With disasters—be they from natural or human causes—it's never really a question of if but when. When will there be an incident at your post facility that jeopardizes an entire project? When it does happen, how will you ensure that this incident doesn't grind your business to a halt?
Most importantly: What is your disaster recovery plan?
Tape vs. Cloud-Based Disaster Recovery
As recently as the 2010s, disaster recovery (DR) plans were still heavily biased toward tape archive. This is a reasonably secure option, especially for off-site tape, but it comes at a cost: namely, efficiency. Having to first locate and then re-digitize tape is time-consuming in a business where time is paramount. You can't afford to lose entire days to DR. Cloud-based disaster recovery, while not a cure-all, offers post teams a running start to get back up to speed.
In a conventional DR plan, tape backups of work are both kept on site and sent to another location. If a disaster physically compromises the on-site backup, you have no choice but to go retrieve the alternate tape. With cloud-based disaster recovery, not only do you have quicker access to files, but your video production workflow stays intact. As more studios and post houses adopt cloud services, this kind of disaster recovery becomes a natural extension of those services.
Geographic and Security Considerations
Enterprise Storage's Christine Taylor tells the terrifying tale of a major production nearly sunk by errant code way back in 1998. The code ended up deleting 90 percent of the files on the master server. While a tape backup existed, it only held the latest 4 GB of data at a time. The production was only saved by the existence of backup files that had been delivered to a technical director who was working from home on maternity leave.
This story demonstrates, among other things, how geographic location can be a huge asset in your DR plan. You should always have off-site backups—this applies to having multiple "locations" in the cloud as well.
Worried about data theft? Security is another commonly cited concern when it comes to cloud services. We've already busted this myth, but suffice it to say that security solutions for cloud backups are extremely robust.
The above-mentioned production deletion disaster shows the importance of abundant storage for cloud backups. Annual storage requirements for media and entertainment companies—not just archival but everyday storage—are set to increase five-fold by 2025, according to data storage expert Tom Coughlin. That's 122.4 exabytes per year in the future, compared with 24.3 exabytes in 2019.
Given that a single 4K movie can require petabytes of storage, your video production workflow will require several times that in case of disaster recovery. A solid plan for cloud-based disaster recovery should ensure that the cloud can keep those large recovery files around for longer than usual.
Establish a Holistic Disaster Recovery Plan
Cloud backups can be crucial to recovering from disaster—but they are not, in and of themselves, a comprehensive disaster recovery plan. Ditto your archives, especially since archiving isn't done until a project's completion and its purpose tends to be for re-use rather than use.
You or your cloud service might make regular backups, but that doesn't necessarily mean you have a full DR plan in place. Some of the foundational elements of a successful plan include deciding on:
- Roles. Delegate responsibilities in a disaster scenario—who's in charge of getting things back up and running?
- Action plans. Distribute a detailed action plan for both physical and digital disasters, and make sure the entire team understands it.
- Vendors. Settle on appropriate storage vendors, both cloud-based and physical.
- Locations. Develop a varied geographical approach.
- Testing. Plans need to be tested before disaster strikes. Decide on a cadence for periodic rehearsals so you can make adjustments and ensure action plans are up to date and valid.
From Disaster Recovery to Business Continuity and Beyond
Disaster recovery is really only one element of a wider business continuity strategy: while the focus of disaster recovery is on how quickly you can restore normal operations after an event occurs, business continuity is all about keeping operations moving regardless of an event. COVID-19 and its associated restrictions were a vivid illustration of how a narrower take on disaster recovery, based on localized events like a fire or equipment problems, sometimes doesn't cut it. Cloud storage can be used for DR, but it can also facilitate a wider business continuity strategy that addresses issues like workplace displacement. These capabilities are where cloud really shines—and where there is an opportunity to flip the conversation from cost center to revenue driver.
For studios and facilities, investments in disaster recovery or business continuity are costs, and their willingness to pay for them is a calculation based on how badly a potential disaster could hurt their business. Yet the same cloud technologies that provide secure backups can also form the backbone of media collaboration with a distributed team. For instance, if post is taking place in LA, but the VFX team is in London, they can access the plates they need without shipping drives or tapes or manually transferring and tracking files to multiple destinations. Even if one of the teams needs to relocate, or another collaborator needs to be onboarded, the time to access work in progress is dramatically reduced.
The media and entertainment industry's growing acceptance of the cloud opens up important opportunities to improve disaster recovery—but the same technology investment, when engineered appropriately, also has the potential to be a business differentiator and a potential revenue generator.