Public cloud is now a reality for the AV industry. Whether you're comfortable with it or not, it’s here. Our job as the system integrator remains the same as it has always been: Evaluate technologies and workflows with clients to identify their immediate and future needs to find the right solutions. That could be in the cloud or on premises.
Cloud-based systems are the shiny, new object that everyone is talking about. Every year there’s another new, shiny object. However, some are more fraught with risk than others. When we look at the uses of public cloud, we really want to start with what your customer is looking to gain. Flexibility, cost, agility? What are they willing to give up for those gains? As with every new technology, there are tradeoffs.
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If your client has an existing, on-prem infrastructure, cloud may or may not be the best choice. If your client has no infrastructure and is starting from scratch, a cloud workflow may be worth evaluating to determine if it’s the best choice.
CAPEX vs. OPEX
Moving to the cloud is all about converting costs from capital to operational expenses, as well as the ability to iterate more quickly without expensive equipment replacements. The first thing you want to ascertain for your client is if there is a financial motivation to move costs from CAPEX to OPEX in their organization. If there is, you can begin to look at the possible benefits. If the motivation is purely cost savings in the long term, then public cloud on an annualized basis may not save you a great deal of money.
On the new risks side of the equation, you will have service level agreements (SLAs) of public cloud vendors that are outside of your control, connectivity that may be outside of your control, and greater security concerns. The security concerns are generally not within the hyperscaler itself, as you would expect, but instead are more related to the network used to get the content to the cloud and back. That will be your concern as the system integrator.
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Also, when looking at the costs, one has to remember that some of the greatest costs in cloud today are egress charges—traffic that exits a network in transit to an external location. Egress charges represent the cost of bringing a signal or data back from the cloud to your client’s premises.
The formulation for looking at total cost of ownership with the cloud is immensely more complex. Because you're moving from predictable fixed costs of hardware and software, even if the software is as a subscription, to a world of subscription, consumption, and egress.
This is not to be taken lightly. We learned this the first time one of our clients did a proof of concept (POC) believing they wanted to be all in cloud. They just did not want another server in their rack. Their budget was $10,000 for a 90-day POC with the hyperscaler. After 90 days, they got a bill for $30,000.
Trial and Error
That is not to say that cloud is always right or always wrong. It’s always about finding the best answer. Sometimes that's about the technology, sometimes it's about the economics, and sometimes it's both. So how do you go about this? By taking the same steps that you always take with your client: discovery, evaluating needs, researching potential solutions, and pricing them out for your client.
One note: As you go through this process, you'll find the amount of work in the software-defined and hyperscaler world is more than you are used to. It likely will require skills you may not have directly in your organization today.
Early on, there will be a great deal trial and error since this is not mature standards-based technology. It’s a very iterative process, something you may not know how to do today. Projects will likely require sub consultants if you don't have the in-house experience.
However, once you go down this path, you’ll find the system design criteria are very much the same as every other system you've done in your career. You're looking to solve for functionality and quality. Some of the leading vendors today may have parts of solutions or may claim to have the entire solution. But we all know how that really works. At the end of the day, you are hired by the client to be the one, truly responsible party.
Because this technology is so new, you’ll find yourself doing a great number of POC projects. It’s important to understand how to characterize the project, what parts of the needs are real time, and which are offline (recording or archival). All of this points to how much risk is inherent in the project. And, of course, the risk has to tie back to the gain or why bother?
My recommendation is that as you enter the world of cloud-based, audiovisual systems as follows:
• Select some of your staff and get them training at the appropriate levels within the hyperscalers you're going to work with, as they differ highly.
• Make your business deal with the hyperscalers and decide if you’re going to resell their services or merely integrate them.
• Do your technology evaluations with existing vendors for what they're doing in cloud, and look at your competitors to ensure that you understand a balanced offering of products.
As with all new technologies, make sure you have adequate time to design and test iteratively. Always include all of the signal paths, including ingress and egress to the cloud. This may point out challenges that you may not have expected.
And lastly, enjoy the ride. It's always fun to learn new stuff.