IBM Aspera CEO Michelle Munson

Fast File Transfer, Streaming over Commodity Internet Hardware, and Reducing the Cost of Content Delivery

Earlier this month, IBM’s Aspera unit announced the new Aspera Transfer Service, a hosted software service for high-speed transfer of files and data through cloud infrastructure. Aspera Transfer has launched in IBM Cloud and Amazon Web Services, with Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud coming soon. Alongside it, Aspera added new features to its Aspera Files software-as-a-service (SaaS) offering, upgraded Aspera Drive to v3.0, introduced new features bringing its Aspera Shares web application to v2.0, and updated its Orchestrator workflow automation tool to v3.0. StudioDaily spoke to IBM Aspera CEO Michelle Munson about some of the new features, and what’s driving industry adoption of Aspera’s technology.

StudioDaily: With the increased popularity of 4K acquisition and workflow, how quickly are the amounts of data your customers want to share growing?

Michelle Munson: Mathematically speaking, I’m not sure if I have enough super-exponentials to express it. The volumes are more than doubling every two years. It’s fast-paced. What’s coming together for us are files, streams and the cloud. The files and streams are driven by ultra-high-resolution content, and the cloud offers the possibility of bandwidth and storage at scale. Our emphasis is really on platform services that accommodate the movement of files and streams around cloud and hybrid storage. The big shift for us is how fast this happening — what you would think of as classic, high-performance file transfers, and then adding live data and streaming to that.

What are you showing at NAB to address the changing needs of media creators? 

Our platforms are driven wholly by the market. The foundation is the Aspera Transfer Service, which uses our server software capabilities as a platform. It’s a service we’re offering in all major public clouds, where we accommodate high-speed transfers. And the other piece of this, also driven by the media market, is Aspera Files. That’s a fully featured software-as-a-service (SaaS) application for file sharing that accommodates ingest and distribution, shared links, and media previews. And we’ll be previewing a new streaming capability around FASPStream, using Aspera Files and Aspera Transfer Service.

How is the end-user experience with your products evolving?

We have some important innovations. When you think of straightforward file exchange, you think of the browser, the desktop drive, and mobile. We will be showing Aspera Drive 3.0, which has some interesting new capabilities for media workflow management on the Mac and Windows desktop. That includes remote management of files, collaborative check-in and check-out, and sync package sending and receiving in the desktop. That’s a big deal in a distributed media environment, where sometimes browser interaction isn’t practical.

Last year, we introduced our first point-to-point streaming client built around FASPStream. We’ve extended that now to support browser and media server streaming off the platform. Instead of http into the browser, you can stream via into the browser via FASPStream. It’s high-res streaming delivery over commodity Internet. The next generation of our FASPStream client allows you to hook up to camera feeds, supporting RTTP in addition to RTS over local UDP multicast or unicast. From an end-user point of view, I can livestream into the Aspera platform and at the same time have that transcoded, processed and turned into internet-appropriate formats, then stream that out via FASP IO gateway in the infrastructure to a browser streaming client. Those are supported by the new Connect browser plug-in, but the point to the user is it’s all seamless.

And we have made a number of advances in our main watch folder service. We look at large numbers of files, detect changes efficiently, even in object storage, and then forward those between distant storage sites. It’s designed for mass performance. You’ll see that in Aspera Sync and in the next-generation watch folder part of our desktop GUI. Media customers will be really happy with that.

What kind of trends are you seeing among your customers?

The feedback that we’ve been getting is that, with the growth in both file volume and resolution, along with time-to-market getting ever shorter, the platform service offerings are hugely beneficial. They’re easy to use, and they are hybrid offerings — the transfer service’s storage can be anywhere, including on premise. For this market, that seems important. We’re seeing the same trend for streaming. Some customers want cloud transcoding and packaging and cloud-based bandwidth for distribution, but in other cases they want to keep that solely on-premise. We have been able — and this is a credit to pure engineering — to exploit our server software stack to provide a foundation for doing all of these things, including file transfer, live streaming and synchronization.

Are you seeing a broader range of customers showing an interest in your offerings now that even small studios are required to work with high-resolution acquisition and delivery requirements?

More so now than ever. With Aspera Files, because the software and the capacity is available instantly, you can get it as a pay-as-you-go model that allows you to finance your actual usage. It’s very accommodating to small companies and it’s very popular with large enterprises who want to consolidate and offload their management. There is so much software technology and commensurate OS and network capabilities you would otherwise need to maintain to do this at large scale. Like never before, there is the widest possible breadth of types of companies coming onto these platforms.

What’s driving growth in bandwidth and storage demands? Is it just the move to higher-resolution content, or is it also the fact that more content is being created than ever before?

The doubling number I gave you earlier is what we have seen in the large OTT providers, where their volume is doubling every two years. The part of the industry that is expanding the fastest — and this won’t be a surprise — is long tail and original content with fast time to market. Original programming has become the norm, and what “original programming” means has widened a lot. People can do live events as original programming, and the costs of doing that have gone way down with this kind of technology, as shown by some of the recent forays into mass-scale original programming and new types of news content. So the growth we’re talking about comes from increases in resolution to UHD and maybe even 8K, but also from the fact that there’s such a fast expansion of potential new content. Aspera has ended up supporting a lot of that as enabling technology. New productions need to be up and running immediately, and they also need something that’s going to be secure, easy to build up and tear down, lightweight, and with delegatable management. They’ve got to move a lot of high-res media securely and quickly. Typically, they have tight on-prem storage and security requirements, so we need to connect that in. And, most recently, we’re seeing new live-TV-over-the-Internet opportunities where the cost model needs to go way down. Long-tail content can’t justify satellite costs of $2,000 an hour. So you see this confluence of things happening, and I think that spread is what’s driving it the most.

What else do you want people to know about Aspera as they go to NAB this year?

Staying purely cross-cloud is something Aspera stands out in globally. It’s difficult, engineeringwise. We have high-performance, secure transfers with these properties across each of the major cloud environments. That’s a popular thing for people to claim, but it’s very difficult to do in practice. We see customers taking real advantage of it. There are massive decisions in large media customers about which cloud to invest in, and the kinds of budgets for these choices are really large. So can this be a gateway to reducing CDN costs? If you have high-performance technology on top of a cloud that can perform without distance limitations, you can start to do new things. Live events have never been served by traditional CDNs, and there is a lot of pressure to build new alternatives to CDNs that can save money. It’s really important that the infrastructure part goes successfully. We’re trying to allow customers to have the maximum amount of choice so their media isn’t locked into one cloud storage environment, where it’s difficult to get it out. But we’re only part of the solution to that. It’ll be interesting to see what happens. It’s important for the industry to keep driving competition in infrastructure and getting those costs down.