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Cloud Encoding

Jan 23, 2013 3:33 PM, By Jan Ozer

Understanding the trend and its role in AV.

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Figure 2. Ace Metrix switched to the cloud for encoding about 1,000 videos a month.

Encoding Video On-Demand Files in the Cloud

If you’ve uploaded video to YouTube, Vimeo, or another user-generated content (UGC) site, you’re already used a cloud encoding service. In fact, operationally, most cloud encoding services work like YouTube, except that you get to choose your own encoding parameters.

The value proposition for cloud encoding of existing video files is clear. Rather than invest in your own encoding hardware and software infrastructure, and develop your own inhouse encoding expertise, you can access both at a fraction of the cost via a cloud encoding service.

Given the realities of the streaming market discussed above—multiple platform support and adaptive streaming—many producers find themselves in the position of having to encode many more streams than required in the past. Again, cloud encoding to the rescue: encoding parallelization that’s there when you need it with no charge you when you don’t. A cloud encoding facility could produce the required files in a fraction of the time of a desktop encoder because it can spin-up dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of encoding instances to get the job done faster. Once the encoding is complete, you’re not charged for this capacity.

For some users, however, cloud encoding comes with a significant negative, specifically file upload time. That is, if you’re working with large source files, upload time can be quite lengthy. Though all cloud vendors enable batch uploading and use a number of upload acceleration technologies, it still takes much longer to upload a file than to transfer it to your encoding station in your own facility. That gap is narrowing, however, as upload speeds are getting faster and cheaper, with 35Mbps to 100Mbps upload speeds available in larger cities.

To get a feel for what’s motivating some organizations to switch to the cloud, I spoke with William Parducci, the CTO of Ace Metrix, about its switch from a desktop encoding tool to a cloud encoding service run by Sorenson Media. Briefly, Ace Metrix is a market research firm that measures the creative effectiveness of in-market television and video advertising. As part of their service, they encode about a 1,000 videos a month into multiple formats, uploading to the service via a 100Mbps connection.

Parducci’s motivation for switching from a desktop system to the cloud was “to put an end to worry about software upgrades and hardware repair.” But it was the cost savings, reliability, and scalability that really sold Parducci on the system. When I asked Parducci about the economics, he responded, “When you consider that Sorenson is providing an instance of a transcoder 24/7 for a couple hundred dollars a month—that requires no maintenance, upgrades, monitoring, etc.—it is a pretty easy sell to the accounting guys.”

Then, regarding system reliability, he continued, “That said, it is actually as much a reliability play as a cost savings. It is important that we get these ads transcoded in a timely manner. In addition to not having to worry about hardware/power issues on the terrestrial end, Sorenson allows me to add instances (additional encoding capacity) when I need to step up the horsepower. That is very valuable to us.” Overall, large companies are moving to the cloud for the cost, reliability, and scale factors discussed by Parducci, while many smaller producers simply want an affordable way to produce the required video files without buying any hardware or software or developing inhouse expertise. Large, small, or in between, cloud encoding is becoming an increasingly viable option for many streaming producers.

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