Thursday, November 6, 2014


It seems everywhere you look these days there is something about “the Cloud” in front of you.  Twitter, LinkedIn, the tech press, and seemingly every press release you read has the various players in the Media and Entertainment industry describing what they can do for you in the cloud.
The promise of the cloud is BIG.  At its most basic level, there is the opportunity for a company  to turn its fixed investments in CAPEX into variable (or “burstable”) spend when required as OPEX.  For smaller companies and companies without legacy infrastructure this is potentially the best way forward so that their costs are directly tied to their revenue stream whether those requirements are storage, transcoding or rendering for post production and visual effects work flows.  For larger and more established companies, it is the opportunity to exceed current infrastructure capacity to take on that surprise project.  It is also the opportunity to set an investment level threshold where companies  build to the “trough” rather than the “peak” for the inherent variability in the media industry business season.
But this isn’t a new promise in the IT world.  Back in the early 2000s, this promise was held out to the largest companies in the guise of “outsourcing”.  What’s changed now?  First, CEOs and CFOs in the M&E industry are well educated now about “cloud” and understand enough to know that their businesses should be at least experimenting with workflows in the cloud.  Additionally, the “burstable” nature of the cloud means that businesses can actually “test drive” new capabilities in their workflows without significant investment or risk to their business.  These two structural changes have resulted in a proliferation of growth in “back office” workflows across industries.  SaaS (which is the ultimate cloud approach where the application and infrastructure are “by the drink”) has been a driving force here, allowing companies to put their expense systems, HR systems, and even sales and CRM systems into the cloud (think with great success for the companies who are deploying them.
But putting production systems into the cloud has been elusive.  These applications are both complex and customized to the point where SaaS is not really an option.  Even when two companies are using the same rendering application for their workflows, they are often managing their compute and storage in entirely different ways.   So the industry has coined a new term to attempt to educate the CxO suite on how to approach this landscape – IaaS – or “Infrastructure as a Service.”  At its most basic level, when you retain control of the application but are leaning on the cloud for storage or compute resources, this IAAS term describes your approach to leveraging the cloud.  But while this approach has better economics and risk models than the “outsourced” approach in the industry from 10 years ago, it isn’t exploding at the rate you would expect with its promise of “on demand” and “less investment”.
So what is holding the M&E industry back from investing in the cloud for its primary workflows?
Two things: security and connectivity.
Security.  While every major cloud provider goes to some length to describe what kind of security protocols their customer’s  data lives in while on their servers, we still hear horror stories every day about large companies being hacked for their valuable resources (Target and Home Depot are the most recent infamous incidents).  In our specialized industry, all of us know that one single breach of pre-release materials can be the death of a company and no amount of promised encryption, even when from established and emerging cloud platforms, can alleviate those fears.  Further, if the project you are working on isn’t your IP, you are likely already bound by contract to use certain security measures that preclude using “public” cloud infrastructure for your workflows.  The ability to audit security processes and posture is important to trusting partners in the service chain and remains a requirement for the most important content workflows.
Connectivity.  The challenge of delivering the promise of “burstable”,
“on demand” storage and compute power to these resource intensive applications comes down to the internet’s age old axiom: sustainable bandwidth.  While there are plenty of companies that can drop a multi-gig connection to a cloud provider, there are few that have the expertise to connect your application into the cloud resources right to where they need to be and integrate with your existing network and workflow – taking account of aspects like low latency requirements.  Even then, just finding a “large pipe” for your data doesn’t complete the business model—if you cannot get your bandwidth to be as “burstable” as your storage and compute power, the investment model for cloud falls apart.
So at Sohonet, we believe the key to unlocking the M&E industry’s “cloud potential” is the ability to offer studios, post production houses and visual effects companies options for getting their applications connected to public and private cloud infrastructure in a manner that meets their low latency and security requirements while still meeting the “on demand” business model to support their ability to “burst” into the cloud for production.
We believe that the M&E industry will embrace a mix of three approaches to meet their production workflow and business model requirements.  Inherent to all three approaches is unlimited or inexpensive egress (essential for the unpredictable production process), improved security posture, and (most critically) access to 24/7 support resources that understand their unique workflow requirements.
  • Low-cost access to generic compute and storage resources (public cloud) coupled with sustained low-latency bandwidth that includes unlimited egress.
  • Access to application-specific low-latency and/or industry standard security approaches (private cloud) for storage and compute resources coupled with sustained low-latency bandwidth that includes unlimited egress.
  • High-speed, burstable connectivity to major cloud providers where the support for the application and security are already “in-house” and the only missing component is the “burstable” bandwidth directly into their resource center that provides the lowest possible latency and inexpensive egress while still improving the security posture.
We believe that access to cloud resources is critical to the industry’s progression along ever-increasing data storage and compute requirements as 4K workflows begin their progression to 8K and High Dynamic Range workflows and while 4K consumption becomes mainstream in consumer homes.  As the trusted communications partner for the M&E industry Sohonet is committed to providing the same Fast, Flexible and Phenomenal customer service that has built our brand and reputation over the past 15 years, and that delivering on the promise of “Connected Cloud Services” is critical to our customers’ future.
Chuck Parker- Executive Chairman, Sohonet