Origin Digital, a video application service provider, wanted to increase transcoding throughput without increasing capital expense. To gain dynamic scalability within a familiar development environment, the company built an innovative transcoding application called Cloudcoder on the Windows Azure™ platform. The application will reduce compute costs and database administration time as well as expedite moves into new geographic markets.
Origin Digital started in 1997 applying broadcast discipline to online video streaming. The firm was acquired by Accenture in May 2008 and today applies that same discipline to the latest media and content management technologies, to provide services that capture, convert, and control digital media.
The company’s enterprise- and consumer-facing solutions include live IP broadcasts, on-demand publishing, and portal production that make it easy for organizations to manage delivery of video content to any device, in any format. Origin Digital uses a proprietary, scalable, Web-based Odaptor service to manage the aggregation, transformation, management, and distribution of digital media assets. “Our Software-as-a-Service business model allows customers to enjoy the benefits of the highest quality IP video without making significant capital investments,” says Curt Kendall, Vice President of Business Development at Origin Digital.
||We’re seeing significant reductions, in some cases half, in computing resource cost for comparable workflows by using the Cloudcoder running on Windows Azure.
Vice President of Products, Origin Digital
The core of the company’s business—and the most process intensive and expensive of its services—is transcoding digital video files to the format, bit rates, and dimensions that the customer requests and delivering the converted files to an Internet location that the customer specifies. Origin Digital offers strict service-level agreements, so responsiveness and cost control are very important.
To help ensure that it can meet those requirements, the firm maintains a substantial infrastructure of both hardware and software transcoding resources. “Our challenge is scaling,” says Kendall. “The Internet is such that we can’t always anticipate the volume that is going to come in at any given time, so we have to maintain excess capacity to handle unexpected spikes in activity.”
Origin Digital wanted to create a more scalable transcoding workflow environment that delivered the same high performance but with lower operating expense, easier management, and without requiring additional capital expenditures for underutilized resources.
Origin Digital decided to build its own transcoding application, called “Cloudcoder”, to be deployed as a “cloud” service—delivered over the Internet and hosted in a separate data center. The development team explored the architecture and the cost structure of both Amazon Web Services and the Windows Azure™ platform before selecting the Windows Azure platform.
The Windows Azure platform is an Internet-scale cloud services platform that is hosted in Microsoft® data centers. It includes an operating system and a set of developer services that can be used separately or together in a pay-as-you-go model.
For the project, Origin Digital turned to Microsoft Gold Certified Partner, Avanade, for its deep expertise and experience with the Windows Azure platform. Avanade provides business technology services that connect insight, innovation, and expertise in Microsoft technologies to help enterprises realize results. “The Windows Azure platform gives us a developer-rich environment that allows us to use the skills we already have to deliver mission-critical, enterprise-ready applications,” says Larry Beck, Senior Director at Avanade.
Working with Avanade, Origin Digital built the Cloudcoder application, using the Microsoft Visual Studio® 2008 development system, in about two months. The Cloudcoder integrates into the Origin Digital central management platform while offloading much of the processing to the cloud. Customers upload digital files to the Origin Digital network, and the Odaptor calls the Cloudcoder service, which transcodes the file. The number of transcoder instances automatically scales to handle increased or decreased volume. Status data for transcoding jobs is stored in SQL Azure™—the cloud-based relational database service built on Microsoft SQL Server® database management software.
“When we looked at the tools available as part of Windows Azure, it made much more sense to go that route,” says Mark Richards, Vice President of Business Development at Origin Digital. “We are a .NET shop, so the familiar environment definitely helped us hit the ground running.”
By building the Cloudcoder on the Windows Azure platform, Origin Digital gained real-time scalability, and reduced administration, time-to-market, and costs.
The Cloudcoder application responds quickly to extreme fluctuations in media volume using the dynamic scalability of Windows Azure. “A big reason that we went with Windows Azure is its ability to dynamically scale the number of transcoder instances,” says Richards. “For instance, we might only need 10 instances of the Cloudcoder; but then when a big chunk of files comes in, it can automatically scale in Windows Azure to 50 instances or more if we need them. The resources appear and disappear as needed, which will save us money while removing practical constraints around capacity.”
Because SQL Azure is provided as a service hosted in Microsoft data centers, it reduces the administration burden on Origin Digital. “To me, SQL Azure is a black box; I send commands to it and get data back,” says Richards. “I know that it’s backed up, it’s redundant, and it has all the features that I’ve come to expect.”
Origin Digital expects to be able to extend its services more easily to new markets due to the broad international availability of the Windows Azure platform. “Introducing applications to new geographical areas can happen more quickly and minimize the capital burden that we would normally have,” says Kendall. “Also, having a local solution is much more efficient than having to push big files over pipes back to a regional data center.”
Origin Digital expects to lower computing costs in several areas. “In certain workflows we’re seeing significant reductions, in some cases half, in computing resource cost for comparable workflows by using the Cloudcoder running on Windows Azure,” says Kendall. “With the pay-as-you-go model, we can run against operating costs rather than capital expense, which is a smarter way to work,” says Kendall.
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