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Hot Button Discussion
SOA and the Cloud
By Michael Goldman
Of all the sweeping technological changes fundamentally altering the overall business landscape for industries large and small, few hold as much potential for media companies, and simultaneously, as much trepidation as the ongoing march forward of Service Oriented Architectures (SOA) and, related to them, cloud-based services. SOA represents a cultural shift well under way in terms of moving the business world toward a set of methodologies for offering interoperable software-based services, tools, and interfaces. Cloud computing—delivering just about any kind of hosted service or tool over the Internet—is one crucial way those services are being moved and SOA principles are being put into practice.
Although cloud computing has radically altered almost every major industry, however, issues of security, practicality, and cultural compatibility are preventing media entities from yielding to this shift as rapidly and completely as some other industries. In fact, according to John Footen, AVP, Consulting, Information, Media and Entertainment Practice at Cognizant Technology Solutions and a leading expert on SOA technologies and strategies, the broadcast industry's hardcore shift into the IT-driven world of the cloud is only beginning in earnest now. And so, the industry is progressing cautiously, but steadily, into these new technologies.
"It is fair to say at this point that almost all major broadcasters (globally) have undertaken at least one significant SOA initiative" in recent years, Footen says. And yet, simultaneously, "I would add that no major studio or network that I currently know of primarily manages their assets in the cloud."
By "cloud," most of the time, he means, and will likely continue to mean for the foreseeable future, private, internal cloud systems, rather than public clouds over the Internet. SMPTE Newswatch reported a year ago on some of the innovative ways media companies are using private clouds, such as with initiatives like Sony's Digital Backbone. Still, even with such initiatives under way, and while media entities have now adopted general SOA approaches in a comprehensive manner, they are still being more circumspect with their overall transition strategies into the cloud.
"This delayed adoption is for the same reasons that many technologies have seen delayed adoption by our industry," he explains. "We have unusual performance and reliability characteristics compared to other industries. Less of our workflow is IT technology enabled, and thus, less is available to go into the cloud. And what does go into the cloud usually requires very high levels of performance. This, and security concerns, have made media companies cautious as they have looked at the adoption of the cloud. But, like all other technologies, it continues to evolve and become more acceptable."
The need to protect precious digital media assets now and forever, however, means broadcasters are being smart to move cautiously. Transitioning into cloud-based workflows, Footen cautions, "does not eliminate the need for smart business and technical sense. If you place all your assets in the public cloud with only one vendor, you risk failure and loss of control. Disaster recovery plans are needed for many kinds of potential issues, and this includes cloud problems. There needs to be a general evolution in the business arrangements, as well, in terms of liability in contracts with cloud providers. All of this further elucidates why private clouds will be the predominant form for some time to come. They are completely within your enterprise, and they will have a level of security and reliability at least commensurate with your existing technologies."
That said, Footen adds, certain types of media work is moving successfully into clouds each day—asset management, proxy editing, transcoding, audio processing, remote communications, etc. This transition is likely to become easier now that the value of SOA is so widely recognized to the point where a standardization process is well under way—a development that, once it is even further along, will address at least some of the key concerns of broadcasters.
In particular, Footen points to a joint task force, dubbed Framework for Interoperable Media Services (FIMS), created by the European Broadcasting Union (EBU)—an organization made up of Europe's 75 national broadcasters—and the Advanced Media Workflow Association (AMWA), an industry organization focused on the development and adoption of open standards and technologies for streamlined media workflow purposes. FIMS is dealing with what Footen calls "a significant set of the standards' issues around SOA in the media industry" and has approximately 70 media and technology companies participating in its standards' work, with a draft specification already having been released.
SMPTE's new Media Systems Control and Services Committee, 34CS, is liaising with the FIMS project as both are geared toward "the standardization of service definitions in approaches like SOA in hopes of achieving better interoperability and reusability," according to Footen, who co-chairs 34CS. While there are no specific cloud-based standards initiatives under way as of yet, he adds, much of the work of FIMS and 34CS will have applicability for cloud-based workflows.
The bottom line of such efforts is to help media companies move toward a day when they can finally eliminate what Footen calls "a patchwork of proprietary protocols and extreme complexity in the design, build, and especially maintenance of (file-based/IT-based media systems)." When such a day arrives, the potential to use clouds more vigorously for not only data management and workflow services, but also for core services like actual television broadcasting with high-quality video will be, at least to an extent, feasible.
"In many ways, broadcasting from the cloud is just a file-based, and perhaps Internet-based extension of the kind of outsourcing we see today," Footen suggests. "The problem is live broadcasts—these are not going into the public cloud any time soon. There is nowhere near the required performance to support broadcast quality and performance in a public cloud. It is the internal use and preparation of the broadcast where we are seeing real movement today."
As discussed in the October 2011 issue of SMPTE Newswatch, the Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation (CALM) Act has now taken effect. President Obama signed the legislation a year ago, and gave the FCC a year to codify new rules that it could enforce regarding regulating and moderating loudness levels in television commercials. The FCC has now officially defined CALM's parameters based, as expected, around the recommended practice proposed by the ATSC (ATSC document A/85 RP). From December 15 onward, those rules have become mandatory for any commercials aired by terrestrial, satellite, and cable broadcasters, as well as multichannel video program distributors (MVPDs). The FCC is now officially enforcing the regulations, and for those it determines have a pattern of non-compliance, a schedule of fines will be implemented. For a deeper explanation of what it all means, check out Broadcast Engineering's recent article on CALM's enactment.
Researchers at MIT recently announced they have created a new imaging system that they claim can capture images at a rate of a trillion exposures per second—supposedly fast enough to capture images of light beams traveling in what the researchers are calling "ultimate slow motion." The technology is based on a "streak camera" concept, meaning that light particles pass through a narrow aperture and into an electric field that deflects them in a particular direction depending on when they arrive to, apparently, show their movement from arrival through departure within a particular location in space. The camera was developed for use in chemistry experiments, and as such, has the drawback from the point of view of a video camera of showing only one spatial dimension at a time. MIT researchers were still able to make cool videos with it, but only by repeating their experiment over and over, repositioning the camera repeatedly. Still, they say the technology could be the foundation of several photography innovations in the future, including better camera flashing systems. To try and understand it better, check out a detailed recent report from MIT News. To see still and video imagery from the camera called "visualizing photons in motion at a trillion frames per second," click on this link from the MIT Media Lab.
Among the least anticipated outcomes of the Occupy Wall Street movement is the fact that it has provided an opportunity for online video streaming companies to possibly mature into businesses with huge audiences and potential for huge profits. According to a recent analysis in the New York Times, Ustream and Livestream, in particular, saw user-generated live video created, uploaded, distributed, and viewed by activists to the rest of the world at an unprecedented rate in recent months. The article calls the protestor's use of these streaming technologies "a watershed moment" for those two companies and, by extension, their larger industry. The article points out that technological advances in live streaming technologies made available by those two companies, and others, have enormous potential to impact business, news-gathering, and social media's impact on society in ways even beyond what the OWS participants used them for. Both Ustream and Livestream say they are looking to add new features in order to increase content and traffic, their ability to handle increased loads, and advertising revenue, as well as new, as-of-yet undefined services.
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