About utd. by content
utd. by content provides media management and digital distribution services to the news, media, and entertainment industries. The company’s services include developing digital master files of films, preparing subtitles and audio files, and encrypting the finished product. utd. by content has a division that distributes films to outlets in remote locations through a partner network as well as satellite, fiber network, and other channels. utd. by content has about 100 employees in multiple locations around the globe.
One of the company’s most in-demand services is converting video to different formats, (a process known as transcoding), and adding subtitles, audio, and other localization features. Video content can include feature films, television programs, archival footage, and karaoke material.
Traditionally, the company completed its transcoding work on physical servers in an on-premises data center. This approach proved expensive and difficult to reconcile for accounting. For example, to provide the compute resources needed for video conversions, utd. by content wanted to purchase servers that it could ideally depreciate over three years. However, because the work is based on projects, the company usually had to depreciate the equipment over much shorter periods. This would reduce the value of assets on the balance sheet and affect overall profitability.
utd. by content also wanted to become more nimble and work more effectively as it expanded. “We had to decide whether to stay with a brick-and-mortar data center or adopt a more flexible, dynamic platform,” explains Gerald Hinton, Senior Director of Technology. “Our decision would determine how stable and well equipped for growth we would be.”
If utd. by content chose to use a service provider, the company expected to incur lower costs than in an on-premises data center. Security also played a critical role in the company’s deliberations. “Piracy is always a concern, so we do everything we can to protect our customers’ intellectual property,” says Hinton. “Our internal security team constantly evaluates the detailed procedures and processes we have in place. Before we entrust any aspect of our business to a service provider, we conduct an audit to ensure they meet our strict security demands.”
Why Amazon Web Services
To lower costs and stretch the infrastructure to support demand spikes during client projects, utd. by content started exploring cloud computing. The company wanted a global presence, competitive pricing, and an infrastructure with the elasticity to support peaks and declines in demand. “We realized that Amazon Web Services (AWS), with its proven performance and the ability to support long-term growth, was the best service provider to meet our needs, and we decided to concentrate our evaluation on the AWS Cloud,” says Hinton. “utd. by content also needed a service provider that operated in accordance with Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) data management best practices. AWS systems, processes and technologies are aligned closely with these best practices.
The organization tested Amazon EC2 instances extensively before proceeding to full deployment. “We looked at a number of instance types, and how storage instances interacted with transcode instances,” says Hinton. “We based our final architecture on a rigorous price-to-performance analysis.”
After selecting AWS, utd. by content spent six weeks implementing the video conversion system—a custom media asset management and transcode solution—in the AWS Cloud. The environment consists of one large Amazon EC2 instance for storage and five medium Amazon EC2 instances for the transcode nodes. During peak periods, the company has scaled up to 20 instances.
Video log data is stored in Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3), which the asset management system moves to an Amazon Elastic Block Store (Amazon EBS) temporary cache where the video undergoes transcoding. When the transcoding conversion is complete, it triggers a quality control process. If the task is undertaken successfully, the video content is sent to Amazon S3 for long-term storage and delivered to the client using File Transfer Protocol (FTP) and other delivery mechanisms. utd. by content operates its cloud environment in the Asia Pacific (Singapore) Region. Figure 1 demonstrates the architecture on AWS.
Figure 1. utd. by content Architecture on AWS
Hinton is extremely happy with the support that utd. by content receives from AWS. “Within a couple of hours of logging my interest through the AWS website, I received a call from an account manager asking how they could help make our project successful,” he says. “They then put me in touch with technical experts who could deliver a solution and invited us to training sessions and seminars.
“The cost for utd. by content to run a workload in the AWS environment is 30 percent of the cost of running that same workload in an on-premises data center,” says Hinton. “However, this is only part of the overall picture; the bigger benefit for us is the ability to flex and scale so we can deliver services more effectively for our customers. Should a customer in Asia need a project completed within a tight deadline, we can provision the required infrastructure within a few hours.” utd. by content can easily scale up to 100 instances or beyond if the customer has a large enough video conversion project.
“Provisioning an on-premises data center environment that provide the same resources for video conversion as AWS would have taken up to 17 weeks to complete,” says Hinton. “This is nearly three times longer than the six weeks it took to deploy the video conversion system in the AWS Cloud. In addition, moving to a cloud-based, pay-as-you-go model has reduced capital expenditure costs for the video conversion project from 50 percent to less than 10 percent of overall project costs.”
AWS has demonstrated alignment with the MPAA best practices and AWS infrastructure is compliant with all applicable MPAA infrastructure controls. This reassured utd. by content that the cloud service provider shares its respect for security. “Working with an organization such as AWS—which has that accreditation and uses common infrastructure to support customers in industries such as government, financial services, and media—gives us confidence that our clients’ valuable information will be protected,” says Hinton. “We’re not putting pre-release material in the cloud yet, but we’ve certainly uploaded new content such as cinema releases.”
System availability is also crucial to utd. by content and AWS is meeting the company’s high demands with ease. “We had set 99.999 percent availability as a minimum standard, and so far we’re virtually at 100 percent,” says Hinton. “This is particularly important, as we’re expanding our business into new regions and want to showcase our ability to meet potential customers’ needs.”