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Cloud video processing takes centre stage at NAB 2014

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The Elemental Live encoding platform

When it comes to video processing, the biggest story from NAB Show, and indeed the spring trade show season generally, was not the continued progress in HEVC or UHD. Though very important, these were largely anticipated. It was instead the growing interest in the virtualization of video processing, whether that is using on-premise or cloud-hosted compute resources. Most of the major compression vendors made significant announcements to outline their virtualization capabilities.

Ericsson unveiled its Ericsson Virtualized Encoding, a unified software solution that can be implemented on processing platforms containing a combination of dedicated programmable hardware, like Ericsson’s video processing chip, in customer premises, and software or GPU-based servers that are on premise or potentially deployed in the cloud. Using a software abstraction layer, the solution is completely task and service-oriented, intelligently allocating encoding resources regardless of where they are, based on the task in hand and on operator priorities such as deployment speed, video quality and output.

According to Ericsson, the solution “eliminates complexity, enables more efficient resource utilization and bandwidth management and bridges the gap between broadcast and IT infrastructures, allowing deployment of enhanced TV services much more quickly.” One of the main benefits is to remove complexity of TV Anywhere video processing for media companies who need to prepare content in more formats for more screens than ever before.

Dr. Giles Wilson, Head of TV Compression at Ericsson, notes that there is no ‘one-size fits all’ solution to video processing in the TV Anywhere world. Instead a variety of compression platforms are being used to balance investment, architecture and performance.

“With the launch of Ericsson Virtualized Encoding we are unifying all these processing platforms under one intelligent software abstraction layer to ensure best-in-class performance, simplification of processes, reduced operational burden and far greater agility in deploying services,” he explains. “Our customers are especially welcoming our approach in removing the burden of deploying HEVC compression, and the inevitable platform upgrades as performance demands increase rapidly.”

Ericsson’s new AVP 1000 Stream Processor, unveiled at NAB Show 2014, is just one of the platforms supported by Ericsson Virtualized Encoding. This is said to be the densest and most powerful stream processor of its kind with the ability to process up to 512 transport streams of up to 300 Mbps each.

Of even more note, the Ercisson Virtualized Encoding platform supports video processing software from Elemental Technologies, a company that has made its name with its software-centric and virtualization focused solutions. “We are enabling TV service providers to efficiently address the growing complexity of multiscreen TV service delivery within a single solution; we are focused on helping them make the right choices with their video processing deployments,” explains Wilson.

Elemental Technologies itself has been explaining the concept of Software-Defined Video where video processing software runs on multiple processing architectures including appliances, blade solutions, virtual machines and the cloud. In short, Software-Defined Video solutions are infrastructure-agnostic and they are therefore flexible and easily upgradeable, as well as scalable.

“Unlike legacy solutions, this approach allows video providers to deploy software across an optimal combination of dedicated and virtualized resources in both private and public data centers,” Elemental Technologies says of Software-Defined Video.

Having built its reputation with software that harnesses GPU-accelerated video processing, Elemental Technologies now enables customers to use CPU-based configurations as well. This means less compute-intensive applications like single-stream encoding can take advantage of its platform without the assistance of graphic processors. It also enables broader geographical coverage for cloud-based deployments.

During NAB Show, Elemental showed an end-to-end live video processing workflow in virtual deployments running on VMware and Citrix XenServer. The demonstration included video encoding, packaging and management with live streaming to an array of PC and mobile devices. The company also showed live-to-VOD cloud video processing in a broadcast workflow where the contribution format used was HEVC.

The trend towards virtualization of video processing is gathering strength. According to Sam Rosen, Practice Director for the consulting and research company ABI Research, “The professional video production ecosystem is migrating from traditional hardware- and facilities-based solutions to software-based solutions running on virtual servers in datacenters in private or public clouds.” We reported recently how cloud transcoding is already proving its value, with companies like NBC Olympics and the BBC making good use of this approach.

Harmonic used NAB Show to launch and demonstrate Harmonic VOS, which enables completely virtualized media processing from a single software platform, encompassing what until now have been discreet functions spanning ingest to playout, graphics, branding, compression, packaging and delivery for broadcast and multiscreen applications.

Operating virtually in IT datacenter environments, VOS can scale up or down to accommodate peaks in demand based on total processing capacity matched against the requirements of all video services. “This solution brings  all media processing functions into one simplified, unified platform and workflow, enabling increased operational flexibility, scalability and efficiency,” the company declares.

According to Patrick Harshman, President and CEO of Harmonic, this solution represents the future of video production and delivery. “It enables the transformation to software defined, integrated and operationally elastic infrastructure,” he says. “Video content providers and service providers want greater flexibility, speed and the ability to leverage the cost-effective scale of IT environments. With VOS, our customers will be able to create and distribute new video content globally in a fraction of the time and with a fraction of the resources that it takes today, with better video quality, while leveraging public and private clouds.”

VOS includes Harmonic’s PURE Compression Engine, which caters for the needs of SD, HD and Ultra HD formats, MPEG-2, MPEG-4/AVC and HEVC compression over CBR, VBR and ABR streams. At NAB the company also announced the first product to be delivered based on VOS: the Electra XVM.

Electra XVM is an integrated package of VOS functionality including the PURE Compression Engine, playout, advanced graphics, packaging and delivery. It operates in datacenter environments on OpenStack or VMware vSphere environments. Virtual machine instances of Electra XVM can leverage datacenter capacity on-demand according to the mix of codecs and formats used, from MPEG-2 SD to HEVC Ultra HD.

“Electra XVM represents a new kind of product and a new kind of capability for our industry,” declares Krish Padmanabhan, Senior Vice President of Video Products for Harmonic. “It is completely virtual and completely IP and offers unprecedented functional breadth and video quality. With workflow efficiency, bandwidth savings and flexible cost models, it changes the economics and flexibility paradigms of content playout, distribution and multi-platform service delivery.”

Harmonic also announced recently that it has teamed up with Encoding.com, a major video transcoding service. The result is a cloud-based transcoding service with an unlimited cloud capacity for converting broadcast-quality video content into virtually any standard media format, including HEVC. Once again, the promised benefits (flexibility, scalability, affordability and also video quality) are achieved thanks to the principles of virtualization in datacenters.

The solution uses a pay-per-use business model. “Harmonic customers can use their existing presets and profiles either locally or in the cloud, as well as seamlessly divert workloads to local processing or the cloud as needed, thereby speeding up the transcoding process and controlling costs by allocating workloads dynamically,” says Yoav Derazon, Director of Product Management for Cloud Services and transcoding at Harmonic.

Envivio also used NAB to debut cloud-based video processing solutions. The company is integrating its core software, Envivio Muse encoders and Envivio Halo network media processors, into OpenStack cloud software. OpenStack is an open source cloud operating system designed for building private and public clouds. It controls large pools of compute, storage and networking resources throughout a datacenter, all managed through a dashboard. More than 200 companies are contributing to the project.

“Media and IT operations are now converging thanks to software-based video processing,” Envivio points out. “Service providers can reduce their operational costs by unifying their infrastructure and managing video operations as another application in their cloud, alongside other applications such as email and web portals. Operators can virtualize, scale and upgrade video processing infrastructure as needed with Envivio, either in a private cloud environment or leveraging the public cloud to deliver their video services.”

Envivio’s software has been fully virtualized and commercially deployed for the last year with a Tier 1 U.S. cable operator using VMWare virtualization and cloud infrastructure solutions. Envivio Muse encoding software now powers more than 10,000 live linear cable TV channels in this fully virtualized software environment, outputting nearly 33,000 live adaptive bit rate (ABR) streams, delivered to millions of subscribers for multi-screen video services.
“With consumer technology rapidly changing and adoption accelerating, operators now look for faster time to market and greater flexibility to roll out and to scale their multiscreen services,” explains Arnaud Perrier, Vice President of Strategy and Corporate Development for Envivio. “Deploying our software in a private or public cloud environment with OpenStack makes launching and operating video services much easier and more cost-effective. Those looking to entirely eliminate CapEx can opt for our end-to-end cloud service.”

Envivio is also partnering with the OTT streaming platform 1 Mainstream to deliver a turnkey end-to-end cloud-based video service. This employs a pay-as-you-grow model that allows content and service providers to scale the service with usage. The services available include encoding, packaging, DRM, billing, ad mediation, CDN and apps. Video delivery is currently available on high engagement platforms such as Apple TV, XBox, Roku, Amazon Fire TV, iOS/Android tablets and Samsung Smart TVs.

Visitors to NAB could see the 1 Mainstream and Envivio service on display. The two companies have already teamed to deliver a cloud video service for a Tier 1 operator in Europe that wanted to quickly deliver live OTT channels to the big screen.

Cisco also announced plans to virtualize and cloud-enable the video processing elements of its Videoscape TV service delivery platform. This is another step in the company’s Evolved Services Platform strategy that it unveiled earlier this year.

Cisco is introducing Videoscape Virtualized Video Processing (V2P) to address several industry pain points that plague media companies and service providers delivering multiscreen TV. These include the rapid growth in the amount of multi-screen video content and a dizzying proliferation of options at each stage of the video processing workflow.

V2P is designed to simplify service delivery and make media companies more agile. The solution has three elements, the first of which is Virtualized Video Processing Portal, which easily configures even the most complex workflow from a single screen, the company explains.

Virtualized Video Orchestrator (VVO) allocates software and hardware resources from a common pool to satisfy each workflow request. This pool can be a mix of physical and virtual resources. It embeds business and technical logic to instantiate additional software as needed and to allocate additional hardware.

The processing workload for each workflow is performed by the hardware and software elements of the V2P. Each piece of hardware, whether it is a performance optimized appliance or virtualized into an industry standard server, is multi-functional. Its functions are determined by the software elements instantiated by the VVO.

The hardware and software video processing elements that Videoscape Virtualized Video Processing uses include the Videoscape AnyRes software, Cisco’s DCM and 9036 families of high performance video processing platforms and UCS blades. “In this way, Videoscape V2P can preserve the customer’s investment in the company’s video products while providing an evolution path forward that simplifies the operation of ever-complex workflows,” Cisco notes.

Cisco says this new approach eliminates costly silos of single purpose hardware, reduces the complexity of accommodating the rapid growth in multi-screen video, and easily integrates a mix of physical appliances, virtual hardware and public clouds.

Videoscape V2P is based on industry standard technology such as NFV (Network Functions Virtualization) and SDN (Software Defined Network). It integrates into Cisco’s overall virtualization strategy and is a key part of the broader Cisco Evolved Services Platform.  

According to Joe Cozzolino, Senior Vice President, General Manager, Service Provider Video Infrastructure at Cisco, “Virtualized Video Processing enables our customers to focus on delivering better video services, faster and more cost effectively, and frees them from the burden of buying, configuring and re-configuring individual pieces of hardware.”

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