This year’s HPA Tech Retreat was a veritable who’s who of the media and entertainment technology industry, attracting almost a thousand senior executives and senior technologists, Hollywood professionals and broadcasters. All in all, the event represented nearly the entire spectrum of Avid’s customer base.
Amid an inspired and sometimes debate-filled line up of speakers and panels, the retreat was a welcome opportunity to meet a number of our top customers and talk shop – everything from industry trends and challenges to updates on Avid products and happenings. It’s one of the few times each year that we can enjoy an open exchange of ideas and opinions in an informal, collaborative and intimate setting. (The desert sun in late February doesn’t hurt either.)
An inside look
At the Innovation Zone there was a lot of interest around the new feature sets of ScriptSync and PhraseFind for Media Composer. The industry has been eagerly awaiting these new features and they weren’t disappointed. Customers overwhelmingly welcomed the introductions.
Not surprisingly, much of the conference agenda focused on the challenges the industry faces today, and what’s on the horizon for tomorrow. You could see the trends played out on the stage as speakers tackled topics like cloud, virtual reality, security, futuristic broadcast stations and networks, and new standards. There were also some now- familiar yet still-important topics like high-resolution 4K, 8K and HDR – demonstrating that the industry is still maturing into these newer standards and making ongoing technology strides.
Avid experts took part in three conference tracks, sharing their insights on everything from cloud production and IMF to ransomware. Audience members took it all in, taking the opportunity to ask questions and spur debate that no doubt continued outside the conference halls.
Up in the cloud
Avid’s solution integration architect Gurparkash Saini participated in “Production in the Cloud: Pitfalls and Epiphanies.” Gurparkash and other panelists spoke to real-world use cases that highlight the all-too-real challenges and lessons that arise from implementing cloud technologies for content production.
To many, cloud applications conjure images of web browser-based derivatives of popular software, such as email or word processing, usually based on a ‘lift and shift’ approach to migrating capability to the cloud. Many applications and processes lend themselves to this approach, built on the assumption that network connectivity can be assured. However, for other kinds of applications, user interaction and expectation doesn’t translate easily to this type of approach.
Audio/music production is a prime example. Creative users are demanding. They want to use hardware surfaces and interfaces, and lots of real-time processing plugins. They expect any adjustments to be applied instantly, in real time, and in today’s modern connected world. They want to be able to share content and collaborate with others, wherever they are in the world.
Exporting files to, and shipping, physical drives has been replaced by the virtual equivalent of file storage and sharing platforms, along with the associated export, import, organization and versioning complexities that have plagued the media industry since the dawn of file-based production. Add to this concern around security and access and it doesn’t take long to realize that replicating existing workflows isn’t always the best approach when transitioning to a new technology.
Internet and cloud environments bring additional challenges compared with on-premise installations. Connectivity can be variable. The virtualized infrastructures that the cloud depends on contribute to variable bandwidth, latency and jitter. Compute and network performance can vary when physical infrastructure is shared among many virtual machines with differing workload needs. And, as several speakers at the retreat pointedly observed, it takes time to transfer content to and from cloud environments—a problem exacerbated by the larger file sizes of greater media resolutions.
One area of agreement among panelists? Security. While perceived insecurity of cloud environments is seen as a barrier to adoption, established public cloud vendors can devote more resources to security than most media organizations. As speakers highlighted how emails are the most common method for sharing credentials and ‘password’ is one of the most commonly used passwords, the case for educating users became even clearer, critical to ensuring security.
The software development process should also contribute to maintaining security. Avid, for example, regularly performs reviews and actively works with third-party security organizations to audit and stress code and software artifacts against attack profiles.
Coming together in the cloud
In this environment of immediacy, the benefits of cloud collaboration capabilities can’t be underestimated. With Avid Cloud Collaboration for Pro Tools, users participate in near real time with shared tracks that can be selectively or automatically kept in sync. Only those invited by the project owner can access those tracks, and any metadata and audio media is automatically uploaded or downloaded in the background. In-app instant chat and notifications support interactive feedback between collaborators, and all changes are logged to allow history tracking. By eliminating the need for manual file import or export tasks, Avid Cloud Collaboration enables users to focus on what they do best – being creative.
Key to enabling all of this is the MediaCentral Platform running on Amazon’s public cloud, AWS. Avid has designed and implemented an integration and services framework as a layered micro-service-based architecture, where various cloud-native service modules are deployed to support Pro Tools Cloud Collaboration features. This framework allows us to respond to changing market needs and offer unique new services, which to date also support the Avid Marketplace, Artist Community, Sibelius music notation software, and other subscription services.
This framework also enables remote access to editing workgroups when using Media Composer | Cloud, journalist workflows using MediaCentral | UX in a web browser, and integrated access to newsroom, editing, asset management and graphics workflows through Avid mobile apps. In future, MediaCentral will power new cloud-native and hybrid workflows enabling organizations to bridge and transition between the on-premise and cloud worlds.
Ultimately, the cloud can dramatically improve operational efficiency through a platform approach to automating processes, and eliminate outdated siloed workflows through application integration and collaboration. Coupled with the ability to leverage compute power that would be costly on a conventional capital expenditure basis, and paying for only what you use, the cloud makes it possible to provide new and unique capabilities to cost efficiently create and deliver original content across multiple platforms and viewer devices.
IMF – past, present and future
Stephen Wilson from Avid’s architecture group spoke on a panel on “IMF & Automated Mastering” alongside fellow industry luminaries Arjun Ramamurthy, VP of Technology at Twentieth Century Fox and Rohit Puri, engineering manager, Cloud Media Systems at Netflix. IMF constructs can be valuable prior to validation and distribution. Within production or even pre-production workflows, there are many highly iterative and important elements that benefit from delayed decisions in the creative process—for example editorial, musical and other artistic content. Using some of the IMF constructs can help with these workflows by allowing applications to synchronize their rich data across geographic locations.
While enabling layers of interchange, deeper layers of studio production can also be accommodated. IMF structures such as the Packing List enable a given local bundle to be collected and moved. If you don’t need to conform to IMF publishing standards, an asset map can also be used to understand a bundle’s contents and media types. This enables an entire local production to be moved across systems. While you can’t make guarantees about whether it’s interoperable, a master, or a format that a master should be able to read, this doesn’t preclude the package from producing a validated IMF through the use of micro services and appropriate access.
The other panelists highlighted how IMF can be used to manage media in the cloud, and develop solutions for media distribution and mastering. While great strides have been made in advancing IMF in recent years, archiving is seen as the next big challenge on the horizon for IMF, and further adoption is needed at both the studio and distribution levels, and eventually at the enterprise level.
Beware the ransomware threat
Avid’s director of architecture, Rob Gonsalves, gave an insightful presentation on “Preventing Ramsomware Attacks”, looking at the growing threat that ransomware poses to media production companies, and how they can protect their assets and mitigate the risk of these attacks.
Ransomware is a form of malware that encrypts data files and holds them for ransom. Users and organizations are generally unaware that they’ve been infected until they can no longer access their data or receive computer messages advising them of the attack and demanding a ransom payment in exchange for a decryption key. The ransom is typically between $300 and $10,000—to be paid via Bitcoin or some other form of anonymous payment system.
Ransomware is a growing and serious threat that can lead to temporary or permanent loss of sensitive or proprietary information, disruption to regular operations, and potential harm to an organization’s reputation, as well as financial losses incurred to restore systems and files. On average, more than 4,000 attacks occurred daily in 2016—a fourfold increase over 2015.
The initial attack often happens when a user inadvertently downloads and installs malware from a website. After installation, the ransomware quietly searches for and encrypts files. Its goal is to stay below the radar until it can find and encrypt all of the files that could be of value to the user. By the time the company receives the malware’s message with the ransom demand, the damage has already been done.
Prevention and protection
Rob’s presentation outlined several key strategies that can help companies mitigate the threat of ransomware:
- First and foremost is prevention—don’t allow malware to infect systems in the first place. Prevention measures include user training, patch management, managing file permissions, deploying endpoint security software, and use of shadow copies on client computers.
- Develop a robust backup strategy and make regular backups. In the event that your system is attacked and files are encrypted, your only viable option is to restore the backup. The only other options are to pay the ransom or lose the data.
- Configure your disaster recovery (DR) system to address the specific threats of ransomware, using techniques like deferred deletes (scripts that defer deletion of files on the backup system by a period of time—e.g. seven days—to allow for time to recover files after an attack) and threshold triggering (DR scripts to report storage anomalies to help identify when an attack is underway). If you have enough storage capacity on your backup system, you can also configure the DR script to copy files to multiple, independent backup folders.
Check out Avid’s technical brief on Avid MediaCentral Platform Disaster Recovery Systems for more information on deploying a DR system to recover valuable data in the event of an attack.
As usual, it was a jam-packed HPA Tech Retreat that served as informative and a relaxed way to connect with other industry pros and share ideas. Before long it will be time to look ahead to the next retreat and the production and post innovations that can affect us all.
Join us at Avid Connect 2017, the annual gathering of the Avid Customer Association taking place on April 22-23 in Las Vegas, as we unveil our newest technology innovations. Register now to hear the news firsthand and join hundreds of media professionals in coming together to shape the future of the industry.
Photos by HPA, Hollywood Professional Association
Avid Connect 2017: Expanding the Possibilities
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