Encoding in the Cloud

As streaming media enters its second decade, it’s not all that often that we get to explore a totally new topic. But now we do, as I recently took my first look at cloud encoding. What is cloud encoding? At a high level, it’s an internet-based service that encodes your uploaded source video files and delivers them back to you or your distribution partners.

Why cloud encoding, and why today? We like to talk about delivering to three screens—computer, TV, and mobile—but if you take a moment to do the math, it can easily jump to 20 or 30 screens. For delivery to computers, you’ve got services such as Hulu, YouTube, Yahoo! Video, blip.tv, Veeple, Vimeo, Brightcove, Ooyala, and VMIX. In the living room, you’ve got different cable providers and different devices, and for mobile, it’s challenging to even estimate the total number of available devices and services. Understanding and economically delivering compatible video files and metadata to these screens is an increasingly technical and logistical challenge.

Then there’s the cost of building and maintaining rendering farms. An eight-core Nehalem-based rendering station costs about $10,000, plus software and staffing costs. Unless you’re in the business of providing encoding services for third parties, these costs are all ancillary to your core business (e.g., overhead) and must be minimized.

Who should consider cloud encoding? Well, I’ll detail that later in the article. For now, if you’re considering buying a workstation-class computer solely for encoding (or you just did), cloud encoding should be on your radar. You should also read on if you’re even casually interested in cloud computing in general, as the infrastructure used by most of the cloud encoding companies is pretty fascinating stuff.

What Is Cloud Encoding?

Cloud encoding services are internet-based companies to which you upload your source video files and then choose encoding and delivery parameters. They encode and deliver your files to the designated locations and/or third-party services.

Pretty straightforward stuff, eh? What’s not so transparent is the proper acronym. Candidates are Software as a Service (SaaS), Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), and Platform as a Service (PaaS), and the ideal cloud encoding service should provide components of all three.

About Jan Ozer

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I help companies train new technical hires in streaming media-related positions; I also help companies optimize their codec selections and encoding stacks, and evaluate new encoders and codecs.

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