms cloud computing enables users to store and retrieve data, and access programs via the internet instead of your PC’s hard drive or a local network. There is a growing number of business applications that can be accessed in the cloud - services which traditionally would be hosted on local networks or a user’s PC. Office software, accounting, customer relationship management, content management and many more besides are all now available as cloud-based services. Generally speaking a cloud-based application should be capable of rapidly scaling up and down. Physical or virtual resources can be assigned according to demand and in doing so offer tremendous cost efficiencies; the customer pays only for what is used based on any number of metrics such as the number of users, the amount of storage, the amount of bandwidth used and so on. In fact, as quick as it is to scale up a service, it’s as easy to withdraw if it doesn’t work out. Generally speaking a cloud service requires zero capital expenditure to set up and offers a zero cost of exit. Cloud resources can be purchased and provisioned in any quantity and in a short timeframe. What’s more the applications and data can be accessed anywhere in the world where you have a data connection, enabling sharing and collaboration across continents. Loss of data on machines and lost laptops are also a thing of the past. Another huge benefit is the reduced headache of hosting complex network infrastructure and software which would normally have been managed by your IT department – if you’re lucky enough to have one in the first place. Not only do cloud service providers carefully maintain their cloud infrastructure, they frequently provide automatic updates to their software. While anyone with valuable data to protect may worry about how safe the cloud is in terms of data integrity and security, it’s fair to say that the larger cloud providers have a tremendous record – their security and data management go way beyond anything a small or even a multinational company could come up with. It is widely accepted that cloud technology has become a trusted platform for business and has entered a period of mainstream adoption and steady growth. In media and broadcast in particular, a number of online services have emerged which traditionally would have been very much reliant on a local infrastructure, and requiring large amounts of processing power, storage and data throughput. There are now cloud-based apps offering collaborative production workflows, transcoding, frame accurate video editing and much more [see sidebar]. As a company (Imagen) we’re focused on providing Enterprise Video Platform software via our flagship product - Imagen. Not that long ago, a fully featured online archive would be the stuff of dreams for smaller media companies, requiring provisioning of servers, storage, web hosting, project management and a three month deployment plan. With the advent of cloud computing we can now deploy a full system, distributed across multiple machines, ready to start managing millions of videos, images and documents; publishing content to the world in less than 10 minutes – all for a fraction of the cost of a traditional MAM set-up.

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