Workstation Management

Journey to the Cloud Part 5

In our previous entry in the Journey to the Cloud series, we reviewed virtual workstations. In that article we covered the advantages and concerns of using cloud-based workstations as non-linear video editing machines. For teams that are shifting their video production away from on-premise environments, it is important to consider how these workstations are managed, operationalized, and costs are controlled.  That is what we will discuss in this article.

Virtual Workstation Recap
In a video production environment, a virtual workstation is an on-demand compute server running applications for editing, ingesting, and other functions of a video workflow. These workstations are appropriately sized to the tasks at hand – which in this case will be non-linear video editing.  Offered with a variety of CPU speeds and cores, along with memory and video graphics acceleration, they can be right-sized for the needs of the codecs being processed and edited.

An important consideration in virtual workstation usage is managing the uptime of that workstation properly. In an ideal world, this would be similar to simply powering on the system when in use and then remembering to shut it down when no longer in use. In a cloud environment that process is not straight-forward. For one, users may not always be diligent about shutting down their computers, and if they were diligent they may find the process of spinning workstations up and down more complicated than a power button. Often it’s necessary to have access, and training, to operate the cloud management console where this operation is controlled. Alternatively the IT cloud team needs to get involved manually or write scripts to perform this operation. This is not a simple process, but it is perhaps the most important step in controlling cloud costs. Because of this, a need for workstation management tools has emerged.

What Will Workstation Management Do For Me?
There are a number of capabilities that workstation management solutions provide to make users’ lives easier, help them save money, and maintain control of their cloud environments. Let’s walk through a few of them. 

Workstation Scheduling: Ideally, a workstation manager will allow team administrators to control the uptime of their virtual workstation environments. That’s as simple as turning them on in the morning and turning them off in the evening. The primary advantage here is cost savings. Instead of running a GPU assisted compute node 24×7, a workstation management system can control the overall uptime and usage schedule. The savings is straightforward here – there are approximately 722 hours in a month, yet typically only 173 working hours. Providing a simple scheduling management function can result in a 76% savings against your cloud bill. 

Now there are solutions, such as AWS Instance Scheduler, that can provide similar functions, but will require the user to have the IT and programming skills to implement them. For video production teams, a simpler solution is almost always preferred. 

Connection Management: This element of workstation management orchestrates the connection of users to virtual workstations and watches over the use of those connections. When logging in, a connection manager will find an idle workstation and connect that user to their new environment for the duration of that session. This element also has the ability to monitor the workstation usage. If the environment goes idle the connection manager will sense this and shutdown the workstation in order to minimize costs. Typically this idle period can be set to find that right balance of idle time acceptable to users.

To ensure productivity within a team, when users are disconnected from their virtual workstations, the compute instance is also suspended. This suspended mode often means that the storage associated with this workstation is maintained, not deleted. However, the compute instance is released and is no longer incurring a cost. The storage is maintained separately but these fees are relatively small, for example,  AWS Elastic Block storage for a 200 GB volume will only be around $8-16/month. Once that user comes back online, that storage volume is connected to a new virtual workstation and users can become productive again. 

Authentication:  An important element is the ability to ensure only authorized users can access workstations. A workstation management solution will integrate smartly into your company’s security solutions and map to the correct policies set by your information security team.

Provisioning and Management: The ability to provision new workstations into your workstation pool is an important element of workstation management. For example, you may have 20 workstations available to your team, but find yourself facing a new project which will require an extra 5 workstations. The administrator of the workstation management system will have the rights to provision these new workstations, and later delete them when no longer in use. Similarly new video production workloads may arise requiring workstations capable of editing very high resolution video. These higher-end workstations can be created and provisioned specifically for these requirements, and then deleted when no longer in use. 

Cost Insights: In a video production environment, workstations used for editing or ingest may be among the most costly cloud elements in use. The ability to have visibility into these costs will allow teams to maintain controls on their spend, well ahead of any surprise bills. In addition, this capability can make it much simpler for production groups to easily shift to an OpEx model where revenues from projects can be tightly aligned with the costs associated with that work. 

The advantages of virtual video productions have become more compelling to teams as cloud costs plummet and bandwidth increases. However, as this world has emerged it has required a new set of skills and oversight that differs from on-premise solutions. For some organizations, tracking on-going costs can be more challenging than the analysis behind a CapEx investment of new equipment.  A workstation management solution with visibility into costs can help manage this concern and provide clear visibility into spend.

Operationalizing Cloud Virtual Video Production 
Moving to a cloud environment today may require team members to become familiar with a cloud vendor’s console administration, operations, coding, and cost calculators. Not exactly a set of skills a creative department may want to invest in. Some market solutions address this complexity with a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) offering, allowing users to subscribe to a video production environment of fixed sizes and capabilities. This can sound compelling but it also eliminates the advantages of a scalable cloud approach, and requires customers to pay staggering fees as the SaaS vendor must over-provision their cloud infrastructure to account for worst case usage models.

EditShare’s approach has been to truly embrace the cloud offering a scalable solution which its customers can use cost-effectively in their cloud account. This ensures our customers receive the best pricing possible for their cloud infrastructure uses and allows them to maintain control and oversight. To provide further operational and cost oversight we have partnered with workstation management vendors such as 7FiveFive, and together we can provide the end to end solution that is manageable and operationally controlled by our customers. The entire environment – performant storage, asset management, archiving and ingest all operationalized in the cloud with full control over usage and cost management.

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