Microservices for Media and Entertainment: Key Benefits and Challenges

Wednesday, August 14, 2019 12:18

If the broadcasting industry is to remain competitive against the myriad of streaming solutions, a more agile and flexible architecture is needed to support the move to internet protocol (IP)-based systems for improved interoperability and cost. The traditional monolithic model simply can’t scale efficiently at the volume needed to convert and deliver content to demanding consumers.

The alternative? Microservices

Microservices Defined

Coined in 2011, microservices can be described as an architectural style in which a larger solution can be broken down into granular functionalities to provide a performant business value. It results in the smallest service or process of business capabilities that focuses on a single, thoroughly defined task—and is a variant of service-oriented architecture (SOA).

Breaking a larger process into smaller, well-defined basic elements has fundamental benefits for the media and entertainment industry

The Benefits of Microservices

Of the many advantages microservices offer, we’ve compiled the top three:

1. Scalability

The most crucial reason to adopt microservices is the ability to scale up and down as needed to offer extreme flexibility. The uniqueness of cloud-based computing lies in its lack of limitations to a single physical machine, meaning no extra hardware is required to scale up (though a virtual machine would be needed).

TVB Europe poses a great example of how increased elasticity could play out for the industry:

“For example, if a streaming service needs to process and distribute a high-priority, next-day-air episodic title, the elasticity of microservices allows them to easily scale resources on-demand to ensure the title is processed and delivered within a limited time window.”

2. Resiliency 

You know what they say about putting all of your eggs in one basket. Microservices are in smaller, more granular workflows by design to divide your proverbial eggs across multiple baskets to improve resiliency.

Unlike a traditional monolithic approach—-where a single failure in the process can disrupt the entire operation—-an issue to a specific microservice doesn’t impact the entire architecture and can be repaired quickly. Essentially, it protects organizations from losing complete service capabilities.

3. Continuous Innovation

By breaking down systems into smaller tasks focused on a single functionality, engineers are able to make continuous updates, enhancements and bug fixes simultaneously without disrupting other service-chains. This leads to reduced modification time, increased overall efficiency and peak performance results.

Additionally, new features can be pushed out quicker—-no more waiting for the rollout of a large system upgrade. The latest standards, such as ATSC 3.0, can be incorporated into the workflow as soon as it’s made available.

While these benefits are significant, there are a few challenges that come with switching to a cloud-based microservice system.

The Challenges of Microservices

Transitioning from Monolithic Models                                                                         The large majority of media companies emerged prior to digital alternatives, which means a migration of applications from the monolithic model to microservice-based operations will be needed. By and large, this is not an overnight process and will require guidance from technology suppliers.

The “Grains of Sand Pitfall”

Noted as one of the biggest challenges for engineering organizations to overcome when embracing a microservice architecture is what’s known as the “grains of sand pitfall.”

When services get too fine-grained, they become difficult to manage and support. It’s important for each service to perform a specific function and focus on the business capabilities.

Currently, there is no standard outlining basic needs to enable interoperability among vendors within our industry. Standardization would allow users to cherry pick the best services from vendors to build complete systems, suiting the current needs of the user with the ability to modify in the future. Fortunately, a SMPTE Drafting Group has formed to spearhead this initiative.

To learn more about microservices and the SMPTE Drafting Group on Media Microservices Overall Architecture, check out the August Motion Imaging Journal by SMPTE.

 *Information in this article is largely derived from the August Motion Imaging Journal article, “Good Things Come in Small Packages: Microservices for Media and the Need for Standardization,” by Chris Lennon.