Workflow: Avid CEO Jeff Rosica on the cloud & their Microsoft partnership
Issue: November/December 2019

Workflow: Avid CEO Jeff Rosica on the cloud & their Microsoft partnership

Avid’s belief in cloud-based workflows is more than just a vision. The company has been working with Microsoft and their Azure platform to prove its validity for production and post production workflows, and has already deployed a solution for Disney to use in its television and film pipelines.

Avid CEO Jeff Rosica recently spoke with Post about the company’s efforts and how Avid’s tools, along with the Azure platform, create a stable pipeline for production and post production — camera lens up to content delivery — that offers numerous benefits over traditional workflows.

Jeff, tell us what the immediate benefits of a cloud workflow provide?

“Obviously, you know from being in this space, people are struggling with having to deal with a lot more content and a lot more deliverables than they ever had to before. No one is getting the commensurate amount of budget increase, right? So they're having to be more efficient. They're having to find new ways to do things and to do things in a much more efficient way, because of the sheer volume they're dealing with. 

“Remember the old adage, faster, better, cheaper — pick two! You don't get that in this space. In this space, they want faster, better and cheaper. They want better content, they want it faster and they want it cheaper. So it's really helping them do that.”

How did Avid end up partnering with Microsoft?

“We both saw cloud as a really big driver, because we really thought we could innovate the way production workflows and post production workflows work, and really leverage the cloud in that regard. That's really where it all started…Microsoft was really there from the beginning.”

It’s easy to see how a cloud-based scenario could benefit production: a reality series shooting tons of footage in a remote location, for example. Are there more benefits that may not be so obvious?

“A lot of people are starting post production, especially the editorial process, near-set, if not on-set. Obviously, the cloud really enables that. There's the amount of footage people are shooting now digitally — the amount of takes they are taking — just the sheer amount of volume that they're dealing with. If you want to move that through LTO tapes or pick your physical medium, that's not easy to do. It's slow. It's cumbersome. It's risky. So cloud obviously enables a lot of breakthroughs around that area. 

“It allows people to move fast. It allows people to do so very flexibly. It allows people to work almost anywhere they want to work. But there are also benefits that people hadn't done: How we can support archival and disaster recovery and production continuity issues? And this is not just the finished program. This is along the program's production. How can we have continuity in a way that's affordable, but allows people to literally not miss a beat? 

“And that's part of what was proven out with Disney — what I call ‘live continuity’. It's literally there in live production. They're keeping everything synchronized and backed up — the project files, the data, everything, so that you can ensure production continuity in case anything happens or goes wrong. It allows you to move fast from one day’s shoot to another's pretty quickly. You can move from one location to another. It really opens up a lot of things that people wanted to do, but it wasn't really cost effective or technically feasible.” 

Avid has a history of providing storage solutions such as Nexis and Media Central, but are those just for in-house purposes, where a facility wants to maintain its content on-site? 

“You were correct if you said that a couple of years ago, but not today. In fact, the new Media Central — we call Media Central Cloud UX — it's the new, next generation that is actually a flexible set of tools that can be ‘on-prem’. It can be a public cloud, a private cloud, or any hybrid combination. It can be partial cloud. So it really gives that flexibility. And the interface and the way we've done everything is all basically HTML-5, and it's all really a cloud-based environment. 

“Nexis is the same now. Nexis was originally only on-prem. With Microsoft, we developed Nexis Cloud, and Nexis Cloud is that same Nexis file system, but it's deployed in the public cloud. It can also be deployed in the private cloud, but right now it's in the public cloud and that's what's in Microsoft as Azure. And it's on all tiers of performance. So its Nexis Cloud is available from the very ultra high performance storage environment all the way down to low cost, kind of archival-type storage.”

What does the cloud offer in terms of virtual desktop solutions?

“There actually are cloud versions of Media Composer, and we have different varieties where the entire thing is virtualized, and people are just basically serving up a lightweight client. That includes very powerful video and audio monitoring capabilities. So we've actually taken that beyond just virtual desktop. It's actually quite capable. We also have hybrid scenarios, where the physical software is sitting on the on the Mac or the PC, but the content and data is streaming in, so the content is never actually on the desktop device. And there are some varying situations in-between that. And those are all connected with Media Central and with Nexis Cloud.”

What is Disney using at this point?

“The ones we're piloting with Disney and Marvel are all based on Nexis Cloud. They're based on the new Media Central Cloud UX product and they're based on the cloud versions of Media Composer.”

This isn’t exclusive to Disney? Any production could put this into use right now?

“Anybody that wants to deploy these tools. We do play on Microsoft Azure because it's tuned to what we're doing for a high performance production workflow. That, I think, is one of the reasons why Disney chose Microsoft. Microsoft’s Azure's cloud team really optimized their environment. In Avid's world we have to deal with very high performance production and post production workflows, so our stuff deploys there, but any post house or production company could call us up and want to deploy their environment in the cloud. 

How about editing in the cloud?

“We are in the early preview stage of editorial in the cloud. And that's where anybody could go on the website and basically order up an editorial solution. Tell us how many editors they want, how much storage, what kind of performance they want, what kind of archival, etc.? And basically we turn it on within 30 minutes. That service is currently in early trials.

“Nobody's hardware dependent. Anybody who's in the business would come to us to say 'We want to build an environment for our company in the cloud.’ We would build bespoke solutions for them, fully deployed in the cloud or it could be hybrid — partial cloud, partial on-prem. But that's where we're really deploying a very specific design for that customer. 

“The other side is just literally as a pure SaaS opportunity, where anybody — it could be Disney, it could be three guys making a music video — goes online and orders up a cloud environment temporarily. They say, ‘Hey, we want five editors. We want 50TBs of storage, and boom it turns on and they can use it with their Mac or PCs, and whatever they have.”

So, in Avid’s view, Microsoft’s Azure delivers the performance media & entertainment client would expect?

“We did a lot of work. We did look at Amazon AWS and Google and others. They all make great cloud products. No complaint there. But what we were looking at, at Avid, we have to deal with very high performance collaborative environments. Issues around latency, speed and performance, and how things collaborate are really, really important to us. So that was part of it. 

“A lot of people make good storage solutions. Our storage solution is really more a collaborative toolset that comes with disk drives or in the cloud comes with cloud storage. It really is this collaborative magic that we do and the way we allow hundreds of people to work together seamlessly and not impact performance at all. Microsoft really believed in that and that's why they helped develop Nexis Cloud with us to really allow this to be a completely virtualized scalable solution inside of the Microsoft Cloud Network. But we also went to them because productions have to work all over the globe, whether it's a news organization or someone in film and television, and having a strategy where there are data centers all over the world. Microsoft has more of what they call ‘regions’, which means data center regions around the world. They have more regions as one company than every other cloud provider combined. So when people are working, being within a few hundred miles of a data center really does help improve performance, especially if you're trying to edit.

“The second thing is that the data sovereignty is becoming a major issue around the world. A lot of countries are starting to put a lot of walls up around what data needs stay inside of the country. Well, when you're in production or you're in news, and you're shooting in a given country, a lot of times, a lot of the data you're capturing — including in some countries the actual video or audio — it's the data associated with it that has to stay in the country. It can't leave.”

Is there a price plan already in place for somebody that wants to put this workflow together as far as storage? Or is it merely a job-by-job scenario? 

“It depends on what they're looking for, but we have rate card rates if people are looking for a certain amount of storage and performance for a period of time. It's all a rate-based system. It's now in private preview, but when it goes fully public the first of the year, literally, you put in your specifications and it will tell you what the price is.”

What kind of feedback are you receiving form the production and post communities as far as the whole cloud-workflow concept?

“I think that if you were to ask the people who were piloting this, and are in production, they would say that when you look at the total cost of the entire situation, it's far cheaper. One of the mistakes people make is they try to say, 'Oh, well, the costs of a disk drive is X, but the cost of a cloud storage is so much more'. They're not really looking at the entire thing…What about the power, the rack, the people, the building, the air conditioning? Remember, when you're in the cloud, it's all in. You're not responsible for anything.”

Do you see trends coming in the year ahead that will affect workflows?

“I think cloud and AI are going to change everything in the way we create media. Now, when is that? That's maybe the debatable thing. But I think it will eventually change everything. I think what we’ll see in 2020 is more media companies, more studios, more post production people embracing this technology. You're going to see a lot of innovation around AI once people get into the cloud, because the cloud obviously is an enabler for widely leveraging AI and machine learning. You'll see a lot more people announced, like Disney has, in what they're doing. 

“The industry, though, will move carefully. It’s not going to change overnight. It's not like moving your email to the cloud. It's obviously a lot more complex. There are a lot more risks to manage. But I do think that you are going to see quite a bit of movement in 2020. How long before the industry really totally goes in? I'm sure it's a multi-year journey. 

“The part that we at Avid play in it is the part that people need the most convincing. ‘Will that really work in the cloud? Can we really do production and post in the cloud?’ They all get it on the distribution side, especially since most distribution is coming from the cloud now. But I will say that we're convinced it'll work.”

Are the editors themselves the ones who might show the most resistance because of performance concerns? They are used to having dedicated hardware and software on-site, so their expectations for performance are high.

“Generally, most editors will say the difference isn't that big. The best example [I’ve heard] was from somebody who lives an hour and a half from where the post or editing was taking place...I said, ‘How's the performance difference? Does the cloud meet what you had here on premises?’ And he said, ‘Jeff, you're missing the point here. The point is: Is it good enough for me not to have to drive an hour and a half into the office to do this work? I could be sitting in my home office doing this. To me that's the measurement. If I can get back my commute time and I can work from home or I don't have to travel to a production, that's the measurement for me.’”