How 20th Century Fox Makes Movie Magic in the Cloud

FEBRUARY 19, 2016 • Blog Post • By Atlantic Re:think

IN THIS ARTICLE

  • In order to distribute the petabytes of content needed for movies, 20th Century Fox turned to the cloud as a fast, flexible solution
  • A combination of private and public cloud helped the film studio save millions of dollars and reduce delivery time from weeks to minutes

How a hybrid cloud infrastructure took 20th Century Foxs distribution model out of stop-and-go traffic and onto a wide-open superhighway

Despite the spectacular, futuristic worlds in many Hollywood films today, the global film and television distribution process was, until a few years ago, heavily reliant on costly physical distribution. For many studios, the distribution model for new films included sending physical prints to movie theaters and physical tapes to broadcasters around the world. This resulted in extremely valuable blockbusters going through complicated shipping processes that were tedious and sometimes involved lengthy delays.

Every Hollywood studio and film distribution company faced the same challenge, and as one of the top studios worldwide, 20th Century Fox knew they needed to address it.

The obvious solution was to go digital, but the sheer quantity of material that 20th Century Fox needed to move globally would have overwhelmed any digital enterprise. In addition to movies, there was also television content, which had to reach hundreds of broadcasters around the world.

Then came the cloud, with its promise of third-party, on-demand computing power and storage. As EVP and CIO at 20th Century Fox, John Herbert helped guide the company in its “journey to the cloud.” Herbert and his team had to figure out how best to make the transition from Fox’s proprietary IT infrastructure—a version of the standard in-house, servers-in-data-centers model—into a faster, more flexible hub of cloud-based digital services for the whole company.

To ensure reliability, speed and security, what he needed was a combination of private and public cloud services that can be tapped as needed, would work with Foxs in-house IT and could handle a huge amount of data at light speed.

What he found was exactly that: a hybrid cloud solution from Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE). In the case of 20th Century Fox, the blend is about 90 percent private cloud and 10 percent public cloud.

“You can actually burst out to a public cloud to get even more capacity,” says Bobby Patrick, chief marketing officer for HPE’s cloud business, “say, right around film distribution time when there are peak needs.”

With a capacity measured in petabytes (which equals one million gigabytes) and exabytes (a thousand petabytes), the Fox-HPE hybrid cloud solved the distribution problem, eliminating the manual effort involved in tracking inventory and shipping packages and vastly reducing delivery time. Fox reports that it is now downloading and uploading more than 1.3 exabytes of content each year while saving millions of dollars. It also took the time required to ship a film or TV show globally from weeks to minutes.

“In this relatively short window—the last three to four years—we’ve gained a tremendous amount of flexibility on how we deal with global distribution,” Herbert says. “The barrier now is not, ‘How do you get it out physically?’ All of that has been completely eliminated.”

Not everyone reached as deep into the cloud as Fox, though. To eliminate the need for more data center capacity and the new hardware and software involved in every new initiative, whether from marketing or the IT team, Herbert went back to HPE to accommodate the needs of his shared services division. Together, Fox and HPE developed another hybrid cloud infrastructure, this one dealing with everything from accounting to media operations and global content distribution.

At the end of the day, Fox was able to reduce the size of its data centers by 70 percent. With no planes and trucks moving physical objects around, it was also able to reduce its carbon footprint. Not incidentally, the company also figures its saving millions of dollars every year.

“My mix on the film side is different from my mix on the shared services side,” Herbert says of the different hybrid cloud systems, but he’s equally pleased with both. “Financially, it makes sense for everyone involved. I think the technology has exponentially improved in the past few years, and the most important thing is the consumer experience.”

But the consumer experience is also evolving and the cloud solves for that too. To put film and television content on smartphones and tablets from different manufacturers with different specifications—and doing so in different languages—would require investing in more hardware, software and real estate for vast new data centers, which couldn’t be built fast enough to keep up with the current pace of multimedia innovation.

That’s why 20th Century Fox recently announced yet another partnership with HPE. The two entities, working with Lightstorm Entertainment, will leverage hybrid cloud technology as part of a “next-generation digital experience” in development to support the “Avatar” franchise including three sequels now in production.

“Distributing ‘Avatar’ the film is one thing—no different from ‘The Martian’ or ‘The Sound of Music,’” Herbert says. “This new ‘Avatar’ project is a different kind of partnership with HPE, creating an entirely new online digital experience with a cloud component. It shows the strength of our partnership with HPE and that we have confidence that the hybrid cloud infrastructure is flexible enough to handle whatever our creative talent dreams up.”


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