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Cloud Based Media Workflows: An Akamai Approach

The following post is part two of a two-part series exploring cloud-based media workflows.

In part 1 of "Cloud Based Media Workflows," Barrett Mononen made the case that the cloud offers opportunities to address the complexity of your online media workflow. He noted that the cloud alone doesn't guarantee success -- that you must take a thoughtful, pragmatic approach to realize the greatest business benefits from the cloud.

In this post, I'd like to discuss a more technical view to online media workflows, but first let's set the stage.

Today, the publishing of media online - at the quality that online viewers are increasingly expecting - surfaces various technical challenges. Every type of device - desktops, mobile phones & tablets, and TV-connected devices such as game consoles and media streamers - has different requirements. The playback technology on devices spans from Flash runtimes to HTML5 < video >  to native application playback. For page-embedded video, the reality gap betweenmature Flash and young HTML5 video tag continues to frustrate developers. Publishers must consider tradeoffs in format (HDS, HLS, DASH, legacy) and codec (h264 profiles, WebM, with h265 in the wings...) to reach the broadest audience. Adaptive bitrate streaming can address varying bandwidth conditions, but deciding the specifics here can be challenging.

Many know Akamai for its content delivery capabilities, but most are unaware of how much Akamai can offer beyond delivery. Since the announcement of the Akamai HD Network in 2009, Akamai has accelerated its pace of innovation for digital media to offer increasing value to our customers. Advances in delivery, analytics, content adaptation, player technology, storage and more have been helping content publishers address their challenges in these areas.

So let's dive into a specific cloud media workflow... this one based on maximizing the value that Akamai can offer its online media customers.

We'll break down the workflow discussion into these stages:

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Stage: Ingest & Store

Akamai's NetStorage is ideal for storing and serving your media online. Netstorage is a highly redundant storage service with geographic distribution built in. Several ingest methods are accepted, including FTP, SFTP, HTTP, and the most recent addition - Aspera Upload Acceleration, which can provide 10x or better throughput compared to SFTP. Additionally, recent NetStorage architectural innovations have expanded flexibility and ease of use.

Stage: Transcode

Akamai's VOD Transcoding, the newest addition to the family, dramatically improves the workflow capability, simplicity and ultimately, playback quality. From your original assets (ideally a mezzanine or high-res original), VOD Transcoding creates the appropriate adaptive bitrate rendition sets that are ready for adaptation and delivery - all in a single step. Optimized encoding profiles remove the complexity of deciding on your own and provide the maximum reach across devices by leveraging proper codec settings, which have been established from 15+ years of streaming experience. With cloud-based transcoding, gone are the days of wasting capital expense on transcoding hardware acquired to handle peak loads that sit idle for extended periods.

Stage: Adapt & Deliver

Akamai Stream Packaging transforms the adaptive bitrate MP4 renditions into dual formatted HTTP streams on the fly at the edge of our network. MP4s are transformed into video "chunks" in the device-ready formats of Adobe's HTTP Dynamic Streaming (HDS) for Flash and Apple's HTTP Live Streaming (HLS) for non-Flash devices.

Akamai's massive reach via the Akamai Intelligent Platform ensures high-performing delivery of your content. Content is delivered from the edge, enabling your users to sustain high quality streaming globally. Dynamic Stream Packaging removes significant encoder complexity and reduces storage requirements.

Stage: Play

Akamai's Adaptive Media Player (AMP) brings the workflow stages together in a reliable, quality playback experience. AMP removes the complexity of placing a player into your webpages, and iOS or Android device apps. The AMP player integrates video playback, analytics, and captioning capabilities into a single package. AMP's responsiveness enables it to intelligently adapt to the appropriate mode and stream format.

Stage: Measure

Last but not least, Akamai Media Analytics is the best-in-class video/audio-specific reporting tool that leverages data directly from the playback device, enabling both real-time and offline analysis. The QOS Monitor module provides instant real-time feedback, while the Audience Analytics modules allows deep dives into content consumption, user audience, and operational performance. And the Viewer Diagnostics module offers a deep dive into the last 60 days of playback content and quality, for any single specific player.

Across the Workflow: Flexibility!

As you shape your own cloud workflow to your company's needs, consider the most exciting aspect of Akamai's capabilities: flexibility. First, APIs are available for every service, so you can adapt Akamai cloud components into your own workflow and content management system to meet your needs. Each of the tools mentioned above have both standalone and integrated value. Second, Akamai solutions emphasize industry standards, alleviating you from the burdens of tracking all ongoing changes in the ecosystem. By working with standards in the Akamai workflow, you will remain agile, preserving the ability to make changes as technologies or requirements evolve.

In one shot, here are the details of the workflow in summary form.

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Akamai's Media Delivery Services -- available at the scale and quality to meet today's industry demands -- can serve as the foundation of your cloud-based media workflow.

For additional detail, see our Meet-Ups on this topic at http://www.akamai.com/html/meetups/past-meetups-new-york-05dec2013.html