OCTOBER 12, 2021

Bridging On-Prem and Cloud Workflows for Broadcast Production

news control room

If the journey to cloud-based broadcasting is a marathon, the COVID-19 pandemic sounded the starting gun while many runners were just warming up. Work-from-home orders forced broadcasters to spin up remote workflows overnight, and while early adopters of cloud technology had a head start, most newsrooms were dragged to the starting line.

Many broadcasters found their stride with a mix of on-prem, remote access, and cloud workflows—most commonly, ramping up remote access to on-prem infrastructure. Even if organizations weren't ready to shift entirely to cloud-based production, the pandemic opened the industry's eyes to many of the cloud's benefits, such as location-independent access to content and collaborative workflows, the ability to rapidly provision in response to changing needs, and robust disaster recovery of data to ensure business continuity. Still, much of broadcast production will continue to require studio infrastructure for now, and most organizations just aren't willing to part ways with the on-prem investments they've made.

With the immediate technical hurdles behind them and a vision for enabling remote access for distributed teams, broadcasters can now plan a more measured migration to the cloud—one rooted in a deeper understanding of what this technical construct is all about.

It's More than Just Lifting and Shifting

As a recent Digital Production Partnership (DPP) report noted, the cloud is not so much a place as a philosophy. Migrating to the cloud, or even to a hybrid model, doesn't mean simply replicating an entire on-prem system online. It involves reimagining and redesigning existing workflows.

"You can lift and shift an on-prem infrastructure today, and it will work in the cloud," notes Paul Thompson, Avid's director of strategic solutions. "Will it work as best as it could possibly work? Probably not. Will it be any cheaper than running on-prem? Definitely not."

Migrating to the cloud is a sea-change in the way broadcast production operates. It's about building and operating cloud workflows, yes—but it's also about integrating different financial models and developing a workforce agile enough to respond to continual change. There are several key steps on the journey to the cloud, including forming a company-wide strategy, testing and experimenting, moving the first real workflows, and iterating and improving to build out even more.

Forming a Cloud Adoption Strategy

Developing a successful cloud strategy requires input from the entire organization, not just broadcast engineers and IT.

For example, when organizations pair cloud-based environments with on-prem infrastructure used for video ingest, storage, processing and playout, they must budget for the cloud services and storage they use, which can evolve over time based on demand. Ongoing operating expenditures will take the place of up-front capital investments for equipment—a seismic shift for the finance department. Finance will need to work closely with operations to understand such expenditures and with third-party software vendors to develop digital dashboards to manage and track variable usage data and costs.

Input from operational teams and editorial staff is also central to redesigning workflows. Start by determining what needs to improve, and identify where the cloud can offer an advantage. For example, many teams discovered during the COVID-19 pandemic that the cloud is an ideal home for file-based workflows, such as storing fresh content for quick access and collaborating among distributed teams.

Your cloud strategy should cater to your business' specific interdepartmental needs and goals, and while a fully cloud approach may be your North Star, trust in an incremental approach.

Migrating to the Cloud, One Workflow at a Time

The best way to get started with the cloud is to experiment. Rather than planning for one massive migration, start small and take it step by step.

Thompson recommends a "building block" approach to moving to the cloud to maximize your cost efficiencies and flexibility. He works with clients to determine what's best left on-prem for now, what should be moved to the cloud first, and which workflows are best suited for a hybrid approach.

Workflows for local ingest and playout needs, as well as local editing in case of a cloud failure, are likely best left on-prem for the time being. Those early in their cloud adoption could then look at self-contained use cases, such as disaster recovery or digital archiving, as good options to test the capabilities of the cloud.

Live video coverage of breaking news, on the other hand, is extremely complex—one feed might originate in the cloud via an IPTV stream, while another comes in on legacy infrastructure like satellite. Each requires different technology to encode and distribute. This workflow might be best suited to a hybrid approach in the short term, with streaming ingested directly to the cloud and satellite ingested on-prem, with some syncing between the systems.

Wherever possible, pick end-to-end workflows for cloud migration. Moving content in and out of the cloud can be time-consuming and costly. Think in terms of functional blocks: for example, a broadcaster might use the cloud for video ingest, editing, and processing but then deliver playout-ready files to an on-prem linear infrastructure.

Most importantly, recognize that migrating to the cloud is an ongoing and ever-evolving journey—it may never truly be "done." By starting small, organizations can pivot quickly and implement lessons learned in future iterations, thus avoiding costly missteps.

Regardless of where your organization currently stands, the marathon migration to cloud workflows is underway. In the ongoing race to retain viewers and advertisers, a measured approach to introducing smart cloud technology can create workflow efficiencies, scale, and resiliency—preventing broadcasters from getting left in the dust.

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  • Cindy Burgess Headshot

    Cindy Burgess is a Toronto journalist, educator, and entrepreneur with more than 25 years of experiences working with video.

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