Visual effects houses may have been among the earliest adopters of cloud technology to solve storage issues, but these days, they’re merely the first ones to the dance. Now, everyone from studios to producers to post-production houses is relying on the ether as a convenient and efficient repository of computing power, data and assets. In fact, most editing, storage or processing tasks make use of the cloud — the technology whereby everything from programs to processing is stored at a remote location hosted by a third party, accessed via the Web and sometimes shared with other users.
While the move to the cloud was long in coming for bizzers, issues of security, cost savings and space considerations are among the factors that have made it rain for those offering such services.
“The entertainment industry was late to go into the cloud,” says Mark Lemmons, chief technology officer of T3Media, a cloud-services company focused on showbiz needs. “But now it’s really started to be an important pressure reliever.”
Lemmons believes the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan were instrumental in pushing the industry into using cloud services more extensively. Suddenly there was awareness that storage was vulnerable to natural and other disasters, and needs to be protected. The cloud was the answer, because even though a remote server is also vulnerable to mishaps, it’s unlikely that the same disaster would strike a vfx house in Los Angeles and its data repository in, say, Oregon.
Companies also realized they could use cloud resources to decrease their own IT needs and save money. T3Media, which works with a number of studio clients, offers studios the ability to store petabytes (one million gigabytes) of digital files in an easily accessible way that’s also cost effective, Lemmons says.
Aframe, a cloud video production platform that counts MTV, Shine Group and the BBC among its clients, carved out a niche by offering a kind of plug-and-play solution.
“Companies and producers don’t want to spend a lot of time training people to use the technology, so we made our platform as easy to use as Facebook,” says Aframe co-founder David Peto. “The point is that you should be able to use our services right away to do what you need to do.”
Reality television in particular has quickly taken to Aframe, because the platform makes it possible to tag footage, allowing the creation of a searchable database of everything that’s been shot. The company also stores uncompressed raw footage — not lower-resolution proxies or intermediaries — for later retrieval.
Another service, Box, found its niche in the secured storage of documents. Dozens of companies and agencies need to be able to access contracts and the revisions to those contracts that are conducted throughout a negotiation. It’s the type of sensitive, secure storage that’s often too expensive for a company to mount itself.
“We needed to have the ability to set up a kind of deal room online where people would be able to share files that were needed in a negotiation,” says Justin Slaten, director of information technology at Box client Wasserman Media Group. “There were also circumstances where the identity of the people involved in the dealmaking process had to be protected while files were shared; Box already (had) that ability, so we were instantly able to do what we needed to do.”
In addition to Wasserman, companies that use Box include DreamWorks, Relativity Music Group and Media Horse, a music marketing firm that places music with companies like Fox and DreamWorks.
Still, vfx companies remain among the most frequent and heaviest users of cloud services. And because their data is so voluminous and their files so large, causing issues of latency — or delay, as files get passed back and forth from cloud to user — some companies have created a business of just making cloud computing work faster.
One of them, Avere, has worked with vfx house Digital Domain to better organize the transfer of data by creating efficiencies across various platforms such as RAM and Flash, reducing the facility’s latency period to 0.1 millisecond.
“The cloud only works and the benefits only make sense when you can get your data quickly,” says Rebecca Thompson, Avere’s marketing veep. “Otherwise you’re creating more problems than you’re solving.”