Monday, September 21, 2015

Melding Digital Asset Management

By David S Miller/COO, Empress Media Asset Management, LLC
published in M and E Journal Fall 2015


Tapes migrated to hard drives and solid state media, paper gave way to electronic media, and files shifted from closet shelves to centralized storage. Today, information floods in, and moves at blinding speeds.  Unfiltered and unorganized, it is as good as wasted. What good is all the content in the world if you cannot find it! 

Digital assets are the most valuable properties a modern organization owns, so their management is essential.   Economies of scale, flexibility, and accessibility push organizations to consider cloud-based solutions, but limitations restrict the feasibility of this approach. Hybrid platforms using both on premise and cloud systems may be the most prudent approach to meet current needs while allowing organizations to rapidly capitalize on future improvements in cloud offerings.

Challenges of the Digital World

1.      Content is king

Digital assets are a key value of any organization in the information age.  The ability to maximize the value of digital assets is a key challenge for modern organizations. Internal operational processes and best practices including training, compliance, and business intelligence are encoded in documents, diagrams, and videos. As the era of long term employees has gone, progress can only be made by preserving each employee’s contributions to the organization. 

Each organization must further express its mission, brand, and value proposition to potential investors or stakeholders and to its customers.  Digital assets are the heart of organizations in the business of producing and distributing content:  broadcasters and production companies.

A picture is worth a thousand words, but video is worth the entire story. Organizations have evolved from traditional print and still messages to video.   In a competitive marketplace for hearts and minds (i.e. eyeballs), there is great demand for high quality video content.  In order to compete, organizations must be able to quickly find and share video across departments and geographic areas, between internal staff and external customers, stakeholders, and the general public.

2.      Bigger pieces from more sources

Information is increasingly digital, coming from computers, computerized devices, the internet, amateur and professional digital cameras, tablets, smart phones, and even surveillance systems and smart appliances (the “internet of things”).
With HD in handhelds, 4K on TV & 100 Mbps on edits, a single file could be hundreds of megabytes up to terabytes.  UHD 4K and 8K content is upon us and will cause dramatic bottlenecks in bandwidth and increased storage requirements-it takes more to store and longer to move.
Storage requirements thus increase exponentially, raising the questions about where to store content, how to use it, and how much of it to keep.

3.      Find it Quick Find it Quick, Get it

Efficient search for all of the digital assets in an organization is an imperative.  Information today is spread over different locations, in different formats, on different systems resulting in “”Isolated Informational Silos””.  Employees spend one third of their time searching and reusing files, so the labor costs of inefficiency are tremendous.  Quite often it is easier to recreate a document or reshoot a video – further exacerbating the inefficiency.
Assets found must be easy to use and easy to access anywhere - Far too often, manual, repetitive processes limit efficiency.  Multiple redundant and isolated systems results in wasted money for infrastructure, training, and support.

Solutions for the Digital World

1. Management to the Rescue

Introduction of a management system can improve search, control security and access permissions, and facilitate processes including browse, approval, editing, distribution, and deletion.  It streamlines multiple repetitive processes, automating workflows across the lifecycle of an asset:  from planning, drafting, editing, review, distribution, to final storage/archive.

Management systems can provide information for business intelligence.   This includes dashboards for monitoring internal processes and tasks as well as analytics to measure external use of digital assets.

2.      Metadata - The magic wand which can “”help”” find the asset at the right time!

Metadata is the key to any organizational and search system.  In addition to the digital asset (essence) is the information about the asset, including:   source, digital attributes (frame rate, etc), rights and use permissions, asset category, descriptive information, which projects use that asset, versioning, and relationships with other assets.  Careful planning and strict adherence to standards ensures that search can quickly provide the best results.  User behavior patterns should align with organizational best practices to ensure that sufficient metadata is associated with each asset while users are not unduly burdened with metadata entry.   Metadata can be entered at ingest and then further appended during the life cycle of the asset.

3.      Unify to streamline

a.      Centralize locally-good

Centralizing content allows an organization to ensure physical and electronic security of key assets (behind firewalls, with key card access in secure data centers, etc.).  Internal staff can most efficiently organize the information into appropriate storage and processing systems, connected with appropriate network infrastructure. Versions can be controlled, with immediate access to the most recent files.  Duplicate storage of multiple unneeded copies can be eliminated if multiple users can access the same content simultaneously.

Centralization is quite feasible in a small environment where high speed connections between the elements of the infrastructure are typical.   However, centralization is inherently problematic or limited with a large organization spread in different locations.   Standard internet connections may be too slow for transmitting large quantities of information.  High speed connectivity between locations can be prohibitively expensive.

b.      Centralize to the cloud-better

Inherent in the problem of centralization & standardization of content and its management is the globalization of the staff and stakeholders, as well as the worldwide demand for organizational content.  Cloud based systems offer a compelling answer to the demand for rapid worldwide access and distribution.

Major organizations can deploy systems in their own dedicated worldwide data centers or infrastructure.   Whether the organization owns the infrastructure or has third party vendors (e.g., RackSpace) to provide it, these Private cloud systems can be scaled to provide localized/regional access worldwide to centralized systems. 

The massive investment into Public cloud systems from vendors like Microsoft, Amazon, and HP means that small and medium sized organizations can now afford cloud infrastructure.   The scale of the public cloud systems continues to drive down costs.  

These public cloud systems offer:

·         State-of-the-art physical and digital security
·         Rapid deployment
·         Scalability as needed
·         Commitment to innovation
·         Swift and systematic hardware & software upgrades
·         Pay-as-you-go pricing

This can allow organizations to save investments in the infrastructure needed to meet daily and peak capacity demands.  

On premise or smaller private cloud platforms will face obsolescence over time and may have  significant downtime during system upgrades or delays in deploying the newest technology:  the cost to buy, deploy, and train for new on premise technology may result in companies not using the latest technological innovations.

Public cloud platforms offer all the advantages of system centralization, with the added benefit of access from all stakeholders in all locations.  Economies of scale continue to improve as cloud systems continue to scale, so processing and storage prices will continue to improve.
With communications driven by the marketing and sales departments, many technology companies are excited to capitalize on the cloud marketing buzz, but significant challenges still remain for the Centralize to Cloud model. 

TCO Challenge - Dedicated long term cloud storage and processing is generally more expensive than on premise systems.   A large video archive system may be 100 TB, which has a list price in Amazon S3 storage of $12,000 per month.  That is the outright purchase price of some of the simplest archive systems. 

Staying Connected - If an individual or organization loses its internet connection or can only get limited bandwidth, then there is no access to cloud storage.   If mission-critical assets are only available there, then users must scramble to find alternative media or use other processes to maintain operations.

Last Mile - The interconnectivity of heterogeneous cloud based systems is very strong, but organizations can have major issues with the bandwidth of the “last mile” connecting users in various locations to the cloud.   For smaller files, especially text and simple graphics, this is usually not an issue.  Single high definition video files however, can be extremely large.  Especially problematic is the requirement for rapid connectivity to native resolution content for video editing.

Transferring a 4K file over 1.5Mbps upload speed could take more than 800 Hours.

Security Woes - The final and most severe issue with the cloud is security. With high profile data leaks repeatedly in the news, this has become an increasingly pressing issue.   Organizational security teams will naturally want all mission critical content tightly secured behind the organizational firewall.  

c.       Centralize:  Hybrid Deployment - Best

Organizations can maximize the advantages of centralization and cloud based systems using a hybrid system, getting the “best of both worlds”.   Lightweight proxy copies, especially for large video assets, allow for more efficiently using and sharing content.   With universal accessibility, the key elements of the system are in the cloud:  the metadata, the database, and the proxies.   The history, logging information, versioning, and other information can help users to optimize their use of assets.  The proxy copies allow quick access across all locations.   None of these elements are large, so cloud storage and processing is minimized.  

·         The native resolution content can be stored in local storage or archive systems.  With tiered storage, content can be stored on premise wherever best suited for the organization:  balancing availability (how quickly it is needed) and cost.   With an effective management system, the organization can optimize storage tiers.  
·         Management systems based on cloud proxies can minimize cloud storage, processing, and transmission:  native resolution content need to only be moved when absolutely required (e.g. video editing). 
·         Even more powerful is a system than can link together multiple locations, so organizations can process and store native resolution content only where needed.  

Some organizations may not approve even partial deployment in a public cloud for security reasons.   Others can address security based on watermarking, encryption, and discrete permission settings for asset access and use.  

Deployment of a system based on a service oriented architecture and flexible configuration settings will allow for such a hybrid deployment.

A service-oriented architecture (SOA) is a design pattern in which application components provide services to other components via a communications protocol, typically over a network. The principles of service-orientation are independent of any vendor, product or technology.  SOA defines how to integrate widely disparate applications for a Web-based environment and uses multiple implementation platforms. Rather than defining an API, SOA defines the interface in terms of protocols and functionality.  (source: Wikipedia)


A good management system, rich metadata, and a solution that can use the best of both locations (on premise and cloud) gives organizations a powerful solution to meet their current needs with the flexibility to quickly adapt to their changing needs  and to changing technology, especially improvements in cloud technology and bandwidth.

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