Video can sometimes require a large amount of resources. So it's no wonder that with the ever-increasing popularity of cloud-based computing that someone realized it might be a good way to go with online video. This past week, FierceOnlineVideo published a good post that looks at how "cloud computing," can be applied to support online video destination sites.
If you're not familiar with cloud computing then read on and find out how it's helping some online video businesses keep things flowing freely in streaming media.
What is Cloud Based Computing?
Cloud computing is when a group of computers are tasked with sharing the load for a particular service. Many common applications are in the SaaS (Software as a Service) industry where thousands or perhaps millions of users could simultaneously be wanting to use the service. One server simply would not be able to handle that and so they take their service and spread it over multiple servers utilizing the power of them all. To the users there is only one interface or portal but on the backend there could be dozens or even hundreds of servers all working in unison to keep the flow of information from getting bogged down in the mire.
Taking that and applying it to online video is a tricky task as there are multiple things that need to be considered including where the video is going to be stored, how it will be delivered, where it will be delivered from and to, and transcoding (which not everyone will use). First and foremost in everyone's mind of course is going to be storage space and bandwidth (i.e. delivery).
These days storage space is extremely cheap when compared to what it was even just 10 years ago. Nowadays the amount of storage space isn't all that important as it's quick, easy and cheap to get more. But what is more important in regards to storage is where that storage is physically located. If you're serving videos mostly to Europe you will definitely want a European-based storage solution. However if you want to expand your audience into say North America, that storage solution isn't going to be the best idea in the world and thus you'd want to also have an N.A. based storage solution.
Now we have to talk about delivery because you've got two storage areas, Europe and North America. You don't want your potential viewers to have to do anything extraordinary to view your videos and you want those videos delivered to them as quickly as possible. That means your delivery system is going to have to know where those viewers are and then deliver the video to them in the fastest possible way by utilizing the closest server. A person in the Czech Republic shouldn't be having video served to them from your North American server just like a viewer in Idaho shouldn't get it from the European one, etc.
Many SaaS and content delivery networks (CDN) like Akamai take this into account and through both geo-locating (via IP address) and reading the browsers settings can determine what is the best place for them to get the video from without the users even knowing it's being done. If you're hoping to go global and seriously serve a lot of video to a lot of people in a lot of places (whew that's a lot of a lots) then you're going to have to take all of this into consideration and that's one of the major places where cloud computing can help.
On the flip side of all that is if you want to run a video service that is going to accept user submissions. Those same storage servers will also act as receptacles for all the incoming video. Again in order for the uploads to be successful and as fast as possible you'll certainly want them to upload to the closest server to them. The CDN will then take that video and propagate it to your other storage servers so that it too can be fed out to the masses in the quickest possible fashion.
Benefits - Reliance
Of course, there's far more to it than just that. For example you might have a video that suddenly goes viral and starts receiving massive amounts of hits and thousands of simultaneous streams. A single server or even a single location could very well not be able to handle all of that traffic. With a CDN or some SaaS backup these spikes will be managed without fail. There are some phenomena on the web that have been termed things like 'Digg-ified,' 'slashdotted' and TechCrunched where some article, webpage, video, piece of information becomes extremely popular and the influx of traffic crashes the target of the popularity due to the sudden and unexpectedly heavy load of traffic (BTW, I welcome that if you want to Digg-ify ReelSEO).
With cloud-based computing, a spike like that can be handled by simply enlisting more servers and bandwidth to handle it. Of course models like this can create an astronomical bill at the end of the month as well so you need to do your research prior to getting something like that setup.
Transcoding Video Content
Transcoding is another area where cloud computing can really do wonders. We all know that when we upload a video to YouTube they take the video and then process it into a format that they can then use to stream to the masses. This is basically transcoding as they're taking it from the originally encoded format and changing it (when necessary) into a format that their system understands. If you've uploaded any number of videos to YouTube you know that some days this can take more than an hour for just a short 5 minute video.
If you're going to run your own video sharing platform then you might have a lot of transcoding that needs to get done. This is especially true if you're going to syndicate content out to other sites and each site has their own format and specifications. At this point you're looking at either having to set up a farm of servers to get all the work done in a timely (i.e. real time) fashion. Of course you might setup your own cloud or transcoding farm as it were to handle this all. This will help to reduce your bandwidth and other expenses as you shuffle large files around getting them ready for viewers.
An alternative to that is to have a video platform that will do all of the transcoding for you and so you needn't worry about setting up all the hardware, software, etc. While this might save you in initial outlay of cash and resources it could cost you in the end but that all depends on the contract you decide upon with your provider.
Cloud-based transcoding can even be achieved on a 'for hire' sort of basis. There are now places like Amazon Web Services (AWS) which allow you to hire out some of their idle server time and have it do work for you. This is great if it's both random and infrequent usage as contracts and prices vary widely and are often based on file sizes, bandwidth and time used.
Advertising & Revenue
Finally, though I may have missed a few things in this article, you need to think about your advertising and revenue channels. With all the data flying to and fro in the metrics and analysis of views you really need to be able to trust all those that are handling that data without fail. The ad data and revenue channels need to be considered as private and sensitive as it is all part of your financials. That means the data can't be in any way compromised or misinterpreted. This means you need to maintain as much control over the infrastructure that is being used by it as possible or deal with highly trusted partners.
Things to Watch Out for
Remember earlier when I talked about having multiple storage locations and serving the videos to the right people from the right locations? I wanted to expand a little on that. When you use a service to handle some of the facets of your business you are then dependent on them...and any other service that they use. For example let's say that you use a CDN and they use AWS. That means that is something goes wrong on the AWS side your CDN may not be able to do anything about it. In fact you might not even be able to get any type of satisfaction depending on the contract between them and the contract between you and the CDN.
There are also some other things to watch out for as well including perhaps a conflict of interest, usage of your data and metadata, etc.
Certainly all companies that you outsource or hire to do certain aspects of your online video delivery, tracking, reporting and content management will have some form of contract that needs to be in place. You just have to make sure that the contract will work in your favor in the event of some catastrophic failure or unforeseen event like data loss or compromise not to mention ethical business practices etc.
Cloud computing is certainly the way to go, whether you seed and maintain your own clouds or use the power of some pre-existing clouds is up to you. Just remember that the point of these clouds is not to rain on your parade but rather to project you, your business and your profits closer to the sun. When properly utilized they can do just that and help to make your business soar.