The worlds of Cinema and Information Technology came together over a decade ago, and though they have their differences, they both love their buzzwords. From Premium Large Format to the Internet of Things to Big Data, these somewhat nebulous terms are everywhere. And far from clarifying what the significance of new technologies is, they often make it harder for professionals and consumers alike to understand exactly what they're buying.
By its very nature, no word is more nebulous than the cloud, a term that is increasingly used to describe anything and everything to do with computing and the internet. But what is the cloud, how does it work and why should cinemas care about it?
Simply put, cloud computing means using resources (such as storage or CPU time) on remote computers provided somewhere on the internet, to perform the tasks necessary for users to view the results locally. Websites often operate in broadly the same way – a server somewhere does the part of the computation needed for the website to work on your computer.
Why should this matter to cinemas?
Well, since cinemas digitised, they have invariably had to partner with technology providers, learn more about IT systems, and invest in more robust digital infrastructures. In many ways, these tasks are a distraction from their core business, and could be more efficiently conducted by specialised suppliers.
Adopting cloud based systems has a number of operational benefits:
Fewer technical staff are needed
Providers can guarantee up-time, and will resolve any issues for you
Technologies that would otherwise be too expensive or complex to implement are now accessible
Take AAM, for example. As a part of our own Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) model we are transferring customers who have been running our software solutions on their own infrastructure up into AAM’s cloud environments. This has let our customers move away from worrying about running AAM’s software in-house and focus on what they’re good at; running cinemas.
So what is the cloud model?
The difference between the cloud model and the mainframe model is in who owns the environment that the computer doing the work runs on.
In the cloud model, the cloud provider owns the physical hardware running the operations. They then provide their customers with a virtual computer (called a virtual machine or VM) as a service. They can run this service as well as all the necessary systems, replicas, and backups in the background so that their customers don’t have to invest time and resources into keeping servers healthy, and backups backing up.
This model has been successful because, as well as allowing customers to stop worrying about running any underlying hardware, cloud providers often provide services that customers simply wouldn’t be able to run themselves. This allows them to take advantage of new technologies much faster than they could manage on their own.
Using a cloud vendor is a bit like deciding whether to buy a car or build one yourself. Sure, you could read all the manuals, buy hundreds of parts and assemble them, but it is a lot easier, faster, and safer to leave it to the experts, walk into your local dealership and drive one off the forecourt.
The private vs. the public cloud
It is quite common in cloud computing for customers to be unaware of where the machines are actually running, or what else they are running. The machines are just virtual entities that exist somewhere in the world; the cloud provider takes care of the specifics and simply supplies their customers with access to the shared environments they deploy. This model is known as the public cloud and is the most common way that cloud services are offered right now through providers like Amazon Web Services (AWS) or Microsoft Azure.
A common misconception with the public cloud is that using one means that all your resources are publically accessible. This isn’t usually the case as they are created in a secure Virtual Private Cloud (VPC) which isolates the resources from the general public internet.
Those who need to know exactly where their systems are running, such as governments or enterprises dealing with sensitive data might use a private cloud offering. Private cloud computing involves the provisioning of cloud services over private IT infrastructure for the use of a single organisation, and is typically managed internally.
Hybrid cloud solutions allow organisations to mix-and-match cloud deployments between their own premises and public cloud providers’ infrastructure. Customers might use a hybrid cloud solution if they need a private cloud for more sensitive operations, but want to benefit from the scalability of the public cloud for other workloads. In short, it offers them the flexibility to experiment with a variety of cloud solutions, as well as potentially continue using existing on-site hardware.
Connecting the industry
The cinema industry today counts on a whole host of people and systems to complete a series of labour-intensive, technically complex tasks in isolation to make each screening possible. Everyone from film bookers at exhibitor headquarters, to content masterers, to film studios have to coordinate their operations in sync, with limited visibility into what is happening further down the chain. In the future, with every cinema connected directly to the cloud, a global ecosystem with a backbone built around the latest technologies could collapse these processes down into one flexible, integrated solution.
"If we, as an industry, can join together all of these fragmented manual processes with automated software platforms, it will change booking patterns, it will change scheduling patterns, it will change the way that people consume content and even what content they consume." Noted Patrick Foley, CEO at AAM during a recent interview.
Until then, entirely cloud-native applications that are being developed today could enhance the benefits we discussed earlier for cinemas, as software suppliers will be able to deliver features and enhancements to their software solutions faster than ever before. This can help cinemas keep their operational costs down, safeguard against outages, and provide the best experiences for their audiences, while ensuring they're ready to take advantage of the next innovation.