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Optimize People and Resources with Virtualized Remote Production

This article provides a high-level overview of remote production, why it's needed and the necessary technologies to enable it.

November 2, 2020 8 minute read

Today’s media production environment is more distributed than ever. Even before a global pandemic forced entire crews to work from home, the production of content and entertainment was shifting toward leveraging remote production techniques to optimize resources.

Remote production enables media organizations and studios to realize increased flexibility and agility in how they deploy people, processes and technology while simultaneously reducing operational expenditures. 

To realize these benefits, production crews need access to the tools and resources they rely on to do their jobs effectively — no matter the physical location they are working in.

Thus, cloud-based, virtualized production solutions that deliver reliable, easy-to-use productivity and support fast, agile and remote collaboration are key.

What is remote production? 

As workflows are increasingly distributed, media organizations are delivering services around the clock from anywhere the user has adequate internet access. 

Remote Integration Model (REMI), often referred to as remote production, is the production of content from a location or venue that is managed in a centralized location. Production crews can manage the content from the facility, or, in some cases, from other distributed locations, such as from home or a coffee shop.

Broadcasters, according to a media industry report, are finding they can save significant amounts of money by using remote production techniques, wherein camera paths and audio are fed via IP to centralized production hubs for live switching and editing.

With less personnel and equipment needed on site, there are greater efficiencies in terms of personal transport and accommodation, but is only the start of the benefits that remote production accrues,” the report said. “Moving production to a centralized hub dramatically optimizes resource use, the same team and equipment being able to produce several events per day rather than the single one from a location. Additionally, by using the same setup it allows broadcasters to be consistent across their output, and with decreased setup times, be more agile in the way that they respond to changing events.”

How is remote production virtualized?

Whereas legacy, purpose-built hardware no longer meets the new business requirements of the media industry, virtualized media production applications hosted on Commercial-Off-The-Shelf (COTS) server hardware abstract the hardware from the software, enabling agility and paving the way for best-of-breed solutions that can be tailored to deliver exacting business outcomes set forth by decision makers.

No longer is a server dedicated to an application. A server can now host a hypervisor application that provides virtual compute, storage and network components to many applications appearing to each application as if it has its own dedicated server. Better yet, these resources can be dynamically software defined to fit the application’s needs and are hardware agnostic.

To better manage the move to this new virtualized software infrastructure, media organizations are leveraging technologies called Hyperconverged Infrastructure (HCI) where compute, storage and network software and, often times, hardware components are packaged together to make it easier to purchase, install and manage. 

HCI provides a single point of control for managing the infrastructure, applications and data, therefore, allowing infrastructure administrators to focus on optimizing the production workflow.

There are a number of vendors that provide HCI solutions, with market leaders including Cisco (HyperFlex), Nutanix (Enterprise Cloud), VMware (vSAN), Dell EMC (VxRail) and HPE (SimplVity).

Note: This article uses the terms virtualized software infrastructure and Hyperconverged Infrastructure (HCI) interchangeably.

What are the benefits of a virtualized remote production infrastructure?

Virtualizing production functions helps drive efficiency and agility while reducing operational costs. It simplifies remote production architectures and can help enable dynamic content delivery.  

Because virtualized software infrastructure run on COTS server hardware, media companies have a wider choice of hardware and get to leverage its falling cost curve for higher performance. And since the infrastructure is software defined, the operator can allocate resources on demand to any application that needs it. For example, more storage may be allocated to the digital asset library and CPU resources to the transcoding or rendering farm.

Other benefits include:

  • Easier distribution of production workflows and resources.
  • Scalability.
  • Costs for scale out can follow more of a cloud-like, pay-as-you-grow model.
  • It enables department charge back and better visibility into when and where future upgrades should be done.
  • Hyperconverged solutions provide a high degree of automation and help consolidate management tools that tend to be specific to the underlying environments (i.e., servers, storage, and networking).
  • Hyperconverged solutions typically require less cabling, fewer network connections which means less complexity, project management, installation and maintenance time, and less power and cooling, resulting in lower overall cost.

What are the challenges of virtualized remote production infrastructure?

Each new technology you adopt adds complexity to your organization. People need to be trained. Systems need to be integrated. Data must be normalized. Legacy systems retired and their capabilities transitioned.

The technology shift to IP and virtualized software infrastructure means operators need new skillsets to design and manage the network. As businesses transition to IP and hyperconverged solutions, business functions and services tend to converge, which may require redefining how work flows through the business and a possible reorganization of responsibilities among stakeholders.

Further, there are a number of HCI solutions in the market and choosing the right solution calls for deep understanding and testing with your particular applications.

How does a virtualized remote production work?

Virtual production consists of production applications running in one of three virtual environments: 

  • On premise, such as a private cloud.
  • Off premise, such as a public cloud.
  • A hybrid between the two.

Users are freed from working local to where the applications are hosted and, instead, can access next-generation applications through web browsers or remote desktop technologies like Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI).

Virtualizing Your Environment with Hyperconverged Infrastructure (HCI)

It’s all in the software, so to speak. 

HCI solutions abstract the hardware resources in software and pool them together so the operator can more easily allocate them on an as-needed basis from a single point of control or user interface. 

There are a couple of approaches HCI solution providers have taken — providing pre-configured and pre-tested hardware and software in an appliance form factor or a software-only solution running on a selection of different vendor hardware. 

Control software agents installed on a virtual machine or embedded in the hypervisor on each node provide the cluster and control of the nodes as a system. Because the infrastructure is software defined, much of the once manual day-to-day operations have been automated and tasks that were required to be physically done are now simply a click of a mouse. 

A diagram of what is possible with HCI.
A diagram of what is possible with HCI.

Working Remote with Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI)

Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) is replacing traditional expensive workstations and specialized hardware for video editing, animation and other media tasks by allowing remote seamless access to applications wherever they may be hosted. 

This flexibility enables collaboration, promotes creativity and lowers the costs of media production.

Similar to HCI solutions, VDI abstracts the operating system from hardware with virtualization software. In the VDI environment, the operating system, applications and data can be run on a virtual machine hosted on- or off-premise and allows many users to share an operating system that is running multiple desktops. 

VDI solutions can run on a lightweight software agent (i.e., thin clients) installed on the user’s workstation or run from an end-user computing device with no local storage (zero clients) providing the user keyboard, mouse, monitor and network connections. 

All the computing processing power is done on the virtual machine and there’s no need to have end users using an expensive high-performance workstation. VDI allows the ability to define and group a mix of different classes of workstations to use the same base server hardware. For example, an artist may be assigned to a high-performance workstation group and an administrator a low performance workstation group.

What else should you consider when developing a virtualized remote production strategy?

  • Data protection: A remote workforce means an expanded attack surface. Learn what you should focus on to secure your organization’s critical assets.
  • Leverage the cloud: Build a smart cloud strategy to intelligently and efficiently manage the data and applications that your employees need to do their jobs.

How can WWT help?

Technology is changing more rapidly than ever — a trend that will only accelerate — and media organizations face an increasingly competitive business landscape.

Whether you’re looking to learn about the latest advances in technology, need an environment to quickly compare and test HCI or VDI solutions, or need help migrating data workloads and applications to your HCI platform, we have the resources you're looking for. 

Our Advanced Technology Center (ATC) is a collection of physical labs, virtualized to create a collaborative innovation ecosystem to design, build, educate and deploy innovative technology products across all sectors, including media, gaming and sports.

Discover what works best for you

WWT offers a Hyperconverged Infrastructure Briefing to explore the HCI market, its top players and appropriate use cases.  

If you prefer a more hands-on approach, WWT can also showcase the following solution in the ATC: 

 

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