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Going remote: enhancing production workflows with cloud-native technologies

Thu 10, 12 2020

James Wilson 

Head of Engineering

IBM Aspera

It’s probably an understatement to say that 2020 has been a year of change for media companies. Faced with the widespread disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, they’ve quickly embraced remote production to cater to a fully work-from-home environment and ensure business continuity.

Production teams of all sizes have been challenged to adapt to a new operational reality that centres around being as agile as possible. As well as collaborating on projects remotely and seamlessly sharing content and assets between disparate team members, they’ve had to find ways to quickly roll out different services to different sites and significantly reduce their dependence on physical data centers.

While many trends have been accelerated by this shift, one that has stood out is the growing interest in cloud-native technologies and container-based deployments. Container orchestration platforms based-on Kubernetes, such as OpenShift, offer reproducible, high-availability, fault-tolerant infrastructure solutions that allow media businesses to move their workflows to or from any public or private cloud environment without having to rearchitect the infrastructure.

The rise of remote working is also shining a spotlight on high-quality IP-based streaming and cloud security. With production teams working on assets remotely, it’s now more important than ever for media companies to secure their workflows to protect their content and revenues. When it comes to operating effectively and efficiently amid the ‘new normal’ that we now find ourselves in, media companies have a huge amount to consider.

Containers take center stage

Containers are a virtualisation technology that enable users to package and isolate discrete application components with the precise dependencies and configurations required to run, thereby providing a streamlined way to build, test, deploy and redeploy applications on multiple environments. This offers many benefits for media organizations. For example, containers provide the flexibility to efficiently manage new remote workflows and infrastructures consistently across all applications, such as encoding, transcoding, graphics rendering and video transport.

Most importantly, they allow businesses to very quickly scale up workflows automatically and on-demand to meet fluctuating requirements and leverage the power of the cloud to apply additional resources when needed. Although there are costs associated, the flexibility means workflows can be scaled up and down to meet spikes or dips in demand for production traffic. Media businesses haven’t traditionally had access to software-based autoscaling solutions that allow them to run a lean IT environment, but also scale when needed. This is now increasingly being offered thanks to containers and the orchestration platforms that manage them, most of which are based on the open source Kubernetes project.

Containers and their orchestration platforms also have a key role to play in ensuring availability within the media industry. Media workflows are highly time sensitive, meaning the availability of services is a key concern for production teams in terms of delivering content to tight deadlines. Kubernetes offers a consistent way to ensure an ultra-high level of availability, while removing the complexity associated with traditional, vendor-specific approaches.

In the past, businesses had to engage with all their technology vendors independently when developing a strategy for high availability. This required additional resources for infrastructure management, as businesses would have to learn the nuances of each product when monitoring for availability. Evolving to a container-based model streamlines and consolidates the monitoring of critical workflow resources, thereby reducing both complexity and cost. Critical workflow resources are always available and are monitored in the same way.

The key for businesses is to make sure that they don’t end up with a bespoke set of tools that’s harder and more complex to manage. This can be avoided by embracing the communities around platforms such as OpenShift. These communities often spearhead new innovations, so staying abreast of the latest trends in the community when building a container-based environment – especially one that comprises different technology vendors and providers – can help guide the process. As a result, businesses will be more likely to adopt a standard toolset that makes it easier to manage the lifecycle of the tools and service in their workflows.

Workflows for a remote world

With all these factors in mind, it’s no surprise to see more media businesses dedicating a growing amount of effort and investment towards Kubernetes and the consolidation of media offerings onto a single platform powered by containers. Although the media industry is usually at the forefront of technological innovation, it has actually been relatively slow to adopt containers compared to other sectors. This is now changing. There is a growing interest in working with external partners to evolve public cloud resources – which continue to be the most strategic aspect of modern workflows – into container-based environments.

But container technology isn’t the only innovation enhancing remote production workflows. IP-based streaming is also taking on a growing importance, particularly in the current climate where remote productions have fewer office-based IT support staff than ever before. Media businesses are operating on skeleton crews, and IP-based streaming offers a flexible and cost-efficient way of operating remote production sites without requiring a full IT staff, while also ensuring a more streamlined workflow.

Finally, the issue of security can’t be overlooked. While security has long been considered as a central part of any end-to-end workflow, the emergence of increasingly remote productions with employees working from different locations means it is more important than ever. For example, there is now a growing need to integrate technologies such as intelligent authentication, credentials encryption and secure key management integration with BYOK (bring your own key) capabilities in order to ensure proper identity management.

BYOK enables businesses to easily and cost-efficiently rotate their encryption keys, and can be supplemented with other cloud security innovations such as forensic watermarking-as-a-service to counter piracy. This all can help businesses ensure security by following the principles of zero-trust environments when auditing key workflows, providing a high level of control and protecting valuable content in the most effective way possible.

It might have taken a while for the media industry to catch up, but container-based deployments are now quickly becoming the dominant infrastructure solution in a remote and hybrid cloud world. These cloud-native technologies are vital to supporting agile and secure operations. Amidst uncertainty and change, they can empower media businesses to enhance their remote production workflows, while providing the flexibility to quickly adapt to any future disruption.

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