In my previous blog entry, I looked at the potential that ‘the cloud’ offers broadcasting and set out some definitions to guide further discussion.

This post focuses on media services, a critical component of any broadcast operation and a workload that is increasingly suited to deployment in the cloud.

Media services include the many tasks involved in receiving media assets, verifying their source, structure and quality, transforming them in some way and delivering them to a destination such as a publishing endpoint, storage location or other downstream entity.

This process has traditionally been tied to physical assets, such as tapes, disks or lines, and involved significant human effort in doing so. As the industry migrates from atoms to bits (tapes to files), the potential for much greater levels of machine driven automation emerges. This is where the cloud becomes interesting.

A file based media services workflow will typically involve receiving (very) large files from a variety of sources, often at unpredictable times and in uneven volumes. The operations to be performed on those files also vary, from customer to customer and file to file. This is a work pattern that is particularly suited to a highly scalable, highly flexible, programmable infrastructure – all characteristics of cloud based environments.

So far, so good. But these files are not just large, they are of high value and they contain professional video and audio encoded and packaged in a variety of specialized formats. They may also need to be processed at different levels of urgency: some require fast turnaround while others require the lowest available price.

A media services cloud must address all of these needs and more, as summarized below:

Deterministic – Media content may be destined for live transmission against a fixed schedule. The media cloud must be able to provide SLAs to ensure that some content is processed within a very specific time window. Best effort performance may simply not be acceptable.

Secure – Media assets are often of high commercial value and the media cloud must adequately protect against unauthorized access and distribution. This requires strong access controls, auditability and strong encryption and key management. Customers of such services typically have a heightened sense of risk when content is stored on a shared infrastructure environment and addressing this requires a very robust multi-layered security model. Approaches such as asset specific encryption keys ensure that where an access control fails, the content is still inaccessible or where a key is compromised, the ‘blast radius’ is limited to a single file.

Professional Video Support – The functionality required to support broadcast video material is significantly more sophisticated than that required for web delivered video. The codecs and containers are different, and more variable. The tasks to be performed such as metadata validation, flash pattern analysis, standards conversion, loudness measurement/correction, complex transcoding and so on require a wide range of specialized applications and services to be integrated into the cloud.

Variable Pricing – Media asset processing tasks will have different temporal, qualitative and commercial constraints. Simple universal service levels are not going to meet the varying demands of the broadcast industry so the cloud provider should offer differentiated services with variable pricing. For example, if I require an asset to be processed very quickly I should expect to pay more for that utility than if I am prepared to wait for a longer period of time for a price metric to be reached. This approach allows service consumers to have the most appropriate balance of cost, quality and performance at an individual asset level.

Finally, the effort required to integrate with and operate a cloud based media infrastructure must be minimal. Provisioning, integrating and driving traditional media workflows has too often been a time consuming and expensive exercise. As we embrace the cloud, we must ensure that we’re not simply swapping infrastructure providers but building modern, intuitive and flexible cloud nativeapplication architectures and APIs to service our needs.

The cloud is ready for media processing; it just needs to be used correctly.

The final part of this blog will examine the suitability of the cloud to service the front end of the broadcast operation, linear and non-linear publishing. Check back in next week for the final installment.

Steve Plunkett, Chief Technology Officer.