The Cloud goes to Hollywood

Earlier this week I attended a one day seminar presented by Amazon Web Services in Los Angeles entitled “Digital Media in the AWS Cloud”. Since I was involved in a media project recently I wanted to see what services Amazon and some of their partners offer specifically to handle media workloads. Some of these services I had worked with before and others were new to me.

The five areas of consideration are:

  1. Ingest, Storage and Archiving
  2. Processing
  3. Security
  4. Delivery
  5. Automating workflows

Media workflows typically involve many huge files. To facilitate moving these assets into the cloud Amazon offers a service called Amazon Direct Connect. This service allows you to bypass the public Internet and create a dedicated network connection into AWS. This allows for transfer speeds up to 10 Gb/s. A fast file transfer product from Aspera and an open source solution called Tsunami UDP were also showcased as a way to reduce upload time. Live data is typically uploaded to S3 and then archived in Glacier. It turns out the archiving can be accomplished automatically by simply setting a lifecycle rule for objects in buckets that automatically moves them to Glacier at a certain date or when the objects reach a specified age. Pretty cool. I had not tried that before but I certainly will now!

For processing Amazon has recently added a service called Elastic Transcoder. Although technically still considered to be in beta this service looks extremely promising. It provides a cost effective way to transcode video files in a highly scalable manner using the familiar cloud on-demand, self-service payment and provisioning model. This lowers the barriers to entry for smaller studios which may have previously been unable to afford the large capital investment required to acquire on-premises transcoding capabilities.

In terms of security I was delighted to learn that AWS complies with the best practices established by Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) for storage, processing and privacy of media assets. This means that developers who create solutions on top of AWS are only responsible for creating compliance at the operating system and application layers. It seems that Hollywood, with its very legitimate security concerns, is beginning to trust Amazon’s shared responsibility model.

Delivery is accomplished using Amazon’s CloudFront service. This service offers caching of media files to globally distributed edge locations which are geographically close to users. CloudFront works very nicely in conjunction with S3 but can also be used to cache static content from any web server whether it is running on EC2 or not.

Finally, the workflows can be automated using the Simple Workflow Service (SWF). This service provides a robust way to coordinate tasks and manage state asynchronously for use cases that involve multiple AWS services. In this way the entire pipeline from ingest through processing can be specified in a workflow then scaled and repeated as required.

So, in summary, there is an AWS offering for many of the requirements needed to produce a small or feature length film. The elastic scalability of the services allows both small and large players to compete by only paying for the resources they need and use. In addition there are many specialized AMIs available in the AWS Marketplace which are specifically built for media processing. That, however, is a discussion for another time!

To learn more about how AWS can be leveraged to process your workload (media or otherwise) you might like to attend Learning Tree’s Hands-on Amazon Web Services course.

Kevin Kell

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