August 23, 2023
4 min read
The latest developments in broadcasting technology depend heavily on cloud-based solutions to control and distribute live video productions. To protect the integrity of your live broadcasts, it's essential to work with a partner that you can trust. The article below discusses recent developments in cloud technology and some of the risks involved with using unfamiliar providers.
After artificial intelligence, probably the most important evolving broadcast technology today is the cloud. It was certainly the mantra of most broadcast equipment vendors at the 2023 NAB Show.
The term was used as if the cloud is some magical place where miracles happen. It was very rare to hear a simple explanation of exactly what the cloud is or any solid answers about its risks to users. It was more of a marketing exercise on the show floor.
What is it?
I wanted to get past the marketing hype and take a clear layman’s look at cloud technology. Exactly what does it do, how is it paid for and what are the risks for those using it?
In essence, the cloud is computer processing power off the premises of the broadcaster, production facility or other end user. It can be either processing or data storage. As the end user, you do not control it and you normally pay a fee as you use it as a service.
The most basic example of a cloud service is Apple’s iCloud or an offline computer backup service like Backblaze. You set up the service, pay the bill and turn it on. It just works.
Small cloud operations can be located at a single remote location. Large “clouds” can be huge data farms distributed over multiple locations. All of this is tied together by … you guessed it … the internet.
Fast internet-based networks made cloud computing possible. The whole idea is to lower the amount of computer processing power each user must operate at their own site. Rather than having to purchase new computers, the user rents the computing services it actually needs at any given moment.
The touted benefits of the cloud are to allow users to minimize their up-front capital expenses; lower operating costs; use only the technology they need on demand; have fewer staff engineers; and get new ventures up to speed much faster.
Cloud computing has taken over not just broadcast operations, but almost every business. Virtually every computer-related product is now operating to some degree in the cloud. It has been game-changing technology that allows teams of people to work from any location in the world.
With cloud technology, television can be produced from anywhere. Effects and image processing technologies are in the cloud. A director can call the shots from his or her living room couch located in another city. With the cloud, workers no longer have to assemble at a single place to do a production.
The International Data Corp. (IDC) reports that global spending on cloud computing services is now at $706 billion and expected to reach a whopping $1.3 trillion by 2025. The rapid growth of the concept is undisputed.
In the Beginning
The term “cloud” was first used in 1993 to refer to distributed computing platforms. General Magic, an Apple spin-off, and AT&T used the word, “cloud,” in describing their paired Telescript and Personal Link technologies.
Andy Hertzfield, a member of Apple’s original Macintosh development team, made a comment to Wired magazine in 1994 using the term: “The beauty of Telescript is that now, instead of just having a device to program, we now have the entire Cloud out there, where a single program can go and travel to many different sources of information and create a sort of virtual service.”
The original concept of cloud computing dates back to the 1960s when time-sharing became popular with companies such as IBM and DEC. It would take the development of dedicated point-to-point networks in the 1990s for the concept to begin to catch on.
Over the years, cloud computing has rapidly developed. Algorithms were developed to optimize the infrastructure, platform, applications and to increase efficiency for customers. Years of refinement have made cloud computing so easy and convenient it is quickly becoming the de facto workflow for a growing number of workers in virtually every field.
The cloud has also enabled the concept of virtualization – the act of creating virtual (rather than actual) hardware, storage and network resources. Most of the time that control panel on your desk is acting like a big computer mouse.
Though cloud computing is now a service for hire, there are tradeoffs that come with it. Cloud vendors often limit what a customer can do. The user must adjust to those limitations. There is little flexibility.
Using a cloud provider means your business is entrusted to someone you don’t know. Are they ethical? Do they engage in honest business practices? Can and will they deliver what they promise? Do they meet your legal needs? Do they impose data caps in allocating bandwidth among all their customers?
In cloud computing, control of the backend infrastructure is their responsibility – not yours. What about technical outages? Don’t believe they aren’t inevitable.
What happens with technical failure, and you can no longer operate? Since cloud systems rely on the internet, users cannot access their applications, server or data from the cloud during an outage. Never forget that.
As with all human endeavors, new technology always cuts two ways. No question, cloud computing opens new doors to technological economies and ease, but it also has limitations that must be seriously addressed. The “gotchas” are many.
Whenever someone sings the praises of “the cloud,” take a harder look at the way it really works. The devil is in the details.