Remote working and cloud: what now, and what’s next?

Earlier this year, we explored the options available for studios looking to invest in cloud infrastructure in the face of remote working conditions necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Three months on, as the dust starts to settle on a ‘new normal’, it’s worth asking: how has the landscape changed and evolved for these same studios and, wider, for the industry as a whole?

What’s going well for remote working conditions supported by cloud, and what are the challenges?

And, beyond that, what is the logical next step or set of things that people need to start thinking about?

Below, we explore all these and more as we take a deep-dive into the shifting cloud trends brought on by this unprecedented period.

Quote image: "How much of my infrastructure do I need to convert to cloud?"

Infrastructure issues

In our previous article, we set out several cloud options for studios: On-Prem, Hybrid Cloud and Pure Cloud infrastructure.

Since then, people are starting to look more and more seriously at the potential that these same options may hold for their future, evidenced in the increased number of companies setting up proof of concepts for what a cloud-based workflow might look like for their business or studio.

Coupled with this is a rising need for cloud consultants, answering calls for help as the prospect of a long-term pandemic accelerates the move to cloud and more start to work from home. And even once the pandemic is thankfully over, there will likely still be a larger mix of remote jobs and workers than before it started, nuancing cloud conversations even further.

Underpinning this shift in sentiment is the underlying question: “How much of my infrastructure do I need to convert to cloud?”

When it comes to internet infrastructure, people are rethinking how they configure their networks, and questioning the next batch of software to buy. The common scene at present is lots of computers sitting in a room, acting as a sort of virtual data center—but what happens when the leases expire?

Does the studio buy new ones and keep connecting artists using a solution like Teradici?Or do they move them to a cloud environment completely?

As people explore the benefits and limitations of remote desktop software, increasingly, they're finding that the latter cloud option makes the most sense. Having a big long wire between your studio workstations and remote workers may present efficiency issues in the long run for studios who stick to this course. For a start, lots of wires going in and out of a studio, as in the case of one per artist, requires a lot of bandwidth.

Plus, artists can’t simply be anywhere, and these wires can only be so long before latency becomes an issue. Remote desktops are good for artists dialing into a studio near the city they live, but provide limited scale beyond that.

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Review with a view to the future

Another challenge presented by remote desktop software is the review process.

Noone really had their eye on review when moving to remote working and it’s come out in the wash as an issue. After all, how can client and internal reviews be smoothly conducted when nobody can get in front of an actual screen, where it’s projected with frame rate, full resolution and color? And without a laser pointer guiding proceedings, the whole process becomes tricker. 

In essence, the sense of cohesion and collaboration that traditionally drive these review sessions becomes diluted.

So people are looking at remote review technology in the hopes of mitigating these issues. Key players in this space include, whose cloud-based collaboration platform has seen great success in keeping teams and artists connected through streamlined feedback and approvals.

Meanwhile, Autodesk’s cloud-based Shotgun shot management includes integration with RV for review, and cineSync, owned by fTrack, is another option for remote review and approvals.

Foundry’s own efforts in this space include development of a collaborative review feature in Nuke Studio and Hiero as part of the Nuke family of editorial and review tools—keep an eye out.

The question of data

As more make the move to cloud, people have started to think differently about data. Specifically: where do they put it all?

Traditionally, data is stored on a shared storage system in the studio. Yet with more and more artists now using cloud resources and workstations rather than remote desktops, the question begs of how the data is going to be shared, managed, and moved smartly back and forth to keep team members running efficiently when not all under one roof.

Software like QUMOLO, Pixit and Dell Isilon offer cloud storage solutions tailored toward creative, scalable workflows. They work by moving a studio’s data between hardware across different facilities, and as a result, are onto the real problem of “how do you actually move stuff around?”, a challenge that can’t be solved by getting your hard disk to spin faster.

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The bottom line

The shifting lines of thought explored above are a natural response to a positive trajectory of cloud adoption that reflects a crisis, opportunity, or both. Whether we like it or not, COVID-19 forced us a fair way along this trajectory.

The pandemic is an accelerant for considerations that everyone should be having surrounding cloud workflows and their pipeline. If you didn’t have a solid cloud plan up until now, the coming months present a perfect opportunity to get one in place—even if you’re not planning on moving to cloud any time soon. Having the option to is what matters.

It’s also a wise idea to take a close look at potential vendors and make decisions about which ones are worth partnering with long-term based on how much effort and resource they’re putting into making things cloud friendly. 

Who’s just talking the talk, and who’s going that one step further—rolling up their sleeves, putting features in their roadmap, and so on? Things behave differently in the cloud, with different requirements, and concrete evidence that the vendor knows this is invaluable.

This same sentiment applies to storage, too. Are your storage vendors just wanting to sell you hard drives, or are they selling you a management solution? 

These key considerations may make any future shift to cloud that little less painless—and we could all do with a bit of respite right now.

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