Head of Operations Cerberus Tech
The transition to Software as a Service (SaaS) and Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) models was already underway prior to the pandemic, but it was yet to truly transform the broadcast industry. As referenced in an article by IABM in the summer of 2019, despite the known advantages of leveraging cloud infrastructure, the fear of workflows breaking down, interoperability, and the complexities of migrating legacy systems and data, were all real barriers to transition. But the pandemic helped to change this, because suddenly, cloud-based broadcast operations were the only viable option for any kind of business continuity.
Out of necessity, many media organisations quickly moved their workflows to the cloud. This change proved that next-gen methods were both technically and logistically possible, and it became apparent that on-demand, cloud-based infrastructure offered efficiency, control, and cost savings. But what about sustainability? That’s where the industry can go beyond technical future-proofing, and start thinking about future-proofing the planet.
The transition to a self-serve culture
The interplay between spin-up/spin-down infrastructure and a self-serve approach to workflows offers lots of potential for environmentally conscious broadcasting. Despite the significant changes to the industry of late, the overall preference from broadcasters is for familiar and repeatable contribution and distribution workflows. Therefore, this needs to be carried through into an IP environment. Using a consistent approach within broadcast-grade IP means that while the implementation of resources can vary, the underlying broadcast environment stays consistent. Spinning this environment up and down, within an easy to manage interface, means that familiarity is maintained and resource utilisation is optimised.
We’re seeing swathes of media organisations transitioning their workflows and content to the cloud in order to benefit from the advantages that brings. However, certain elements of the broadcast workflow have transitioned to a self-serve mindset more readily than others. As self-serve adoption continues for areas such as cloud storage, where teams are searching and locating their own content from the archive – the outlook for IP contribution and distribution is more mixed. Overall, we seem to be heading towards a self-serve culture, but one size definitely doesn’t fit all.
Familiar and repeatable workflows
Media companies are seeking solutions that best work for the requirements of their operation, and that suit their technical capabilities and expertise. These factors play a big part in the decision about whether to opt for a self-service approach or a more managed service. While the benefits of cloud-based infrastructure are well-documented, the sense of familiarity that media professionals have with traditional workflows is often lacking when it comes to operating in the cloud. With traditional models, workflows follow a known format and the lines of responsibility are clear, in contrast, with the cloud there is a concern that engineering teams will be unable to respond to challenges.
To deliver IP feeds to multiple locations, it is important to decouple ownership for the outputs from the responsibility for input provision and rights assignment. This shares the responsibility for the provision and switching requirements, in the same way that traditional satellite and video switches operate. The content owner can create their own broadcast-grade IP environment, to deliver and monitor feeds, as well as assign rights to receive, to other organisations. Affiliates can also create their own destinations, if necessary, and this ensures control over the delivery of the feeds. Due to the separation of source and destination responsibilities, it’s possible for a broadcast operator to ‘manage’ the distribution of feeds to multiple locations through a central platform. This is how broadcast-grade IP optimises workflows at scale, even with different delivery formats. Once the framework is there, these workflows can become just as familiar and repeatable as traditional ones.
Managing resources and optimising for sustainability
It is important to look holistically at the content supply chain. Each organisation must take responsibility for its own impacts and reduce wherever possible, both on the vendor and the broadcaster’s side. From a vendor perspective, there is a responsibility to recommend the infrastructure that will work optimally for multiple use cases, rather than selling proprietary solutions.
Using a self-serve approach to contribution and distribution, allows content owners to become architects of their own content delivery, and paves the way for more sustainable ways of working. After the infrastructure is set-up, it is the flexibility of the model that offers the most benefits. With IaaS there is the option to match infrastructure usage to requirements. Broadcasters can significantly reduce wasted bandwidth and stop cloud infrastructure sitting idle. As technology evolves, it is going to facilitate a more sustainable cloud-based model for the industry. It stands to reason that on-demand cloud solutions are more sustainable than traditional hardware, which is based on-premise. This is because organisations are running less hardware, and only utilising resources when needed, which makes operations more efficient.
There is, of course, a lot less physical movement of people and hardware around the globe when using the cloud. This made cloud broadcast workflows an optimal solution during the pandemic, and it also demonstrated how a huge reduction in industry’s carbon footprint could be achieved. However, at the moment, reporting and quantifying the exact carbon footprint of those workflows is challenging.
The major cloud service providers have developed some high-level tools for measuring carbon use and impact. Unfortunately, the data isn’t presented in a consistent way, therefore it needs to be interpreted and interpretations can obviously differ. In time, with further granulation of usage data, companies can start to get into the detail of fully optimising cloud resources for broadcast.
An ongoing journey
Where sustainability is concerned, the industry is currently on a journey which the cloud can help to facilitate. Initially, a company's actions should be to identify impact and make some ‘quick win’ changes, but as data consistency improves we can push the expectations of what the cloud can facilitate much further.
It would be idealistic to say that sustainability is at the forefront of every media organisation’s business plan. Decisions on which suppliers to work with are primarily made on the basis of cost and technology, so it makes sense to get those things right first, and then integrate sustainability calculation features. But the huge benefit of the cloud for broadcast, is the agile model which responds to the varying requirements of different organisations. As long as a cloud and protocol agnostic framework underpins the workflows, then the technology can evolve with the industry. This concept of making incremental improvements, without ripping out the hardware and starting again each time, is certainly going to have more impact than making sustainability the primary selling point above capability and cost.
Like the transition towards cloud-based operations, sustainability is an ongoing project that many media businesses are only just starting out on. In both cases, it is crucial to make sensible choices about infrastructure, so that it is adaptable and sustainable for the long term. In fact, the two things go hand in hand. Originally broadcast organisations which were looking to reduce operational costs, then arrived at IP infrastructure to distribute and contribute content globally. It was a natural progression. Therefore, it seems likely that companies looking to maximise efficiency in the cloud, will ultimately arrive at more sustainable workflows.
There are obvious benefits to a cloud-based model over traditional workflows, but cloud-native workflows will develop this even further. The industry is heading towards a future where organisations needn’t be tethered to hardware; instead broadcast workflows can run on virtual machines in the cloud. Cloud-native workflows are still using hardware somewhere, and a machine is still generating data and consuming power somewhere. But by optimising the approach, we have the ability to only utilise and consume resources when they're needed. Then as organisations are consuming, we should work to make the right choices for the environment. This echoes the domestic sentiment for energy consumption. It's great to get your power from an eco-friendly source – but it’s even better to turn the light off when you’re not using it.