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Managed Cloud, Expertise Help DigitalFilm Tree Survive Pilot Season

By Guillaume Aubuchon, CTO, DigitalFilm Tree

In the TV industry, you live for pilot season. It’s insane. The idea is to do as many pilots as possible in hope that they turn into series – but to do that, you have to stretch your infrastructure and your personnel to the breaking point. Everyone works 20- to 22-hour days.

It’s two months a year where everyone in Hollywood works as hard as Ryan Seacrest.

During our last pilot season here at DigitalFilm Tree, I was up at 4 a.m. I was working on a pilot that was having some issues. At the same time, we were making some software decisions with our developers in South Africa. Our Critique software is an application we developed for collaboration between television and film writers, producers and directors. It lets them stream video and dailies, make cuts, share notes and edit all in real time. It makes the entire collaboration process around creating TV shows and movies more efficient. It helps people go from camera to finished content faster than before without losing creative control.

We develop and implement features in Critique quickly to address user needs. This increases dramatically during pilot season.

Long story short, during this particular pilot season I had to get some information about Cloud Files and on moving more of our content onto the CDN. I also needed information on hosting a database and being able to scale with ObjectRocket.

I picked up the phone and called Rackspace. And someone answered. Better yet, I was able to get a specialist. On the phone. At 4 a.m. During my most hectic time of year. I spoke to someone who knew about MongoDB, ObjectRocket, our application and how we were going to use the CDN. I spoke to an expert.

I was trying to juggle multiple things before the rest of the country was even awake, and I was able to call someone in San Antonio who was willing to have a long conversation about the path we’re going to take with our software.

That’s what sets the Rackspace managed cloud apart. It’s not something other cloud providers offer. The first thing other providers do to reduce costs is cut human resources and support.  We’ve had experiences with other providers where maybe we can reach someone on the phone, but if I have a question about an Ubuntu VM, for example, they have to put in a ticket and get a call back from someone else who is a specialist. It’s a waiting game. If you’re not able to talk to someone in the moment that you’re having an issue or are making a decision about your business’ direction and you have to wait for hours, the relevance wanes.

For us at DigitalFilm Tree, human interaction is still the best way to communicate. Being able to actually call someone, get them on the phone and not only talk to support 24 hours a day, but talk to a specialist in the area we’re looking for support in — whether that’s Linux, storage, MongoDB, DevOps, you name it – is huge. We can talk to someone who knows Rackspace’s infrastructure, but also knows our application. Rackspace knows the best path forward for us – whether that’s scaling our application or new features we’re building. Rackspace is a huge part of our application development.

But the power of a managed cloud goes well beyond that. If we did not have Rackspace, we would be paying someone north of $100,000 per year in Los Angeles to keep our Critique servers running 24×7 – the managed cloud costs much less than that and we get more than we ever could from a single engineer.

Our energy needs to be focused on our app and on our core competencies. An unmanaged or in-house cloud would ultimately steal resources away from the areas where they’re most important. We’re trying to develop and add features very quickly. A managed cloud lets us focus on work that will grow the application as a whole. And ultimately, that makes our business more efficient and more profitable.

And when you’ve been working for 22 hours straight during pilot season, the last thing you want to worry about is who is managing your cloud.

Check out how DigitalFilm Tree is using the cloud to save Hollywood and how it’s using OpenStack to power its business.

About the Author

This is a post written and contributed by Guillaume Aubuchon.

Guillaume Aubuchon has spent the past decade melding the latest in technological innovation with the century old tradition of filmmaking. From television such as Nip/Tuck, The Sarah Silverman Program, and NCIS: Los Angeles to theatrical projects like Spike Jonzes’ “Her”, he has been a leader in the emergence of file-based workflows as they permeate the creative process.

Guillaume has been involved with many firsts including the development of camera systems, editing software, and storage solutions. Now as CTO of DigitalFilm Tree, he finds himself focused on bringing cloud workflow into mainstream production. Working on shows such as Mistresses and Perception, he has sought to bring practical use of cloud technologies into active television and film productions. After speaking to thousands at the OpenStack Summit in Hong Kong and encouraging greater interest in media from that community, he hopes to boost adoption of OpenStack in entertainment.


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