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The challenge of updating broadcast workflow infrastructure

Neil Anderson, CRO at Codemill, looks at how rapid industry change is leading to an inevitable shift to cloud for most media organisations

Changing complex media production infrastructure can be extremely challenging, taking up huge amounts of time and effort. From requirements gathering, to Proof-of-Concept, tendering, procurement and contracting, into deployment, testing, piloting and finally going live. There are many pit-stops on the road to full implementation, all while maintaining ‘business as usual’. 

As a result, on-premise infrastructure changes at tier one media organisations have historically been undertaken reluctantly. Typically, rolled out when upgrades become an absolute necessity (such as end of life servers, storage and software), or when infrastructure suddenly starts to limit flexibility, scale or optimisation of content workflows.

A New Infrastructure Era

Due to rapid shifts in working processes during the pandemic, a mixed approach has emerged at many large-scale media companies. This often means that media is downloaded out of the cloud, to on-premise storage. It then moves through various workflows, including post-production, versioning, localisation, compliance, quality control, transcoding and audio normalisation. Masters are then uploaded back to the cloud for delivery to VoD/OTT or social media platforms. This begs the question – if the start and end points are in the cloud, why move content in and out of the cloud at all?

The pandemic has highlighted the urgent need to access assets remotely, but this must go beyond simply storing content. In order for the media and entertainment industry to fully evolve, nearly all workflows need to be cloud-based. For large organisations with established on-premises workflows, this means effectively refactoring their entire business process.

The Content Migration

Shifting from a legacy on-premise set-up, requires the migration of petabytes of data onto new infrastructure that is fit for the demands of modern content creation. In addition, workflows need to be refactored to take full advantage of automation and the benefits of the cloud, such as serverless operations. Metadata must also be cleaned up and rationalised for maximum efficiency, throughout the content supply chain.

The best way to approach an archive transition is to migrate the most recent assets first, as you’re likely to need them sooner, then work backwards, migrating older content. For established media companies and broadcasters, this is a huge endeavour. The oldest content is likely to be in aging LTO tape libraries, which must be restored to disk storage, before migrating to the cloud, and older LTO drives taking longer to restore. In this case, it is best to pick your battles and prioritise the most useful content.

Updates and Recovery in Minutes 

The shift to the cloud goes far beyond a mere upgrade. Once cloud-based software is deployed, it should be set-up so that it is easy to reconfigure and redeploy. This means that companies are not stuck with static infrastructure, and upgrades that become a chore. Cloud native solutions should adapt to changing requirements over time, ensuring consistency, repeatability, and continuous updates that are quick and simple to deploy. The cloud can also utilise upgrade services that can be run in the background, so that updates do not interfere with day-to-day operations.

With on-premise infrastructure the big question has always been – what happens if there is a disaster? Traditionally this meant 2N or N+ redundant architecture, which is incredibly expensive and complex to configure and maintain. With the cloud, Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity become something that is much more affordable, achievable and manageable. The cloud is designed to be infinitely scalable and configurable, resolving a lot of those “what if?” scenarios. Cloud-based workflows can be fully protected against outages or security risks, enabling the organisation to spin-up replica systems in different cloud regions or with different cloud providers, and be up and running in minutes.

Managing the Transition

While changing well established infrastructure and processes can be difficult, rapid industry change and potentially unaffordable capital investment in replacement on-premise equipment, mean the shift to the cloud is inevitable for the majority of media organisations. Teams need to minimise disruption and maintain business as usual throughout, but there are ways to ensure the transition is seamless, engaging super users during requirements gathering and testing, and running systems in parallel until final switchover. Spinning up development and staging environments, while refactoring workflows for thorough testing, also means any quirks can be worked out well before production deployment and go-live.

We are in the midst of an audience transition to an era of mass media consumption. Viewers are increasingly demanding faster and more seamless access to the content they want to watch. It’s time that media professionals experienced the same intuitive user experience and integration with their content workflows.