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Blog by Chris Lennon, SMPTE Standards Director and President and CEO of MediAnswers

When we refer to a microservices-based software architecture, particularly for media systems, we're talking about breaking down larger traditional processes into the smallest possible useful tasks. A kind of Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) style. Dealing with much smaller units, it becomes easier to move processing tasks out of local racks and into the cloud.

Not every process across the content life cycle is well-suited for the cloud. But the maturation of cloud platforms, increase in network bandwidth capacities, advancement of high-speed file transfer, industry migration toward IT/IP standards and systems, and emergence of microservices have come together so that the cloud can support a significant portion of media companies’ requirements.

Microservices for media systems are a kind of Service Oriented Architecture (SOA)

Where physical facilities present constraints in terms of rack space and processing, the cloud offers unlimited scalability and unprecedented flexibility in supporting media workflows. The cloud makes it possible to scale up processing and storage resources on either a short- or long-term basis without the capital expenditure required by a local expansion of infrastructure and systems. As a cloud-based resource, microservices can be employed individually or in large volumes to perform specific tasks, or in groups to manage larger processes, made up of multiple smaller tasks. The media company can simply spin up resources (i.e., microservices) as needed, for as long as they are needed. 

In embracing microservices, media companies can move away from the large monolithic systems of the past. Sure, you might say, these huge applications and the complex APIs connecting them had serious limitations, but they were a known quantity. They could difficult to get up and running, and they tended to be inflexible, but they worked. Free from this monolithic approach, however, media companies gain the agility to select best-of-breed solutions and to adapt as their operations grow or evolve. They can build and implement custom solutions based on standardized applications and APIs.

The replacement of a handful of systems with dozens, maybe hundreds, and possibly even thousands of services comes with its own challenges, and interoperability is the foremost concern. With a dizzying number of touch points between various services, it is critical that the industry come to some level of agreement about how all of them will work together and communicate with each other; interoperability is key.

Standardization and documentation of best practices will be essential to ensure this interoperability if microservices are to become effective tools and, in turn, reach their full potential. As you may have guessed, SMPTE is already hard at work tackling this challenge. In addition to being an ANSI-accredited standards-development organization, SMPTE provides an array of tools — recommended practices, technical specifications, engineering guidelines, registration services, and more — that will help to solve the problem of interoperability for microservices.

Working with the Open Services Alliance for Media and with experts from the vendor side, from cloud hosting platforms, and from media organization, the Society is working toward a common solution. And, just as microservices break processes down into small tasks, SMPTE is breaking the microservices interoperability challenge into manageable bite-sized pieces that can be handled nimbly and quickly. The Society is committed to delivering useful outputs quickly so that the industry can move forward, but also to keeping the path to standardization open.

Participation from within SMPTE and the Open Services Alliance for Media has given us a strong start, but we’re always looking for broader participation. The more participation we get from diverse perspectives, the better the end result will be. Feel free to contact me at clennon@medianswers.tv for more details on the Alliance and/or the SMPTE efforts outlined in this blog

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