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Cloud-based Media Workflows: A Business Proposition

The following post is part one of a two-part series exploring cloud-based media workflows. Stay tuned for a more technically oriented blog post from Akamai's Professional Services guru Frank Paolino.

When you hear people talking about "the cloud," they're typically discussing its various technical benefits. Elastic scalability, flexibility, availability and other features that end in -bility are often hot topics of conversation. In general, this can be very engaging, worthwhile dialog.

Regardless of industry, use case or resources, there are few technical environments that couldn't benefit from some type of cloud adoption. And this of course includes media processing, where content is being prepared for live online streaming or on-demand delivery.

But I'm not here to talk tech. Rather, I'd like to discuss the business side of these media workflows.

Outside of the technical benefits, will the cloud save you money? Will it save you time? Will it save or free up resources? Will more deadlines be hit? Can you refocus on other items?

If done correctly, yes.

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The business case for the cloud might seem straightforward, for all of the benefits mentioned at the beginning of this post and more. For example, think about a typical demand curve for processing resources. It doesn't grow in large chunks, like scaling a hardware-based workflow does. This means that capital is spent long before the resources will be used fully. And as soon as they are put to full use, the resources are nearly at their limit and sacrifices will have to be made soon. It's a seemingly endless cycle. You're put in a position where you under-provision and get stuck waiting, or you over-provision and end up wasting money and resources. The cloud can alleviate much of this burden, most notably capital expenditures. Cloud-based services scale as your processing consumption does, and not a moment before.

But there are plenty of ways to adopt the cloud and actually have the metrics, time, money and resources move in the wrong direction.

Take this example. You currently have multiple hardware vendors as part of your existing content processing workflow. Each of these vendors has a cloud option you can leverage. If you adopted each of those you'd end up with multiple clouds handling different pieces of your workflow. You think you've adopted the cloud, but really only introduced several cloud-based silos without really adding any efficiency. In reality, you've probably created a horrible headache for your technical resources.

So, just adopting the cloud isn't enough. Taking a pragmatic approach is important to make sure investments aren't being wasted. Leverage experts, both internally and externally, to ensure that your adoption methodology works best. Sometimes it's not wise to transition all at once. And it might not necessarily make sense to put all of your operations in the cloud. Most importantly, make sure the cloud is actually simplifying your process. Like we discussed earlier, if cloud adoption just creates more silos it's probably not simplifying anything.

Now, what if these cloud resources were in the same environment as your storage and content delivery? Getting content online faster is more important than ever, and a unified cloud environment opens up the efficiencies to enable this. It's time to start thinking about the entire media preparation workflow, from uploading the content to the cloud all the way to it being published and ready for streaming; plus all of the content life cycle changes that occur with increasing frequency.

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Let's say you have to make a change to a piece of content - a new format or resolution, for example. The process can be extremely time consuming, likely tying up a specialized resource who probably could be focused on other items. Content must be downloaded from the cloud, processed, and then re-uploaded. Not only does this take time, but some cloud providers actually charge every time content is moved or taken in and out of their infrastructure. And the problem only gets more complex and timely as file sizes get larger and larger to accommodate new streaming resolutions such as 4K. Which means seemingly small changes to content actually become business choices, not just technical decisions. This actually flies in the face of one of the biggest attractions of the cloud. In a perfect world, business decisions shouldn't negatively impact technical requirements; if implemented correctly the cloud can be a step towards that goal.

Cloud adoption is a great way to ensure that resources are budgeted for appropriately, deadlines are met and investments are maximized. But if not leveraged pragmatically it can end up being more of a hassle than a powerful new tool in your content processing workflow.

Stay tuned for a more technically oriented discussion on the benefits of cloud-based workflows from Akamai's own Professional Services and Media Development guru Frank Paolino.