After spending close to a decade as an IT Manager in post-production, I have come to appreciate the many idiosyncrasies associated with M&E. From tight budgets and deadlines to its reliance on cutting-edge technology in order to push the limits of art, there is no shortage of hardships. Although it’s hard work, surpassing its many challenges provides a feeling that most other industries lack entirely. The traditional challenges produced by this type of work are staffing for busy periods, procuring hardware, and most importantly staying within budget.
Enter the cloud. A purpose-built foundation to help foster innovation, open companies to greater possibilities, and provide flexibility like nothing before. Companies leveraging cloud technologies are able to innovate faster, focus on their core competencies, and save money. Creatives are now collaborating from around the globe and building cinematic universes that are only possible with the scale of cloud computing. The same technology also enables streaming platforms to deliver 4K HDR content to the masses using the sophisticated network and caching architectures.
As a whole, cloud platforms have done many great things for the industry. In OTT based workflows, businesses are able to scale up and down with traffic, paying for only what they need. Gone are the days of trying to predict traffic and scale accordingly, often ending up with surplus infrastructure. In post-production, we are seeing countless production houses leveraging cloud computing for both burst rendering and cloud workstations. One of my former employers, Luma Pictures, works on some of the most difficult Marvel/Disney scenes. Using Google Cloud Platform (GCP) they were able to create a workflow that allowed for more revisions in a shorter period of time. Additionally, it allows rendering farms to scale almost infinitely in order to hit tight deadlines. Companies using traditional on-premise resources are only able to increase staff and still have to contend with rendering bottlenecks when faced with difficult deadlines. With the cloud, they can adjust computer power to ensure these deadlines are met. Lastly, cloud archival storage is perfect for holding onto archives for many years without the complexity, cost, or slow retrieval times of tape backups.
After working with many cloud providers in my IT Management career I found GCP to be the most in sync with M&E needs. There are three main areas in which Google is innovating above and beyond Amazon, Azure, and IBM.
1. Archival Storage + AI
Anyone who has worked in post-production for a short time knows the schedule pressures associated with feature film work. If old assets can be reused it saves time and money. All of GCPs storage tiers, including archival, allow for the retrieval of data instantly. AWS, for example, has a 12 hour waiting period by default. With this type of delay, the artist may be better off recreating the asset and moving on with their task.
In the coming months, GCP will be releasing a new archival tier. At just over $1/TiB it’s easy to recognize significant cost savings over traditional tape workflows. Gone are the days of trying to locate physical tapes created countless years before. This data can also easily stay in sync between different locations across Google’s class-leading fiber network (see network section below).
While leveraging GCP for archival storage you can utilize AI tools to gain valuable insights into your data. One thing all media companies have in common is large data sets. These usually contain different types of media assets, containing video and still images. Over time companies build up hundreds of terabytes if not petabytes of assets. By leveraging Google’s Video Intelligence API and Vision API, asset libraries can be automatically tagged with metadata. This creates a cost-effective way to make large libraries easily searchable with an infinite number of variables. Need to find shots that contained cars? Easily create a model using Google’s Vision AutoML product to tag the correct resources automatically.
2. Compute & Network
Whether you work on OTT, post-production, or ad tech, computing power and network availability are at the forefront of a platform’s architecture. With Google Compute Engine you are able to create custom VMs. Need a high memory machine with a powerful GPU and the bare minimum vCPU cores? You are able to create just that. With AWS, you are stuck with predefined instance types, potentially wasting money.
Additionally, GCP offers sustained use discounts. Without any commitments from the customer, Google will apply discounts at varying levels depending on the usage. The longer you run compute workloads, the larger the discount. If you are confident in how many vCPU cores you need, committed use discounts are available at an even higher discount.
Security is paramount when it comes to most media workloads. Google is the only provider to run private fiber not only between zones but between regions as well. That means your data stays secure while moving within the cloud.
One of the things that impressed me as a customer was Google’s deep knowledge of M&E. They have a product manager that oversees all things media. Seeing the industry as a product allows Google to take feedback from customers and include those media-specific needs across the large suite of Google products.
Additionally, there is a whole Solutions Architecture group dedicated to helping Google’s media customers. These engineers come from award-winning studios with decades in both technical and creative roles. Google also provides Customer Engineers that specialize in M&E workloads. As you can see, there’s a large team of people available to help understand your business goals and provide the right tools within GCP to meet them.
Lastly, there are Google Cloud Partners that specialize in the media & entertainment industry. I left a career in post-production to help customers innovate by leveraging the cloud at SADA. SADA is a Google Cloud Premier Partner and the 2018 Global Partner of the Year. We have a large engineering department and offer service engagements to our customers as well. Between SADA’s media resources and Google’s, you have a team of experts ready to ensure you have an exceptional and transformative cloud journey.
It is imperative to understand how your current workflow fits into cloud platforms. By looking into GCP, AWS, and IBM you can understand the differences for yourself and determine which brings the most value. We are seeing more and more studios leveraging the cloud in order to accomplish work that was thought impossible just a few years ago. At the very least, you need to know the TCO of moving workloads to the cloud. Understanding the associated technical requirements and operational advantages is crucial to strategic decision making. The alternative is being left behind while the competition innovates, improves their margin by cutting CAPEX costs, and reduces management overhead.