HPA Tech Retreat: Ways That M&E Is Embracing the Cloud

Western Digital global head of M&E/telco strategy Erik Weaver led a discussion among three other experts about where the media and entertainment industry is today with its slow-burn adoption of the cloud in production and post. Avid chief technology officer Tim Claman; Google Cloud global lead, entertainment industry solutions, Buzz Hays; and Microsoft global technology strategist Marco Rota described their perspectives and activities related to the various ways that media and entertainment companies have embraced the cloud.

Weaver pointed out his own pioneering experiences, as project director of the Entertainment Technology Center’s cloud initiative, where he produced “Wonder Buffalo.” He asked the participants to share their experiences over the last year with advancing use of the cloud.

Avid’s Claman had six insights by the end of the year. First, the cloud is a virtualization tool, he noted, which allows the user to abstract the physical components of a system into logical components — such as projects, workflows, teams — that can be flexibly managed. The motivation for adopting the cloud varies widely among individual artists, creative teams and enterprises.

Also, “user experience is everything.” “If you make it easier to do their work and spend more time on creativity, they will like it,” he said. DevOp is key, he added. “We needed to be the service provider,” he said. “There’s massive leverage there, but you have to be prepared for massive scale.” He reported that, “the cloud migration is in full swing.”

“Early on, customers considered cloud an opportunity to have more operational agility, using it for peak capacity,” he said. “Now customers are seeing opportunity of lowering their footprint.” Finally, “cloud maturity varies by discipline.” In the M&E space, he said, “transcoding, OTT and web are very mature.”

“We’re starting to see linear playout, asset management and additional tiers of storage become part of the emerging mainstream,” he said. “You’re seeing even picture editorial beginning to move from early adopters to mainstream.”

Hays said that, “M&E companies have various approaches to adopting the cloud.” “We really have to start thinking more about the user experience and why the move to cloud should be made,” he noted. “People try to ‘lift and shift’ the current experience. We have to start targeting actual user experience and the cloud configuration they need.”

For example, a VFX facility might adopt a hybrid cloud solution, “as a way to burst-render” when needed. “Other people choose to run fully in the cloud, which means you’ll be in a multi-cloud environment with various workflows,” he said. “Google likes to work with all the different providers. We have a huge variety of storage and compute options that are highly customizable, and we’re constantly updating our tools and adding new products.”

Google just added a new center in Los Angeles, which provides a latency of less than two milliseconds. “Our network is entirely private, and we have integrity of our entire network out to the edges,” said Hays. “We take the M&E business really seriously.”

Microsoft’s Rota showed a map of Azure’s scale around the world. “Lift and shift, modernize, science project — this are all good reasons for potentially moving to the cloud,” he said. “But it’s still about the people using the tools — the user experience.”

In thinking about how companies and individuals can embrace the cloud, Rota said Microsoft began to rethink workflows. “Our approach continues to be first about dreaming big,” he explained. “We’re taking a look at what you’re trying to do and come up with a big dream of what you’re trying to do.” He noted that Microsoft is working “with a large news organization” to envision and bring to life the newsroom of 2024.

“The North Star is that big dream,” he said. “Within that we design individual tactical things — and then we have to deliver.”