IBC 2013: The way a product is delivered and sold is as important as the kit, says Steve Plunkett.

In addition to meeting industry friends, old and new, IBC is all about the products and technologies that attempt to drive us forward.

But at this year’s show, I am looking out for not just great products but how they are delivered and sold.

As an industry we are on a journey to a future where many broadcast products are sold as software, available to be deployed flexibly, rapidly and on demand in a variety of hosting models, such as private cloud, public cloud, as-a-service and bare metal servers and so on.

While this is a somewhat radical departure from our traditionally hardware-centric product environment, it is business as usual in the wider IT world and it offers many advantages.

Software systems can scale quickly and automatically, they can be deployed rapidly and programmatically and they can be licensed on a pay as you consume basis.

In an idealised future, we can buy or rent common infrastructure fabric (compute, network, storage) and dynamically repurpose it using software for the tasks we need to perform right now – media receipt, preparation, transformation, publication and so on.

So what is holding us back from this software utopia and what might we see at IBC this year?

There are technical and commercial challenges to overcome.

Closely coupled hardware and software provides certainty, in terms of deterministic performance, compatibility and through established physical interfaces such as SDI, interoperability.

Hardware product business models are well understood. We know how to develop, sell, install and support ‘boxes’.

But we do have to change.

Hardware products consume space, power, implementation time and CPU/RAM/disk resources much less efficiently than virtualised software instances on shared hardware.

As public cloud providers such as Amazon and Microsoft spend billions building out global data centres that provide flexible pay as you go resources and those of us with private data centres implement server virtualisation to gain efficiencies and cost savings, hardware products begin to stand out as being incompatible with these environments.

When I am roaming the stands at IBC this year, looking at the array of black boxes with flashing lights, I will be asking vendors exactly what added value their hardware is providing.

What premium is the hardware implementation offering to offset the fact that I can’t flexibly install it in my private or public cloud? And how do they see their product roadmap evolving in the next two years?

Finally, I am keen to see how the commercial models are evolving in line with the technology.

If we can switch software products on and off as they are needed then we should have the option to pay for them in a similar fashion.

A number of vendors are adopting this new technology and commercial model, while others are dragging their feet. This is understandable, change is always difficult, but those who embrace rather than resist the future often reap the bigger reward.

  • Steve Plunkett is chief technology officer at Red Bee Media