Tech Features

The Age of Microservices

Glodina Lostanlen, CMO, Imagine Communications.

There is growing understanding across the industry that we are on the brink of a massive change, a huge disruption in the way broadcast and media content is created, managed and delivered. IP – the hot topic of the moment – is a critical enabler for this transformation, but it is not the goal.

The real transformation will be brought about by evolving media operations from running on purpose-built hardware to IP-based, commercial off-the-shelf networking and computer equipment. To really take advantage of this software-based environment – to be ready to seize the commercial benefits of flexibility, scalability and business agility – we have to build on cutting-edge software and IT technology.

Flexibility and portability are key attributes of this new architectures, in which some functionality will be on appliances in the machine room, as is popular today. But some will be virtualised in data centres, and some will exist in the cloud. The question of which functionality runs where will not be bounded by technology: it will be defined by the operational and commercial considerations of the broadcaster or media provider.

Another aphorism for the next phase of the evolution of the media industry is that there will be no one-size-fits-all; every architecture will be unique. For this to be sustainable, to provide the levels of reliability and resilience we all seek, the software must itself be flexible, scalable and resilient.

The good news is that the media industry is far from a pioneer when it comes to transitioning to an IP-based technology foundation. At the core of nearly every successful and disruptive business of the last decade is software that has been natively designed and optimised to run over IT-based networks, including the cloud and the internet. Software is the engine that drives the digital economy, while media is at the heart of the digital economy.

 At the core of the shift to software-based design architecture are microservices. Part and parcel of the DevOps movement that has redefined the way applications are maintained and updated, microservice design principles foster unprecedented agility by essentially deconstructing monolithic services into discrete, autonomous components that often perform just one task, such as a transcode function, but do it with supreme efficiency. The componentised nature of microservices allows precise customisation by enabling a series of microservices to be linked or chained together to accomplish a specific function.

A typical transcoder is composed of multiple functions, including a de-interlacer. But what if the incoming content is already progressive? In this scenario, a de-interlacing function is superfluous, consuming precious power and processor cycles that could be dedicated to other operations. A microservices architecture allows broadcast engineers to construct transcode operations that achieve a maximum balance of resource consumption and efficiency. Microservices enable media organisations to quickly and precisely sell and release resources as required.

Perhaps the most valuable benefit of moving operations to a microservices architecture is the ability to futureproof a network through continuous innovation.

Unlike monolithic applications, which cannot be broken down into discrete business functions, cloud-native applications can be updated and upgraded on a continuous basis without disrupting operations. Autonomous functions such as codecs can be updated or even replaced without impacting the overall application. This allows media companies to incorporate freshly introduced functionality such as HEVC/H.265 compression into workflows as the new technology becomes available, rather than waiting for a scheduled update or major software release.

The continuous innovation benefits of microservices ensure that media companies can remain on the cutting edge of technology innovation without needing to fire up the forklift every few years to keep pace with a rapidly evolving industry.

The top seven benefits of microservices designed are summarised below:

Scale: The suitability of microservices for virtual machines makes them very effective elastic resources. What is important, though,is that the overarching system level should finely control the allocation of processing and storage resources. It should inherently support scaling vertically, adding more instances where you need more power.

Geo-dispersion: The best uses of the cloud take advantage of the specialised orchestration and automation it offers. This ensures that applications make the most efficient use of resources, for instance using the cloud to reinforce on-premises hardware, and doing so in a way which does not create bottlenecks through the need to move large pieces of content. For organisations which serve multiple markets, it ensures the right resources are in the right place and boosts resilience by placing business continuity services in different locations.

Continuous innovation: A microservices architecture brings new efficiencies in software development by allowing frequent enhancements within each self-contained module. Version control becomes more fluid and less onerous, and new functionality can be added quickly and seamlessly. Systems are easily kept up to date and at peak performance.

Speed to market: Because systems can be updated with the latest technologies, they can be deployed as soon as they are required. Whereas a monolithic device might see an update every six months or more, new or improved functionality can be added to a microservices architecture as it becomes available. If you want to trial a new service, such as high dynamic range ultra HD, you can do so virtually instantly by activating the appropriate parameters.

Extensibility: Developers work on individual processes rather than requiring familiarity with the entire application, which speeds up development. Further, open standards mean that third parties or the end user can create the functionality they specifically require, again without the need to have a detailed understanding of the entire structure.

Symmetry: As more and more of infrastructure moves to microservices, you can move to a common code base spanning the entire enterprise. Software commonality means easier maintenance, of course, but also promotes tighter integration in workflows. It also eliminates the silo architecture which has long been a brake on smooth interworking in broadcast.

Agility: This is the overall composite benefit which comes from aggregating all these capabilities. Microservicebased architectures deliver speed to market, rapid innovation, ready extensibility and geo-dispersion. The result is an infrastructure that is responsive and reliable enough to enable media companies to keep pace with the shifting and evolving consumption patterns we see today.

To conclude, it is imperative that media organisations make the move to microservices in order to level the competitive playing field with competitors such as internet-based SVOD providers that have built their businesses from the beginning using a cloud-native architecture.