M&E Journal: Accelerating and Automating Workflows for Modern Media Production

By Richard Heitmann, VP of Marketing, Aspera, an IBM company –

Today’s media companies need to create more video content than ever — and in a growing number of formats, resolutions, and bit rates — to satisfy viewer demand for content anywhere, anytime, on any device. And it needs to be done faster and more efficiently than ever before, putting enormous strain on servers, storage, and network resources. Media companies need new kinds of content production and distribution workflows, and they’re increasingly looking to the cloud’s many operational and financial benefits.

The cloud promises virtually unlimited access to compute resources without the large upfront investments required for traditional data centers.

From a business perspective, it offers three key advantages: it removes the limitations of computing and storage infrastructure within fixed footprint data centers; it eliminates the need to over-invest in infrastructure to meet peak demands, which then sits idle during normal operations; and it improves cash flow by shifting investments from a Capex to an Opex model with pay-as-you-go options that charge only for resources actually used.

The cloud’s scalability makes it particularly valuable for live video applications, such as live sports broadcasts, which create huge spikes in viewer demand during an event, only to disappear as soon as play is over. Cloud workflows offer the flexibility to quickly scale production resources up or down as needed to match this variable demand.

Accelerating cloud workflows

While the cloud offers numerous benefits, moving large video files to the cloud can be problematic for fast-turnaround video workflows. Legacy transfer technologies like FTP are slow and unreliable, while shipping physical disks introduces additional delays and exposes valuable content to unnecessary security risks.

Typical file transfer acceleration “gateways” upload video to cloud object storage in two phases. First, video is uploaded over the wide area network and written to the local virtual machine-attached block storage. Then it’s copied from the local storage to the target object storage. This causes a significant delay from when the transfer starts to when the video is available for use, as well as increased local storage costs, and compute time and costs.

To be practical for video applications, cloud workflows need a secure, high-speed file transfer solution to move large video files and large volumes of video to, from and between cloud and on-premises environments. That mechanism must address two main bottlenecks—the degradation in WAN transfer speeds that occurs over distance using traditional transfer protocols, and the “last-foot” bottleneck inside the cloud data center caused by the HTTP interfaces to the underlying object-based cloud storage.

In addition, content security must be assured through techniques like secure access keys, and encryption in transit and at rest.

The need to create more video content, and in shorter turnaround times, also means secure inter-company collaboration is more critical than ever. Media organizations need to quickly, easily and securely exchange and deliver video of any size, over any distance, and between end users across different organizations, combining multiple cloud platforms as well as on-premises storage. By deploying cloud services that eliminate the complexities of sharing large video files with fast and secure transfer, they can transform cloud-based video sharing and collaboration.

Managing complex workflows

Creating, capturing, processing and distributing video globally results in complex cloud workflows that require automation, visibility and management. Using advanced workflow automation to streamline complex workflows can eliminate human error, reduce cycles and guarantee video delivery. A complete workflow automation system provides a seamless end-to-end solution with third-party integrations.

It can scale to handle high-speed transfers of large file volumes between any locations, whether on-premises or in the cloud.

The system can automatically invoke the right application — whether transcoding, watermarking or file format validation — manage the processing, and handle conditional decision making. It can intelligently move workloads between cloud and on-premises environments to meet processing demands. And it can prioritize workflows based on user-defined characteristics, pushing the most important projects to the front of the queue.

A workflow automation system should also monitor the video’s lifecycle at any time or point in the workflow, with system health and every job’s status. It should automatically alert the team to processing errors and provide a recommended resolution. If a supporting application becomes unavailable, it should quarantine the application, notify the team, and re-route the workflow to alternative systems.

Automating workflows at PERFORM

Digital sports content company PERFORM is an excellent example of a media organization that’s using workflow automation to manage complex workflows. It meets the growing demand for sports video by creating, transcoding and distributing sports media clips and full match content to broadcasters and digital media services. It manages more than 20,000 diverse media files every day for customers worldwide, in various resolutions, bitrates and formats for multiple devices.

Large and unpredictable spikes in data volume and workloads were putting a strain on compute resources during critical times. And managing complex workflows — including processes like watermarking and file format validation — with disparate third-party tools was challenging.

To overcome these issues, PERFORM created a highly scalable and automated workflow, using Aspera Orchestrator to improve workflow management, increase efficiency and enhance file delivery capacity from a single, platform- agnostic interface. Aspera Orchestrator provides an automation and management layer that controls all workflow aspects and operates seamlessly with PERFORM’s content management system (CMS). It directs the right video to the correct transcoding workflow, ensuring the platform processes and delivers it where it’s needed.

By automating one of the largest transcoding systems in the industry, PERFORM can seamlessly control the data flow through its CMS from a single view, and scale out to the cloud when workloads spike, ensuring on-demand sports video delivery under the most demanding conditions. This enables the company to ingest and transcode more than 20,000 media files every day, with more than 1,000 different transcode combinations. With Aspera Orchestrator, PERFORM can serve sports media content to customers with even greater speed and efficiency, and the company is able to operate more cost efficiently and with far greater flexibility.

As video file sizes, formats and volumes continue to increase, media companies need to deliver video assets faster and more efficiently than ever before. The cloud offers an attractive option to keep pace with demands. Intelligent workflow automation solutions and advances in high-speed file transfer and collaboration services enable media companies to take advantage of the cloud to satisfy today’s viewing habits.


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