Remote live production has become all the rage in the past 18 months for reasons that should be obvious. This doesn’t necessarily mean that every workflow has shifted to the cloud, but that is the logical next step. Even BT Sport, one of the world’s premier sports production teams, is doing R&D on lifting its current remote collaborative workflows into the cloud.
One company with experience of it in practice is production outfit LiveSports. Its president, Jef Kethley, who is also “Chief Problem Solver” at cloud workflow specialist PIZAZZ, has shared his observations on the pluses and the minuses with Streaming Media.
“The first thing to think about when considering a move to cloud production as an alternative to traditional, centralized, on-prem production workflows is, why the cloud?” he asks, rhetorically. “It’s because it has specific advantages for certain applications.”
These advantages may be well rehearsed but are worth repeating to add weight to the argument. In no particular order, Kethley suggests that the cloud offers resiliency for your live stream. In the unlikely event that AWS West Coast goes down, it is easy to switch redundancy to another (East Coast) provider — provided you’ve done the homework.
The cost and efficiency benefits of distributed workflows are perhaps the easiest to grasp. “Whenever we get on site, we can go out with our engineers and our basic A-team on the ground, but our normal operators — our producers, our directors, our audio guys, even our graphics folks — are familiar with our workflow, and can be working anywhere, doing multiple events,” he says.
That’s much more efficient than having the whole team spend days traveling, setting up, show day, and then back again. Rather than having to dedicate that team to one event, a cloud infrastructure with a distributed workflow permits multiple people working on multiple events happening one after another.
Another benefit to distributed workflows and cloud production is the ability to copy-and-paste complete workflows once you’ve created a template that works for you.
Kethley says, “You can take the workflow you’ve used for one show and re-create it for another event while using another data center. It allows you to spin up multiple productions and multiple events without having to worry about starting over every single time.”
Final distribution is another benefit of cloud production. “If you’re going to streaming destinations, whether overseas or domestic, final distribution is definitely easier in the cloud,” says Kethley. You’re already on the internet. You can’t get any closer to it.
Disadvantages of Cloud Production
It’s not all pie in the sky. There are drawbacks too.
Getting familiar with a production workflow based on GUI access, as well as figuring out what your inputs are and how they get there, along with outputs and how to get them out, can be challenging, he says. “It’s not as quick or as easy as saying, ‘There’s an SDI plug, let me plug it in.’ ”
Similarly, diagnosing a problem is much harder in the cloud. It’s usually not as simple as, “Oh, that cable is unplugged.”
Likewise, training and operations in IP are a new challenge — simply because not everybody is as a fluent in using the cloud as they are in on-prem production.
“After a year of being in a pandemic, you’ll definitely find more producers and operators who are familiar with distributed workflows, but you should expect to have to spend some time training and teaching better operations.”
Finally, last-mile connectivity is crucial. It’s tied in with the training, Kethley says, in that what anyone new to cloud production might think a standard internet connection suitable for live when unmanaged networks are anything but.
The second half of Kethley’s article details some of the equipment LiveSport has used in its productions. His advice includes using Teradici as the GUI solution for switching cameras; Elgato’s Stream Deck for hardware control; SRT protocol to secure and smooth your contribution uplinks (he also uses solutions from Sienna, LiveU and Matrox; and the Vizrt Viz Vectar Plus for video switching.