M&E Journal: Production in the Cloud: 5 Questions to Ask

By Spencer Stephens, Principal, techXmedia, and David Goldman, GM, ORock Media –

Media production isn’t a hyperscale industry. Migrating production workloads to the cloud introduces challenges that aren’t present in enterprise IT requirements. If you are incorporating cloud services into your studio, post house, VFX company, or production, there are five key questions you should ask before selecting your cloud solution provider (CSP).

1. How secure is secure?

Cloud security must be tailored to the needs of production. In the enterprise, cybersecurity efforts often focus on the protection of personally identifiable information (PII). But PII records are small and stored in databases, whereas film frames are large and are stored individually.

The Motion Picture Association of America’s (MPAA) security best practices for storing, processing, and delivering protected media and content can be used to assess risk and security of your content and infrastructure. But the auditors don’t test the security and the MPAA requirements are not the complete solution. It’s up to you to understand how your CSP’s standardized cybersecurity services apply to your production. Consider:

What is the CSP responsible for securing, and what is your responsibility?

Will you know (and control) where your data is stored?

Will your data be transferred over public networks that are vulnerable to attack? Are private network options available?

How much more will that extra security cost?

2. Will your costs be predictable?

Hyperscale CSPs don’t earn all their margin on data storage and CPU cycles. And there’s more to the cost of cloud than processing and storage. While putting your production data and applications into the cloud (ingress) may be inexpensive or free, most hyperscale CSPs will charge egress fees to access or move that data out of the cloud, resulting in unpredictable costs and budget overruns. Costs can be massive if you migrate to a new cloud, which often leads to undesirable vendor lock-in to avoid them. Ask:

How is the price list structured?

What happens to your budget when (as we know it will) the volume of data exceeds what you anticipated?

What storage options are provided, and how do their costs differ?

Is there a multiplier for moving data around?

Is flat-rate billing offered to improve cost predictability?

3. What is the integration plan?

Secure file transfer isn’t always as invisible to the workflow as we think. A virtualized workflow means the application may be running in the cloud instead of an on-premise workstation, but today that’s a challenge.

Today, you want to move the data to the workstation, but tomorrow the workstation is in the cloud alongside the data. Wherever you are on that road, the seamless integration of your systems with the CSP ensures that storytellers, editors, artists, colorists and everyone else who touches the data doesn’t have to be concerned about where the data is stored or processed. What service and support do the CSPs offer to make that integration seamless?

4. How will you connect?

This question weighs heavily on security, cost and integration because you need secure bandwidth at a cost you can afford. You have options.

A direct connection works well for a fixed facility with a reasonably constant level of data activity.

However, connecting across the internet may be a better choice when the data usage is cyclic. The data activity for motion picture production increases rapidly with principal photography, spikes as VFX production peaks, and then flatlines when the movie hits theatres.

Once you’ve decided on the best model, how will you secure and integrate the connection between cloud nodes as well as first and last-mile connections?

Connectivity choices must be made for temporary connections and that means anything from on-set on location to boutique VFX companies and the music composer. Is there a mobile solution? Can you easily connect to data hosted in a different cloud?

5. Is your chosen solution future-proof?

Future proofing requires you to understand what the future holds. Open source technologies and multi-cloud connectivity must be considered. There is a lot of talk about virtual production, remote collaboration and running applications in the cloud. When the app moves to the data rather than the data moving to the app, the user still wants the app to respond as if it were running locally, making latency as critical as bandwidth.

While you want latency to be as low as possible, it’s difficult to quantify. Twitch gamers can distinguish between 25mS and 50mS. Whether that matters to your editor is an individual question, but the round-trip latency in the network is added to the latency in the local system that the editor is used to. Ask:

Is the cloud architecture built to minimize latency?

Will the CSP enable you to test latency before making a commitment?


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