NAB: Cloud computing is ready for its closeup

Few industries are better suited to the cloud computing model than film and TV production. Show business is project-oriented with myriad production shops and contractors collaborating on short-term jobs that can be compute intensive. Instead of scaling up their own infrastructure to meet those spiky needs, why not rent the capacity they need when they need it?
That’s why cloud vendors including Amazon(s amzn), CloudSigma, Microsoft(s msft) and Unitas Global are converging on Las Vegas this week for the National Association of Broadcasters convention– which features a special Cloud Computing Conference track.

Studio data centers can’t keep up

“We’ve reached an inflection point in the industry where the studios — which have made do with just enough compute capacity that they could keep up [till now] but now that more of their work is going digital, scaling that infrastructure is difficult and expensive,” said Grant Kirkwood, CEO of Los Angeles-based Unitas Global which will be showing off its new cloud-based rendering technology at the show.
“With the increase of resolution from 2K to 4K being the standard, the amount of data to be rendered is through the roof. If I’m a visual effects studio, I’m going to have to render a film at 24, 25 and 30 frames per second [for TV, Blu-Ray and movie formats.] At the resulting 79 frames per second, using 4K resolution, each frame is 24 gigabytes of data.  Imagine what that means for a two-hour movie,” Kirkwood said.
Media companies have better things to do than building and running infrastructure, said CloudSigma CTO Robert Jenkins. “For them this is not an area where they add value — it’s more a necessary evil.”
And, media companies face the double whammy of working with many external partners and a ton of data. “If you’re Warner Bros. or whomever, you deal with an ecosystem at each stage of your project. You have shooting offsite, then that digital data has to be ingested and managed, then posted to be edited, encoded, transcoded and distributed,” he said. That’s quite a supply chain — very little of which is owned and operated by the content creator. Movie makers because of the sheer amount of digital data they end up with, often end up flying or driving physical disks around because uploads can be so slow.
Given that context, here’s some of what to expect in terms of cloud activity at NAB:

CloudSigma brings media partners to its cloud

CloudSigma, the Swiss cloud computing company, will launch what it’s calling a Media Services Ecosystem, an alliance of industry service providers, that will use its solid-state storage; 10Gig networking and high-performance cloud capabilities. Nativ, a specialist in delivering digital media to a variety of endpoints, is among the first members.
“This data is so big, even with the cloud, ingest can be slow, but once you have your rendering and editing companies all using the same cloud infrastructure you can streamline the process,” Jenkins said.  After all, in cloud as in traditional data centers, proximity of compute and storage resources is key to reducing latency.

Amazon beats AWS, Cloudfront drum

Many media companies — the UK’s Channel 4, PBS and Fox Entertainment Group — already use Amazon’s public cloud services. Amazon, which started staffing up for a renewed digital media push in January, will be at the show pushing its cloud. AWS partner Aspera, a leader in media file transfer technology, will be at NAB to show off its new “Direct-to-S3” software for moving content around using Aspera’s fasp transport technology with cloud-based storage including Amazon S3.
Amazon will host NAB seminars on its Cloudfront CDN services, demonsrate live streaming, and talk about using AWS for media storage, processing and delivery.

Microsoft pitches Windows Azure Media Services

Microsoft will talk up its upcoming Windows Azure Media Services, a promised set of digital media production and distribution services based in part on Microsoft’s existing on-premises Microsoft Media Platform. Now, there is no one-stop shop for such services, said Brian Goldfarb, director of product marketing for Azure.
The Azure media services will include uploads and encoding that supports Microsoft, Android (s goog) and Apple (s aapl) formats; content protection including DRM if desired; on-demand and live streaming options; analytics to help content owners see who is consuming what, and what issues they might encounter. The service will go to beta soon, he said.
Microsoft will host third-party vendors, including Aspera, which will talk up the use of its fast I/O technology with Azure (as well as Amazon.)

Amplidata boosts storage capacity

Amplidata will show off its new AS30 storage module which ups the capacity of its existing AmpliStor XT Storage System to 30TB of capacity in a 1U form factor. The Redwood Shores, Calif. company said the new module boosts previous capacity by 50 percent but uses 30 percent less power, requiring 2.2 Watts per TB (while idle) and 3.3 Watts per TB (under load).
This is just a small sampling of what will be a deluge of cloud-related news out of Las Vegas this week. Look for the established cloud giants and newbies to continue vying for these high value Hollywood workloads even after the show ends.
Feature photo courtesy of Flickr user Fabio Ikezaki