If you’ve tried cloud workflows already, you know all this. If you haven’t, then these are the factors that may persuade you (spoiler: there are definitely more pros than cons).
True story: the video industry was remarkably resistant to the cloud at first. Many other industries had already taken the plunge, hoiking everything from payroll to transcription services into the cloud. If you want to attach some dates to it all, Amazon Web Services launched as long ago as 2002, Google Docs was kicking around at least in beta form in 2006, and the Adobe Creative Cloud debuted in 2013. The video industry en masse though didn’t really start catching up on all that till around 2015 or thereabouts.
Adoption was slow, mainly (and this is based on conversations with plenty of industry people at the time) due to a very deep-rooted concern about security. Content piracy was as endemic then as it is now, and in the early 2010s you would be hard pushed to get any CEO to willingly sign up to let their most valuable assets be hosted on remote servers outside of their own building. It wasn’t so much about the castle-and-moat approach to IT security; it was the castle-and-moat-then-lock-it-in-a-box-throw-the-box-into-a-dungeon-and-throw-the-key-into-the-moat-where-it-will-be-eaten-by-hungry-crocodiles approach.
Shame it was never really very effective. Pirates are a wily old bunch…
The fact that the security concerns were eventually addressed despite the ongoing threat of content piracy never actually retreating tells you all you need to know about the effectiveness of working in the cloud (and also that most content piracy, takes place elsewhere in the chain - data centres and cloud ingress/egress is actually pretty rock solid). The cloud is just too tempting and confers too many benefits to ignore. And while some may still rail against the iniquity, as they see it, of monthly software subscriptions, that’s very much on its way to becoming a generational argument. And one that has been mostly lost — this is just the way that it’s done now at all levels of the business.
So, while the video industry has squashed its qualms and now firmly pivoted to the cloud — indeed entire movies, TV series, and streaming platforms are now produced in the cloud — what are the advantages of working in the cloud for the end user? Well, here are a few. And after that we’ll briefly discuss some of the cons to it all too.
The pros of cloud workflows
First up, it’s collaboration. If something akin to the Covid pandemic had hit pre-cloud, the media industry would have had a much more difficult time responding to the challenge of distributed workflows and remote working. In fact, it would have probably had to invent the cloud extremely quickly just to have a chance of survival. Effectively the cloud helps people collaborate regardless of geography, whether that’s on an edit, via the latest camera to cloud workflows, or using the new breed of global data environments. This has changed the game entirely, especially when it comes to post production.
Next, agility. This means different things to different ends of the spectrum. For the companies developing the software you’re using, it typically means that they can iterate it faster; churning through the point releases on a monthly or even, in some cases, weekly basis. That gives you more flexibility too, ensuring that you’re always on the latest (hopefully stable) release. Indeed, if you’re working on cloud-based software now, the old design/develop/test/release cycle required every time a new feature is added or an element of it is updated seems positively archaic.
Scalability is part of this too. Need some help and more seats, more storage, more CPU power? While there are always costs involved (see below), these things can be ordered at the click of a button. And there’s an elasticity built in to all that as well, allowing you to shrink back when the demand has passed (albeit not usually until the end of the monthly billing cycle).
The subscription model is another advantage. Yeah, we know, its not always popular, but it’s the way that modern business works. Partly this is because at the corporate level it allows companies to acquire software and services through the OPEX part of their balance sheet rather than the CAPEX part; OPerating EXpense versus CAPital EXpense or day to day running costs as opposed to major long term expenses. And depending on precisely where you are in the world, that means you can write off the full amount you’re paying against tax in the year that you’re paying it rather than depreciating it over its useful life.
For the end users it’s the difference between, say, a $20 a month Adobe Premiere Pro subscription or buying Final Cut Pro for $299. The eventual cost of ownership of Premiere Pro will likely be higher, but you have to balance that with the lower initial outlay and the extra benefits that the whole above list also adds to the equation.
The cons of cloud workflows
Are there cons? Yes, of course there are. Less at the individual level and more at the organisational one, some companies have just performed a ‘lift and shift’ on their established workflows and ported them over into the cloud. That’s not going to necessarily give you all the benefits of a cloud-based production chain, plus can prove to be a very expensive way of doing it as opposed to using a cloud-native workflow built from the ground up.
Costs are very much an issue. Cloud pricing is often opaque to say the least and what looks like a good system on paper can prove to be prohibitively expensive once it hits the real world. Have a look at the current tables Google has published for its Google Cloud service. Data storage is more expensive in Los Angeles than it is in Iowa, and more expensive in Latin America than anywhere. Meanwhile there are charges per 1000 operations in three different tiers, costs involved in moving data from cloud storage buckets to their destination, depending on the location of both, and more.
Architecting all that can be messy to say the least. And getting it wrong can cause you a lot of financial heartache.
Of course, end users are insulated from a lot of this, but one thing that is common to everyone is latency. Cloud-based products can exhibit enough lag at times to make them frustrating to use when you are used to the responsiveness of desktop software. What’s a minimum spec? It looks like some of the new cloud-based NLE services expect you to have a 30Mbps connection to be able to operate effectively, and not everyone has the local infrastructure to support that.
Connectivity is steadily on the increase worldwide, though. Speedtest.net estimates that fixed broadband connectivity around the world now averages 85.56Mbps download and 36.80Mbps upload, and as that becomes more commonplace so one of the last objections to working in the cloud will disappear.
There is still work to be done, of course. The sustainability of the cloud is a hotly debated topic and there are plenty of commentators that suggest any move to the cloud from an environmental standpoint is just basically moving carbon credits around and shifting the problem from inside a company to outside its walls.
However, work is underway on improving both the sustainability of data centres and the transparency of assessing their impact. And, as with anything else too do with the cloud, you would tend to bet that the underlying advantages the cloud as a whole brings will help ensure that progress is swift.