Rethinking file transfers in post-production

Sunday, August 12, 2012

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Since a typical public cloud service allows anyone to create an account and offers no safeguards to prevent a member from sharing the login info with friends or others, the security risks are enormous.

These are interesting times for post-production, whether carried out by an independent post house or the in-house staff of a large media enterprise.  The globalization of the broadcast and media industries has brought many challenges as well as opportunities to post professionals.  Rick Clarkson from Signiant believes the one thing they all share is a requirement to exchange large content files in the fastest, most bandwidth-efficient and secure fashion possible. 

The explosive growth in multi-platform content delivery has complicated the post function even further; if anything, the files are larger, the formats more varied, and the production cycles shorter than ever before. The ideal solution is a file movement solution that offers all of the ease, convenience and flexibility of the most popular public cloud file-sharing services, but with the enterprise-level security and administration required to protect and manage high-value digital assets. 

In this article, we’ll examine the trends and challenges that are impacting today’s post-production operations and their requirements for accelerated and secure file movement. We’ll also show how these challenges can be addressed by a new breed of hybrid system for accelerated and secure file transfer that provides an easy-to-use user interface in the cloud, but keeps the actual content within the secure confines of the corporate network.

The pressure is on post
The post-production function is being profoundly influenced by key drivers in today’s media industry. These include the adoption of file-based workflows, the growth of multiplatform content delivery, increasing global supply chains, and collapsing distribution windows that require content to get to market within a select and finite period. Unless content owners hit the window precisely, revenues are lost – placing added pressure on post organizations to receive, process, and return finished content to their clients as efficiently and cost-effectively as possibly.

In response to these pressures, many post organizations are outsourcing functions that have been traditionally handled in-house (editing, dubbing, and special effects, to name a few) to freelancers, specialty sub-contractors, and other post houses. This type of decentralized business model cannot function without a fast, secure, and easy-to-manage system for transferring digital assets to business partners outside the enterprise. The task is further complicated by the increased variety and size of files to be delivered – ranging from multiple language versions and different international playout standards to formats for mobile platforms and VoD, HD, “super HD” formats such as 1080p 50/60, and even 3D.

Faced with these challenges, many post professionals are turning to an increasingly popular array of unmanaged, public cloud file transfer services. These public services offer convenience and ease of use for exchanging smaller documents such as Microsoft Word or PowerPoint files. However, such tools fall short of post-production requirements in a few key areas. First, most cloud services are not optimized for accelerated movement of large media files; in fact, they typically have gigabyte file size restrictions that rule out many transfers for post houses.  Also, these services offer little or no capabilities for safeguarding valuable media assets, a serious concern in this age of global piracy and well-documented media security breaches. Since a typical public cloud service allows anyone to create an account and offers no safeguards to prevent a member from sharing the login info with friends or others, the security risks are enormous. 

Multi-level requirements
For larger post organizations or media enterprises with dedicated IT staff, unmanaged public cloud services pose additional headaches. Many IT and content security managers, who spend their days worrying about security breaches and protection of digital assets, are concerned about maintaining control of transfers and having visibility into who sends what, and to whom – tracking that is not provided by the public services. The goal is to empower post professionals with the tools they need, but not at the expense of burdening the network with a new, bandwidth-gobbling application that requires time-consuming user and group administration. 

For managers charged with staffing and executing post-production work, security is also a concern – but their main objective is to ensure that a project, such as the delivery of the next five episodes of a popular TV series, is completed on time and on budget. These project managers are responsible for assembling and managing workgroups and making sure all of the players, both employees and contractors, are motivated and have the tools they need to get the job done as quickly and efficiently as possible. Managers are also concerned with facilitating global collaboration and partnerships, which by definition requires the seamless exchange of content with outsourced vendors and other external business partners. 

Then there are the post technicians themselves, the end users on the front lines of content processing, editing, and conversion. These are the users that will seek out and access public cloud file transfer services on their own, without sanction from management or IT; that is, until the service can’t handle the file size or complete the transfer in an acceptable timeframe. Then, end users have to fall back on other means such as FTP, which has its own issues regarding inefficiency, security, and general unwieldiness, or – even more incongruent in this digital age – shipping tapes. 

The best of both worlds: a hybrid file transfer architecture
Out of these dynamics has emerged a new type of file movement solution that combines the best features of the public cloud and private corporate networks. With such a hybrid architecture, users access their information through a simple and intuitive user interface delivered from the cloud, with the content itself maintained under the secure control of the internal network. In other words, post professionals are able to enjoy the ease and convenience they’ve come to expect from cloud file sharing services, but without file size limits or the security concerns that might arise from storing high-value media assets in the cloud.

File acceleration is a vital component in a hybrid file transfer solution. Considering that the file size for a single one-hour TV show can reach 40GB, no fast-paced production schedule has room for the hours that might be required to move such a file via FTP – and no public consumer cloud service is up to the task. When executed properly, file acceleration ensures high-speed file transfers that are often 200 times faster than FTP with up to 95 percent network efficiency.

With a hybrid solution such as Signiant’s Media Shuttle, all content remains under the secure protection of the internal network. Features such as encrypted browser sessions, file transfers based on 256-bit AES encryption and built-in certificate authority for managing a public key infrastructure all help to ensure that the content ends up where it’s supposed to, and stays in the right hands.

Satisfying every stakeholder
With the hybrid file transfer model, workgroups access the system in much the same manner as a public cloud service for ad hoc file sharing on a wide range of projects. End users are presented with a very simple interface that closely resembles that of a public service – but with complete sanction from corporate and IT management. Even better, they have the ability to share files freely and rapidly with colleagues, partners, and vendors, with no restrictions on file size. Such a system is invaluable for file movement related to any type of creative media collaboration, such as editing or localization of content for distribution to foreign markets. 

The appeal is apparent to IT managers, who now have a way to empower their users while at the same time cutting down (or eliminating) the use of unsecured public cloud services. With the actual content stored locally, security concerns are eased. Tracking and reporting tools offer a centralized view of the system’s usage and user activity including numbers of users, status of currently running transfers, file size metrics, bandwidth usage and storage capacity. And, by delegating user administration to project and operations managers, IT managers are freed to perform other tasks.

For project managers, a hybrid file transfer solution provides an ideal platform with which to create a collaborative, motivating environment for workgroups and project team members. With easy customization tools, project managers can add logos and graphics to create a branded portal with its own URL (or multiple portals in different languages, for collaboration on short- or long-term projects). Since managers can handle their own day-to-day administration of the portal, including managing authorized users and groups, they are more in control and less reliant on IT for assistance – a true boon for smaller post houses with limited-to-none IT resources. 

Powerfully simple file movement

In summary, a hybrid system addresses the key file movement challenges facing IT, project managers, and end users. With such powerfully simple capabilities, such a system is specifically tailored to the demanding requirements of today’s post operations.  When added together, these ingredients provide the foundation for successful and secure digital media transfers that are increasingly driving today’s global post-production workflows.

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