By Fred Dawson
October 4, 2013 – Verizon is ramping up what it hopes will be a formidable challenge to Amazon’s dominance in public cloud services with capabilities that could simplify the scaling of premium video distribution, including the LTE-based expansion underway at Verizon Wireless.
Slated for beta launch before the year is out, Verizon Cloud is bringing to bear the company’s experience as a supplier of vertical-specific virtual private cloud services to enterprises, which has been a growing part of the carrier’s business since it acquired the datacenter management firm Terremark two and a half years ago. Verizon officials say they built the new service from the ground up to allow large enterprises, mid-size companies and small development shops alike to exploit the agility and economic benefit of a generic public cloud along with the reliability and scale of an enterprise-level service..
“This is a virtual -machine computing and object-based storage platform,” says Jim Anthony, vice president of sales engineering at Verizon Terremark. “Prior to this only Amazon and maybe Microsoft Azure could do something on this scale.”
Verizon has taken the public cloud to new levels of dynamism, applications flexibility and performance assurance, Anthony adds. “Customers can set up and deploy literally thousands of virtual machines to use for a day or a week and then shut them down,” he says.
The provisioning and deployment of virtual machines and assignment of performance levels takes just seconds, he notes. With a credit card or purchase order on file, customers pay as they go for computing and storage. “Once you’re signed up you can manage the virtual machines and deploy your own apps without any human intervention from the Terremark side,” he says. “It’s all fully automated.”
The public cloud service supports “much higher scale and much lower cost points” than has been the case with Verizon’s virtual private cloud services, Anthony explains. In the private cloud market “we built in loads of security, role-based access control and other things including load balancers and firewalls even if customers didn’t need them,” he says. “The new platform will allow customers to decide whether they want to have those things, and it will allow them to use their own vendors to support the applications they want.”
Verizon intends to build its customer base incrementally, scaling the use of its datacenters through the beta phase extending well into 2014. In order to ensure personalized service for each beta customer, access to Verizon Cloud Compute and Verizon Cloud Storage will initially be limited to a few hundred new users per month, officials say. At the outset the public cloud service will be supported out of Verizon’s Culpeper, Va. datacenter. Other datacenters in Englewood, Colo., Miami, Santa Clara, Calif., Amsterdam, London and Sao Paolo will be brought into play next year.
Having worked with media verticals in the private cloud space, Verizon is leveraging that experience to tune the public cloud service to the needs of several key media segments, including network service providers, over-the-top providers and studios and TV networks who can use the cloud for storage and to enable more flexible and scalable approaches to post-production management of their assets. One factor critical to this segment is quality assurance, Anthony notes.
“Traditionally cloud providers haven’t offered media companies much recourse when they run into performance issues,” he says. “You get what you get from public cloud providers. We’ve taken a different approach by including quality-of-service options so that a customer can ask for higher levels of throughput to the network or for more access to storage on a virtual-machine by virtual-machine basis.”
Verizon is also making it possible for providers of transcoding, streaming and other systems vital to media operations to set up their proprietary platforms and offer their services to multiple customers from the Verizon Cloud, he adds. “We will be establishing many business partner relationships along these lines,” he says. “These types of services won’t be available immediately, but they will be when we get beyond the beta phase.”
For video distributors another advantage associated with the Verizon Cloud service is the tie-in with the carrier’s transport infrastructure, notes Rick Capstraw, director of the media entertainment practice vertical for Verizon Enterprise Solutions. “When a partner is co-located in the Verizon Terremark cloud we’re able to provide the Layer 2 and 3 functionalities and take that whole workflow from the transcoding to distribution,” Capstraw says. “We can put the whole distribution onto the public Internet or stream content for MSOs or satellite providers to use over their own private architectures without touching the Internet.”
One distributor who may soon make use of the cloud efficiencies is Verizon itself with its FiOS mobile service, which is a key component of the carrier’s LTE expansion. “”Our ability to integrate and deliver high-value video over the Verizon network offers a seamless, cost effective end-to-end solution for mobile subscribers,” Capstraw says. “We’re in discussions with them on a separate track about the advantages they could have delivering services from our platform.”
Along with serving the needs of video distributors Verizon Cloud is well positioned to provide support to media companies at the production and post-production levels of asset management, he adds. “We’ve talked to Marvel Studios, for example, who are hugely security conscious about their new Avenger movie,” he says. “They have to be careful to thwart hackers capable of breeching systems who would love to get their hands on that content.
“We believe there’s a lot of opportunity and a perfect fit here for our cloud model, even though, to date, there hasn’t been much adoption of the cloud in media production,” he continues. “The computing and storage requirements over the life of a project, whether it’s a film or TV show, mount quickly, and they’re hugely varied from one project to another. The cloud offers an ideal solution, but lack of interoperability standards and concerns over security have held back use of the cloud.”
With its Verizon Cybertrust security structure, which has been a vital component to vertical applications like medical records storage and management, the company believes it has addressed those concerns at a moment when redundancy with multiple storage points for high-value master files has become a major requirement in the entertainment industry. “The archiving of content is growing exponentially,” Capstraw says. “We don’t see any end in sight.”
At the same time, he adds, the platform’s flexibility when it comes to allowing customers to build in their own apps and work with vendors of their choice helps address the interoperability issue. “Being able to slice and dice that content, apply metadata tags and pull elements together as needed has been a big challenge,” he notes. “With an open standardized architecture, if you’re using Avid solutions in production and you want to bring in another supplier as part of the editing process, you can plug that in. The ability to bring the processes your team members use into that central repository will add huge cost savings to your operations.”
Capstraw says Verizon is competing aggressively for new business in this space, working with suppliers who can facilitate these types of applications. “At least three companies I’m talking to are working on these types of applications right now,” he says. “Folks already in that value chain are looking to hold on to or expand their market share in new digital workflows.”
As often reported here the growing demand for cloud-based post-production and distribution support has spawned a new generation of products and services from the likes of thePlatform, Deluxe Entertainment, Digital Rapids, Levels Beyond, Microsoft Azure Media, Neulion and many other entities, all with somewhat different approaches to the needs of the market. The approach taken by Verizon means still another avenue will be available to facilitate highly automated execution of new business models aimed at expanding ROI on content production.
“Once you can solve the security issue you’re able to offer a more robust solution,” Capstraw says. “If producers have a way to store assets in the cloud with virtual desktop control over those assets, they can allow different production teams access for editing and other production contributions. It’s a much cheaper, faster and more flexible approach to production.
“We think overlaying the Verizon Cybertrust security system onto the public cloud in conjunction with connectivity over a private network scenario will have a huge impact on the production sector.”