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Next stop: cloud nine

Posted on Apr 16, 2021 by FEED Staff

Media producers are finally embracing remote production – with some great results – and they’re also learning to love the cloud. Lawo is involved in an array of projects in different parts of the world that hinge on the principle of decentralised, yet dynamically allocatable processing resources

If there is one uplifting takeaway from Covid-19 for the media industry, it’s that decentralised resource distribution has come of age. Some broadcasters and broadcast service providers were aware of the benefits already and adopted remote workflows to spare travel expenses, make better use of their best players – operators could be home for supper after a good day’s work – and reduce the footprint of their infrastructure in the process.

Without IP streams travelling on local- and wide-area networks, resource pooling and decentralised production set-ups would be unthinkable, especially in environments where speed, convenience, quality and reliable delivery are crucial. Watching an operator move a fader or joystick in one location, knowing its output is processed or applied somewhere else, and finally played out from yet another location, is certainly awe-inspiring. But with that wizardry quickly becoming commonplace, we can start asking new questions.

Commercial broadcasters are under increasing pressure to make ends meet, with budgets decreasing rather than increasing. Investing in one-trick pony equipment has ceased to make financial sense. Some players have even begun to question the value of long-term tech investments.

Not owning the tools you need for your business activity is about to become the new sexy

Pay-as-you-go tends to put a smile on your CFO’s face, and not having to own the tools you need for your business activity is about to become the new sexy in the broadcast sector.

For manufacturers of hardware, it means their products need to be as flexible as a laptop computer, able to perform any tasks thrown at them. The adopted term for this is ‘software-defined hardware’. So, why not do away with the hardware altogether and put everything in the cloud?

Cumulus

First of all, this begs the question of what we mean by ’cloud‘. Essentially, cloud is processing power waiting somewhere to be solicited by operators at a given point in time. Its magic is produced by software, but it still requires hardware to run. As such, there is no big difference between proprietary software-defined hardware and an array of supercomputers locked away in some forlorn place; except perhaps, that you know who is behind that hardware and they’re well placed to solve unexpected issues at short notice.

So, why not set up your own private cloud and use it in the same way as a public one? It could be stationed in-house or in a place where real estate is more affordable. There are plenty of examples of this strategy.

Lawo is involved in an array of projects in different parts of the world that hinge on the principle of decentralised, yet dynamically allocatable processing resources. They can be accessed from anywhere that has a good internet connection, including 4G and 5G pathways. And this saved the day for quite a few broadcasters when lockdown got tough. Positively, companies are surviving this difficult chapter and coming out stronger because of it.

In addition, Lawo’s clever licensing systems allow users to leverage functionality to suit each project appropriately and to share the raw processing power among several operators who may or may not be working on the same projects in different locations. And this is all irrespective of where the associated number crunching takes place – tasks such as mixing in your kitchen or monitoring an Ember automation system from your living room have been performed to great effect over the last few months.

What matters to broadcasters is responding dynamically to unfamiliar scenarios

While devices like Lawo’s V__matrix and A__UHD Core already tick most boxes companies expect from a cloud, including the flexibility to only ‘own’ the functionalities you use, whatever can be transitioned feasibly into software is likely to follow that path.

Once you accept this concept, there is no reason why the underlying hardware cannot not be managed by a service provider not on your payroll. What really matters to broadcasters is the ability to respond swiftly and dynamically to unfamiliar scenarios and keep the content ball rolling. This requires readily available processing power as and when you need it, and the ability to ‘book’ the right services for upcoming projects with a trusted expert.

But certain types of dedicated hardware aren’t about to disappear. Video and audio engineers are likely to prefer mixing prime-time live shows with the physical controls on a console or switcher for some time to come. And ingesting video and audio signals is still going to require edge devices with the appropriate connectors, because legacy devices are kept as long as they keep doing their jobs.

Meet Mr Blue Sky

Until everything can be moved safely to the cloud, the best-of-both worlds, intermediary step seems to be a clever management solution that holistically bundles locally and remotely generated services that run in parallel. Obviously, the user experience would have to be streamlined and presented in a unified GUI, as well as include what can already be sourced from a cloud. You could call it a one-stop shop that possesses a global footprint for broadcasters, corporations, houses of worship and live venues.

A first glimpse of this holistic approach can be found in two of Lawo’s offerings: the new mc²36 audio console and the A__UHD Core. Their IP Easy functionality enables plug-and-play IP connectivity and discovery of edge devices that can be physically located anywhere. This is good to know when you realise that most broadcast solutions are in the process of becoming edge devices in one way or another.

Of course, such an approach wouldn’t be limited to just audio. It would include all the tools and services broadcasters and professional users require. What is certain is that, coupled with on-demand software-service licensing schemes, the approach allows operators to grow or shrink processing power, on their terms, at a moment’s notice.

This article first featured in the Spring 2021 issue of FEED magazine.

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