In Radio, Outlook for Cloud Is Unclear
     

In information technology-speak, the word cloud has long represented a part of system architecture that’s taken care of by someone else.

On IT charts, the Internet has been referred to as the cloud, because you connect to it, send information into it and someone else takes care what happens on the Internet itself. (Prior to the Internet, the telephone system was depicted as a cloud on IT charts.)

The term cloud that’s been generating buzz more recently is a system in which a company’s data and/or applications are stored remotely, in an operation owned, operated and maintained by someone else. The concept often is compared to a company’s relationship with the power company. You don’t have to own and maintain your own power generation wherewithal; you are hooked up to the utility, get your electricity and pay for what you use.

iStockphoto/Yury Kuzmin

An alphabet soup of acronyms is associated with cloud computing, and those have been discussed in part articles here. But in a broad sense there are two services provided by cloud computing vendors: storage of data (like email and business records) in the cloud, and access to application software (like Word or Excel) from the cloud.

Starting with social

At the risk of mixing metaphors here, few radio broadcasters seem to be wading into the cloud puddle with both feet, based on anecdotal evidence.

“The broadcast industry is slowing moving toward cloud applications — more for television than for radio,” said National Association of Broadcasters Vice President Technology John Marino. “Cloud applications for radio are primarily in the form social media technologies that are used to connect with listeners.”

An executive with one large broadcast company who otherwise did not comment for this story said by way of explanation, “We are not really utilizing cloud computing.” In almost any conversation about the cloud, the subject of security will come up early.

“I’m security-conscious,” said Cris Alexander, director of engineering for Crawford Broadcasting and a Radio World contributor.

“We like to keep everything in-house, behind closed doors so to speak, where we control everything. I think it’s always our fear that we’re going to lose control of something.

“We have enough trouble letting go of our streaming, letting someone else take care of that for us. Letting someone else take care of holding on to our data, whatever it is, is kind of a frightening process for us.”

Security is a concern for National Public Radio as well, said Marty Garrison, vice president of technology operations and broadcast engineering, though at NPR, security isn’t as sensitive as it would be for a data broker dealing with SPAA — “Sensitive Personally Identifiable Information” — such as Social Security numbers, driver’s license numbers, addresses and phone numbers, along with a name. “Other than our internal HR system, we don’t really have a lot of that.”

Garrison said the cloud’s reliability is key.

“We’ve looked at [one vendor], for instance, outsourcing to the cloud our email infrastructure. And while it actually was actually slightly cheaper than doing it in-house, it was not enough of a financial gain to make the move.”

It didn’t help that the vendor in question suffered a massive email outage during NPR’s evaluation period.

“So we are basically on our own virtual environment that we built at NPR. In many respects we built, in fact we are what we call a private cloud.”

Cautious approach

NPR is not alone in operating its own private cloud.

“In our company, we really have the same kind of thing in terms of cloud computing, if you want to call it that,” said Crawford’s Alexander.

“Our infrastructure is set up so that the cloud is located here in Denver for most things. We have a few things in Birmingham, but we’re talking centrally located servers that everybody can search stuff from. The difference between that and outsourcing it to someone else is simply that we control the keys, so privacy isn’t a big concern, and security, while it’s still a big concern, at least we’re watching the store.”

Alexander cautioned that bandwidth (a data pathway into and out of that private infrastructure) is critical to Crawford being able to operate its private cloud.

“Sometimes it’s hard to get that bandwidth if you’re trying to do it on your own. If you’re a medium-sized company like ours … it’s not as difficult to buy the bandwidth to make it work. But if you get up into the bigger companies … they’ve got to go to a server farm that’s right on the backbone to make it work.”

Garrison said that NPR is looking at incorporating the cloud into one part of its operation: iCloud for employees using the iPhone and iPad. “Then they’ll have a place to back up the thing in case they lose it, or it dies, or what-have-you.”

Alexander said that Crawford has looked seriously into moving to the SaaS (Software as a Service) plan, where application software is accessed from cloud servers over the Internet rather than from an installed copy on an individual PC’s hard drive.

“Just knowing that we do have outages from time to time, when that happens, everything comes to a standstill,” he said. “Where if it’s installed on a work station, you can at least continue to write copy, you’re not back to a legal pad, where you would be in the other case.”

“We’re kind of edging that direction, but very cautiously. “And there may come a day where we don’t have a choice.

If radio (and television) broadcasters’ interest in the cloud is measured by the utilization of cloud services, and especially money spent there, it would be fair to judge such interest as low. But by another metric, broadcasters’ interest is high.

“At the 2011 NAB Show we offered a half-day ‘Content in the Cloud Summit.’ It was standing room only,” said Marino. “So, there is definitely an interest in any cost-savings that could be realized.” With that SRO session in mind, NAB will return with a Cloud Computing Conference at the 2012 NAB Show.

“The tagline for this conference is ‘Advances in Content Security and Reliability,’” said Marino. “Security and reliability are the primary concerns today for cloud computing and will be the main focus of the conference.”

Tell Radio World your experiences with cloud computing. Write to radioworld@nbmedia.com.


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