Long reads


A smart approach to the cloud

With TV operators still in wait and see mode on the migration of live media workflows to the cloud, Synamedia has championed a flexible approach to helping them manage the shift.

Migrating video delivery infrastructure to the cloud and applying artificial intelligence to improve the video experience are topics that are currently exercising the minds of the industry’s top technologists, with broadcasters and service providers seeking to maximise flexibility and responsiveness while optimising their cost structure.

“There is a lot of interest in transitioning to the cloud – every tier one operator is taking a look at that,” says Julien Signes (left), SVP and general manager of video processing at Synamedia. “But very few commercial operations actually run end to end in the cloud. The first reason is that the maturity of the cloud for broadcast quality 24/7 is not quite there, and the second is that the cost of operating in the cloud remains pretty prohibitive, especially in terms of bandwidth management. It is one thing to process in the cloud but to ingest your content and deliver it to the end user from the cloud is still too much for most operators.”

Synamedia has responded to the cautious approach taken by service providers by developing a flexible, container-based architecture that “enables you to migrate to the cloud gracefully when you are ready”, says Signes.

Signes believes that Synamedia’s approach is best suited to the needs of broadcasters and content service providers today, enabling them, for example to spin up temporary special event channels from the cloud quickly. They can also use the cloud for disaster recovery applications, while keeping workflow for core operations on premises.

“Today we can show service providers that they can operate in the cloud but they don’t necessarily have to do it today – we think that this is a really smart solution,” he says.

The key, he says, is to be ‘cloud ready’ without necessarily being obliged to take a leap into the unknown. Broadcasters and service providers want to ensure that their investment is future-proofed without necessarily doing anything in the cloud today.

In this context, he explains, cloud deployments can be ‘hot’ or ‘cold’.

Hot in this context means that an operator sets up a duplicate headend in the cloud that is ‘always on’ meaning that it can migrate from on-premises to cloud completely seamlessly and transparently. The downside is the bandwidth cost associated with always-on availability.

A ‘cold’ deployment means that the cloud infrastructure is not pre-provisioned for a seamless transition – meaning in effect that that services can be migrated with about 90 seconds’ delay. The upside is that operators save costs associated with that always-on availability.

Signes says that Synamedia can run cloud and on-premises based services on the same core architecture to give operators the flexibility they need.

“Today people want to experiment on the cloud and be cloud-ready,” he says.

One further aspect of cloud delivery is migration to OTT TV delivery for certain services using adaptive bit-rate encoding. At the forthcoming ANGA COM trade show in Cologne, Synamedia is highlighting its ability to synchronise adaptive bit-rate streams with broadcast delivery, delivering a unified experience across streaming and broadcast delivery.

“We are not a pure OTT TV player but we come from the broadcast business and we want to enable broadcasters to deliver the same quality of service for OTT content as they do for broadcast,” says Signes. “It’s about bridging the gap between broadcast and OTT TV, which has often involved a sub-par experience in the past. Coming from the broadcast side we think we have something special to offer by enabling service providers to deliver OTT at scale with the same experience as broadcast.”

Artificial Intelligence

In this context the transition from traditional to cloud infrastructure should be seamless not only to the service provider but to the consumer too.

To deliver the quality of broadcast to adaptive bit-rate (ABR) video, Synamedia is tapping the power of AI to bring its ‘Smart Rate Control’ technology, plus a new ingredient in the shape of automation of transitioning between ABR profiles, to the party.

“We are not unique in providing ABR but what makes us unique is bringing in automation and smart rate technology based on our video quality metrics,” says Elke Hungenaert, the company’s VP of product management.

Synamedia maintains that the addition of new automation capability for its Virtual Digital Content Manager with Smart Rate Control will save operators up to 50% in bandwidth and storage costs.

“Automation is the new element. Providing ABR systems for 200 channels with eight profiles for each channel adds up to a lot of profiles. You need to set quality levels for every one of those, it is very cumbersome to configure and you have to make manual adjustments over time,” says Hungenaert. “With our automation you don’t need to make those manual adjustments and you can transition through profiles much faster.”

The technology is designed to anticipate the subjective perception of the human eye. Signes says that Smart Rate Control, based on Synamedia’s patent for Streaming Video Quality, “is not a pure algorithm but collects metrics about the type of content being streamed over time. The longer it runs the more accurate it will be because it has more data.”

Adding automation to the Smart Rate Control technology can deliver significant operational cost savings for service providers, says Signes.

At ANGA COM Synamedia will demonstrate its Smart Rate Control technology alongside statistical representations that show how automation works in practice as part of Video Service Manager, the company’s control and management solution.

“We have realised that keeping operational costs under control is a big part of running a video service. Video Service Manager can deliver operational cost savings and what we are trying to do is make this as seamless as possible, with as much automation as possible,” says Signes.

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