Creating a Better Digital Asset Management System in the Cloud

If your digital assets are not well managed and secure in the cloud, they’re susceptible to threats both online and in the real world. In that respect I was introduced to MediaValet, a Digital Asset Management Solutions company out of Vancouver.

MediaValet is the first 100% cloud-based solution in this traditional, server-based industry and it’s one of the first cloud-based systems created on Microsoft’s Azure cloud platform. Here’s their story:

VRX Studios, a full-service photography company with over 10,000 hotel clients and 30 TBs of data under management, faced an “avalanche of media assets” that was threatening the day-to-day operations and the future of its business in 2009. VRX Studios needed to quickly find a new digital asset management solution.  After an exhaustive search and analysis of solutions by all exiting DAMS providers, VRX Studios turned to the cloud (specifically Microsoft’s Windows Azure cloud platform) to create a DAMS (MediaValet) that could not only meet its core needs (scalability, flexibility and global accessibility) but would also open up an entirely new opportunity for the company.

VRX Studios created MediaValet, the first 100% cloud-based, enterprise class, globally accessible, digital asset management system (DAMS), using Microsoft’s Windows Azure cloud platform. MediaValet was one of the first 100% cloud applications built on Azure and it has garnered a tremendous amount of support from Microsoft since it was launched in late 2010. At Microsoft’s upcoming Worldwide Partner Conference in July, MediaValet is expected to be used as an example of a great application built on Windows Azure.

Since development started in mid 2010, MediaValet has quickly gone from being a tool to improve VRX Studios’ operational efficiency, to a product that VRX Studios can offer to its 10,000 plus hotel clients around the world, to a stand-alone offering targeted at all companies, in all industries – entire markets that are amassing digital assets faster than they know what do with. MediaValet can address the digital asset management needs of any company, no matter how large or small, how many users they have or how much content they need to manage.

I’ve had the chance to interview David MacLaren, Founder, President and CEO of VRX Studios and MediaValet who showed me how the Cloud has helped his company create new revenue streams, improve economics and conquer new markets:

How the cloud can completely transform a business by creating new revenues streams or entirely new businesses.

Let’s take a look at the Digital Asset Management industry as an example.  Companies, large and small, in all industries, currently store and manage their digital assets in one of two ways:

  1. By making an expensive investment in DAM software, servers and the personnel to maintain and support the environment.  This means they rely on localized racks of servers, which are expensive and most often under-utilized, not to mention having to upgrade infrastructure every two to three years. Imagine the costs associated with establishing the same infrastructure and support in Europe and Asia to meet the needs of a global organization or workforce. This way, although expensive and timely to maintain, meets their DAMS needs.
  2. By relying on CDs, CD-ROMs, DVDs, various hard drives (internal and external) and Local Area Networks to store assets.  The processing, converting, reformatting and recreating of images is all done by hand.  Sharing digital assets take place via e-mail, FTP, IM or physical courier services – all with their drawbacks.  This whole process is time-intensive and fragmented to say the least. It’s also highly inefficient and in most cases, the people who need access to the assets don’t even know they exist.

A cloud-based DAM improves both of these scenarios:

For the companies who have bought DAM software and the hardware to run it and hired or allocated the IT staff to maintain it, a Cloud-based DAMS will significantly lower their costs as there’s no upfront investment in software or hardware and the DAMS provider take care of all the maintenance and upkeep – all for a low monthly price that covers just what you use.

For the second group, a Cloud-based DAMs is not only affordable (as they probably would never consider going the first route) it’s absolute nirvana for those who are tasked with finding, reformatting, and distributing assets on request and to everyone who needs access to the assets, as the assets will now be at their finger tips and they can size and format the assets as needed – themselves.

MediaValet delivers the first 100% cloud-based DAMS that provides businesses in all industries with three vital components:

  • A global IT infrastructure consisting of (6 massive Microsoft Azure data centres and 23 distribution nodes, as part of Microsoft’s’ Content Distribution Network, that are spread around the world). This infrastructure enables MediaValet to offer its customers massive scalability in the form of storage and bandwidth and time to market that’s measured in days versus weeks or months.
  • A DAMS created by one of the world’s leading content producers: VRX Studios. VRX is a global full-service photography company with 10,000 hotel clients around the world.  They’ve taken their decade plus experience and expertise in producing, managing, distributing and licensing content and created a cloud-based DAMS that can best be described as an experience rather than a tool – to the user it’s visually appealing, simple and easy to use.
  • Access from any browser – anywhere. Users can access all their assets – reformat, resize and share them – from any browser, on any computer and using any Operating System.

Looking at this from a wider perspective, cloud service providers, such as Microsoft, give business owners, entrepreneurs and managers the opportunity to save significant sums of money or to invest that same money into their businesses to improve existing offerings or to create new products and services.

How to use the Cloud to improve operational efficiencies and significantly reduce costs.

The numbers say it all.  For example, a cloud-based DAMS for a medium size business with operations just in North America would cost $1,000 – $5,000 per month vs a server-based DAMS whose costs break down as follows:

  • $30,000 – $75,000 upfront for the software (25%/year thereafter for updates)
  • $15,000 – $50,000 for customization,
  • $20,000+ for hardware and
  • $thousands/month for hosting, maintenance, personnel and support costs

The Cloud however delivers more benefits to a business than just the physical spend:

  • Cloud based applications are accessible from anywhere in the world (both inside and outside corporate offices). Using an infrastructure like Windows Azure not only provides global access through 6 data centres, it also provides caching and distribution of content, such as digital assets.
  • Faster deployment speeds: cloud-based technologies provide the ability to get applications up and running – and expand the IT resources they use – much faster than with on-premise solutions.
  • Flexible and scalable:
    • pay as you go model deals with peaks and troughs in application usage
    • the positive impact an always-available application during heavy usage times has on a company’s bottom-line
    • for fast-growing companies, they may not be able to put in the server infrastructure and capital investment up-front that would scale as quickly as the organization.
  • Higher availability
  • Reliability:  reliable service guarantees by cloud providers for business continuity in the face of disaster or network interruptions.
  • Cloud is an operational cost rather than an investment cost.  Acquiring expensive equipment is a capital expenditure – one that depreciates over time.  Cloud computing means your one-time expenditure is spread across several operational cycles – becoming part of your operational cost.
  • Staff that were hired to manage IT infrastructure can now be assigned to other areas, such as support

How to leverage the Cloud to open up new markets.

See above MediaValet example.  In short, for MediaValet, building on Microsoft’s Windows Azure Cloud platform meant:

  • Completely avoiding the time, personnel and costs required to set up a global IT infrastructure.
  • Focusing all of their attention, time, resources and investment on building the application. Leveraging Microsoft’s global network of data centres and IT infrastructure (and all the benefits this brings to MediaValet and its customers – see above).
  • Replacing VRX Studios’ ageing DAMS with a Cloud-based system with ten times the features and, massive scalability and global accessibility – for half the cost of developing and maintaining a server-based system.

In six months, VRX Studios took a tool they built for themselves and turned it into a stand-alone product that has the potential to surpass the success of VRX within three years.

How to leverage local and offshore teams to beat the competition.

  • Build a small, highly experienced, local team that will design the product and manage it development locally. Our team includes
    1. Solutions Architect
    2. Software Development Manager
    3. Sr. Project Manager
    4. Sr. Product Manager
    5. Business Analyst
    6. Find an offshore development partner that has the resources you require along with a successful track record of working with NA companies and delivering projects on time, on budget and on spec.
    7. Have your team interview and approve each member added to your offshore team.
    8. Manage the offshore team daily; providing daily delivery requirements at the beginning of each day and reviewing all code submitted at the end of each day.

How to create a start-up with a fraction of the funds required even 3 years ago.

Just a few years ago, setting up a high tech start-up required the a lot of things, including the following:

  1. The idea for a product.
  2. The IT infrastructure to support the people building the product as well as the product itself.
  3. The funding to purchase the initial IT infrastructure and to fund the building of the beta product.
  4. Additional funding, at a much large scale, to fund the IT infrastructure required by the company to launch the product (servers, operating systems, data centres, IT staff, etc.).
  5. The resources to maintain the IT infrastructure.

    Today, you need:

    1. The idea
    2. The programmers to create the product, and
    3. The funding for the programmers

      Bottom line, high tech startups today only have to focus on creating the application – not the application and the IT infrastructure.

      Today – you remove that first layer of equipment and resource costs.

      It comes down to infrastructure spend and the resources associated with it.  Building on Windows Azure has enabled us to replace our ageing DAMS with a cloud-based system for half the cost of developing and maintaining a server-based system.

      How to create a start-up with a fraction of the funds required even 3 years ago.

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