SWOT 2016: The cloud & virtualized workspace
Jason Blum
Issue: December 1, 2015

SWOT 2016: The cloud & virtualized workspace

STRENGTHS: “Post and VFX have never been in greater demand than they are now. The vast majority of content in production involves some degree of visual effects, and as Web distribution channels like Netflix, Amazon, and Web advertising continue to ramp up creation of original content, deadlines will tighten and the need for more efficient pipelines will continue to grow at a rapid clip. The technology infrastructure underlying successful post/VFX shops is maturing and infrastructure services are gradually developing more interoperability with cloud services, a key element in long-term viability for IT systems.”
WEAKNESSES: “Data gravity will continue to be an issue for the foreseeable future. Cloud services provide the raw power and capacity for rendering, transcoding, and storage, but there is still no easy way to get things to and from these providers, although some vendors are beginning to take big steps in that direction. Widespread availability of inexpensive, high-capacity bandwidth is still a major limiting factor in sharing data between studios over distance, and continues to slow adoption of cloud as a primary platform for storage and compute.”
OPPORTUNITIES: “There has been talk for ages of GPU virtualization and remote collaboration technologies disrupting the industry, but over the past six to 12 months some concrete developments have occurred that are starting to make this a reality. Advances in virtualized GPU technologies now offer the potential for a single server to provide full-featured graphics acceleration to multiple users simultaneously. While latency will always be a limiting factor in how far studios can cast their talent net, GPU virtualization will nonetheless be an important consideration as studios look for increased density, security, cost savings, and agility in deploying their creative workforce.
“Furthermore, while cloud services can prove difficult to utilize as a core component of primary workflows today, studios that lay the groundwork for cloud services in the future will reap rewards in flexibility and cost savings down the road. Any modern storage system or virtualization platform worth its salt will have an underlying cloud strategy. Understanding those roadmaps and developing an internal strategy to implement when the time comes is imperative to retain any competitive advantage in the coming years.”
THREATS: “Foreign and domestic tax incentives will continue to pressure shops that are not large enough or do not have the desire to diversify geographically. Plenty of governments offering tax breaks have noticed that the benefits do not always outweigh the risks, but there is always another state or country looking for a slice of Hollywood. Studios who fail to implement processes and technologies that work across multiple sites will find long-term growth difficult. 
“Security is another major factor that has long been neglected but is now under increased scrutiny. Intellectual property has immense value, but many studios still fail to practice good stewardship, often sharing single logins across large groups of artists or failing to understand the importance of IT security beyond basic firewalls. Paying for security tools is about much fun as buying life insurance, but it is a critical and highly neglected component in the media industry. It is imperative that this come to the forefront of any discussion around technology compliance or refresh.”
OUTLOOK FOR 2016: “2016 will be a big year as the major players in IT continue the M&A game, with Dell and EMC at the forefront of that wave. We will see smaller companies take market share from the big fish as they provide niche-specific features and functionality —something that is key in the media industry, where technology requirements are unique and effective integration requires specialized knowledge. Vendors will continue to decouple software from hardware, a significant step in making their systems cloud-ready, and offering opportunities for cost savings to savvy buyers. Cloud itself will continue to be the 800-pound gorilla in the next room, and enterprising studios and vendors will find ways to poke holes in that wall so it can get its arms and legs in. Eventually we'll all chip away enough barriers to let the whole thing through and the cloud revolution for post/VFX will begin in earnest.”

Jason Blum is the Chief Technology Officer at GPL Technologies (www.gpltechnologies.com), which has offices in Los Angeles and New York. GPL draws on over a decade of expertise as trusted technology advisers, adding value for customers by offering personalized methods of improving IT efficiency, streamlining complex systems and environments, and reducing the costs associated with acquiring and maintaining IT systems with innovative managed services and financial solutions.