Cloud-Compatible Workflows Spur Content Tech Integration

Brick Eksten, president, Digital Rapids

Brick Eksten, president, Digital Rapids

October 29, 2012 – New approaches to enabling flexibility in technology integration for content distribution through cloud-compatible workflow management systems are gaining traction as linchpins to over-the-top and TV Everywhere expansions of the premium TV sector.
For example, after introducing its Kayak workflow system earlier this year (see March, p. 19), Digital Rapids is reporting its decision to support multi-technology workflow integration on a platform that runs across on-premises and cloud-based resources is paying off with a growing lineup of ecosystem partners. Several dozen technology partners are now making it easier for their customers to integrate with their solutions through Kayak, says Digital Rapids president Brick Eksten.

“We now have a majority of vendors out there with concrete plans on where they want to go and what they want to do with Kayak,” Eksten says, noting the lineup spans suppliers of codec technologies, quality control tools, audio loudness management, digital rights management and more. “We also have large partners on the integration side who sell platforms that run cable systems and studios.”

Two major suppliers of cloud support services, Microsoft with its Azure platform and Amazon with Amazon Web Services (AWS), have moved to cloud-compatible workflow systems as well. This fall Microsoft introduced Workflow Manager 1.0 as the next-generation workflow for its SharePoint collaboration software, which is a core component of Azure. Earlier this year, AWS launched Simple Workflow Service to address key challenges that have impeded complex multi-task implementations of applications running on AWS.

In a blog post Amazon CTO Werner Vogels offers a candid description of the issues that prompted the company to introduce the new workflow management system and likely will lead to growing use of these sorts of workflow integration systems everywhere, including in the multiscreen services space. As suppliers turn to asynchronous and distributed processing models to support independent scalability across loosely coupled parts of their applications, they must develop ways to coordinate multiple distributed components, incurring increased latency and unreliability inherent in remote communications, Vogels notes.

“Today, to accomplish this, developers are forced to write complicated infrastructure that typically involves message queues and databases along with complex logic to synchronize them,” Vogels writes. “All this ‘plumbing’ is extraneous to business logic and makes the application code unnecessarily complicated and hard to maintain.”

Vogels says Amazon’s Simple Workflow service (SWF) makes it easy for developers to architect and implement these tasks, run them in the cloud or on premises and coordinate their flow.SWF manages the execution flow such that the tasks are load balanced across registered workers, inter-task dependencies are respected, concurrency is handled appropriately and that child workflows are executed, he adds.

SharePoint Workflows for SharePoint Server 2013 performs similar functions for Azure cloud-hosted customers, the key difference, of course, being that the new Workflow Manager 1.0 is tied specifically to use of the SharePoint platform. According to Jürgen Willis, principal group program manager for SharePoint, the new system allows SharePoint customers to host and manage these long-running workflows with support for deployments that require multi-tenancy support, scalability and high availability.

“Tenants in Workflow Manager may represent the various departments of an enterprise or the customers of an ISV (independent software vendor),” Willis explains in a recent blog. “Multiple Workflow Manager nodes can be joined together into a farm deployment to scale the service.”

Microsoft has added new capabilities for managing system tenants, activities and workflow instances. “This includes repository and version management for published activities and workflows,” Willis says. “Messaging and management are clearly two critical areas for building and maintaining workflow solutions, and this is an area where we will continue to invest as we evolve this technology”.

Whereas SharePoint is based on a service-oriented-architecture (SOA), Digital Rapids has positioned Kayak to make it easier to integrate a multitude of applications into a customer’s workflow by avoiding the need to individually integrate each process-specific component of each application onto the SOA system. Kayak provides a template for designing workflows that allows customers to draw on specific processing components as elements in a catalog that can be activated on servers and assigned specific policies, Eksten explains.

Applications are prototyped with the development of the workflow, tested and deployed to be utilized as dictated by whatever workflow processes are brought into play for any given piece of content – depending, for example, on whether the content is to be delivered live or ingested into storage, what the encoding resolutions are, whether metadata should be overlaid or embedded, etc. “We’re blueprinting the workflow to tell the box (server) which processes to pull in and how to run them,” he says.

“If you think of transcoding, formatting, rendering and other steps in distribution, you have to keep everything working together, which is very hard to maintain,” he continues. “That’s the biggest complaint about SOA today. With Kayak, if you want to add a box, you don’t have to think of how it has to be used. You point Kayak at that box and anything you’ve designed now runs on that blank slate. Provisioning is automated and completely dynamic.”

Along with facilitating workflow integration with third-party suppliers’ products, Digital Rapids has integrated the latest iterations of its solutions, including version 2.0 of its Transcode Manager media processing software and StreamZ Live Broadcast multiscreen encoder, with Kayak. At the same time, Eksten notes, beyond content-specific workflows, the Digital Rapids architecture allows customers to integrate back office and other IT workflows through Kayak to support a unified enterprise system that makes it easier to conduct business in today’s device-saturated market.

From the Digital Rapids partners’ perspective, integration into Kayak allows vendor partners to enable customers who have moved into the new workflow system to more easily address the kinds of problems cited by Amazon’s Werner Vogels. “It’s really managing all those virtual apps they have to manage as part of their overall solution,” Eksten says. “It can be a rifle-shot solution or an overall workflow. The beauty of integrating with Kayak is the integration works for them whether they use discrete workflows or integrate directly into the end-to-end customer workflow.”

Building a partner ecosystem of suppliers together with enhancing Digital Rapids’ own products to operate seamlessly across internal customer facilities and the cloud is crucial to drawing customers to Kayak. “The richness of the Kayak partner ecosystem is one of the platform’s key strengths, combining with its unique architecture to let our mutual customers quickly integrate new technologies into their operations while mixing and matching partner solutions to create the optimal workflows for their needs,” says Onkar Parmar, senior partnership manager for Kayak at Digital Rapids.

Comments from Kayak partners buttress this claim. “Digital Rapids’ Kayak platform allows our mutual customers to quickly and flexibly integrate Dolby Digital Plus premium multichannel audio encoding and Dolby’s loudness correction technology into powerful workflows to efficiently realize and differentiate their multiscreen offerings,” says Jean-Christophe Morizur, senior director of e-media professional solutions at Dolby Laboratories.

Similar high praise is offered by Venera Technologies, a supplier of quality control and other test and measurement tools. “The innovative Kayak platform provides a perfect opportunity for Venera to bring our QC technologies to Digital Rapids’ customers, enabling them to enhance their media production and delivery operations with content verification at various stages of their workflows,” says Fereidoon Khosravi, senior vice president of business development for the Americas at Venera. “The ease with which Kayak users can integrate our QC components into powerful workflows is simply amazing,”

Other participants in the Kayak partner ecosystem include Automatic Sync Technologies; BuyDRM; Corpus Media Labs; Digimetrics; DSB Consulting; Empress Media Asset Management, LLC; EZDRM; Hitachi Solutions; Ignite Technologies, Inc.; Interra Systems; Irdeto; Manzanita Systems; Minnetonka Audio Software; National TeleConsultants; PixelTools; R Systems Inc.; Screen Subtitling Systems; Signiant; Solekai Systems; Tata Elxsi, and VidCheck.

One of the early points of connection for use of Kayak in the premium services arena is UltraViolet. For distributors in the UltraViolet ecosystem having a workflow that can support all the points of interaction required for execution on the platform is essential, Eksten notes.

“We’re working with the studios and some of our partners to test on the UltraViolet workflows using Kayak to integrate into their business systems,” he says. “There’s a complex interaction between work performed by various technologies for UltraViolet, including encoding, DRM, multiplexing, as well as the need to integrate on the business side with metadata, registration and authentication.”