Cloud Adoption: a Media & Entertainment Perspective

In the Media & Entertainment (M&E) world, 2014 was the year that cloud conversations shifted from ‘if’ to ‘when and what’.  There are now active cloud deployments at most media companies, ranging from adoption of SaaS solutions to actually storing content in public cloud infrastructure.  Many of these are still small-scale projects, but there’s a lot of focus on expanding the pace and scope of cloud deployments. 

The M&E industry did not initially rush to adopt cloud technology, with the most obvious barrier being security concerns.  Valuable media content is the lifeblood of the M&E business, so there is a natural bias against letting it out of sight.  But that’s just part of the story – the other dimension is that the technology demands of the M&E business are unique and challenging.

To the outside world, it’s not always obvious just how big the data is in the M&E industry, how challenging ‘real time’ is when taken literally, or what it takes to deliver ‘five nines’ uptime from a playout facility.  Likewise, when the media business moves to the cloud, it’s going to have to do things that are technically very challenging.

So what has changed?  For one thing, increasing familiarity with cloud technology has allowed media professionals to see how well it can fit into their business.  The cloud’s elasticity aligns perfectly with the project-based nature of the business and the spiky compute demands of rendering.  M&E companies have implemented hierarchical storage models for a long time, so it makes sense to put one or more of those tiers in the cloud.  The notion of different classes of assets is well established, and organizations need to make different technology decisions for each class.  For example, it may not be appropriate to store full-res, pre-release theatrical content in the public cloud, but syndicated 70’s sitcoms might be fine.

The cloud ecosystem is also making rapid strides in moving the technology forward.  Performance continues to improve, new capabilities are continually brought to market, and there is a lot of innovation around specific issues such as security and latency.

Finally, I think it got to the point where cloud deniers sensed they were on the wrong side of history.  With the ubiquity of cloud technology and dramatic price cuts from the big suppliers, it’s no longer credible to categorically take an anti-cloud stance.

2015 Predictions

Looking out on the horizon, here are some trends I think will gain traction in the coming year.

Hybrid cloud architectures will dominate.

Across every industry, most people agree that next-generation IT systems will involve some combination of on-premises and cloud infrastructure.  I expect most media businesses to follow suit.  Rather than making a wholesale move to the cloud, they will incrementally adopt it in appropriate pockets.  Details of how data flows between platforms and how the control layer is unified remain to be seen, but the hybrid model is here to stay.

SaaS adoption will continue to accelerate.

This is another place where the forces of history come into play.  Both hardware and software purchases are clearly shifting from capex to opex in the world at large, and the M&E industry is also moving in this direction.  The key driver, however, is not just economics – there are very real operational benefits of SaaS software.  It’s easier and more cost effective to deploy and manage, easier to use, and automatic updates provide access to rapid innovation.  Once these benefits have been experienced, it’s hard to go back.  

Designed-for-the-cloud workflows will bring efficiencies.

Some of the most transformational cloud project don’t just move an on-premises workflow to the cloud, but rather re-design it to take advantage of the technology.  An example I’m seeing more and more is shifting from push to pull workflows.  Rather than pushing video on demand content through a transcode farm and delivering it to every distribution partner, for example, it can simply be made available in the cloud for partners to retrieve if they need it.  The global availability of the cloud makes this possible and yields material benefits.

Success Factors

On the basis of my touch points with the global media industry, here are a few tips.  These are some common threads I see in successful cloud strategies.

Stop analyzing and try it.

Technology decisions in M&E have historically involved long, resource-intensive evaluation and modeling processes.  This used to make sense: there was a lot at stake, a major capital investment was involved, and the technology was highly complex.  In the cloud era, however, much of this effort is unnecessary.  The investment is much lower for a subscription or consumption-based offering, and much of the deployment complexity falls on the technology supplier.  When I look at the M&E companies that are most successful at next-generation technology deployment, they have learned to jump in, deploy a small footprint, and let the technology speak for itself.

Take an incremental approach.

This comes naturally to the media industry, which is accustomed to adopting new technology incrementally. For example, there were first islands of digital, then islands of HD.  Cloud implementation works best the same way.  Start with a single workflow in a single geographic location, and then scale out in both dimensions.  Most technology suppliers are very accommodating of hybrid cloud architectures and fully support incremental adoption.  Cloud isn’t an all or nothing proposition.

Look at security holistically.

As we see every day in the press, there is no such thing as a totally secure technical infrastructure – whether cloud or on-premises.  Banning the public cloud altogether or focusing specifically on cloud security threats won’t ensure watertight control of content.   The best bet is to regard security as an ongoing, all-encompassing aspect of running the business, and to continually refine every dimension in an integrated fashion.  A comprehensive security model takes into account people, policies, facilities, on-premises hardware and software – and cloud technology.

In summary, everything I see in the media business indicates that cloud adoption will continue to accelerate into 2015 and beyond.

 Disclaimer: This article was written by a guest contributor in his/her personal capacity. The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of