BASE Media Cloud: powering the remote workflow revolution
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BASE Media Cloud: powering the remote workflow revolution

This month, Frame 25 continues to highlight UK broadcast’s brightest.

We spoke to three key employees at BASE Media Cloud about the company’s inception and growth, day-to-day operations – and how not to throw your computer out of the window…

Read interviews below with:

  • Ben Foakes BASE’s founder and managing director
  • Jon Wray (JW), technical projects manager
  • Tarno Pusey (TP), cloud systems engineer

The overview

Founded by Ben Foakes in 2015, BASE Media Cloud provides end-to-end media workflows in the cloud: centralised, pay-as-you-go storage and workflow solutions for production, post-production and distribution, including file transfer, media asset management, transcoding, remote workstations and more – delivered as a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) package.

Today, BASE has a team of 10 day-to-day staff members who serve hundreds of customers and thousands of users here in the UK and across the world.

Ben Foakes, Founder & Managing Director, BASE Media Cloud

How – and why – did you start the company?

Prior to BASE, I had a post-production facility and I did that for 10 years, so I was much more involved with editing, visual effects, grading and mixing and that type of thing, and we saw at that time – back in the mid-2000s – that other industries were moving to the cloud, online tools and remote working, but media was really, really behind the curve. It hadn’t really taken off.

And even though public clouds like AWS were a thing, it wasn’t being up­taken by the bigger media companies. It was very, very early.

I left the post house in 2012, and started the business plan for BASE.

Inception and launch

The first year or so was just pure learning – market research, how to build things, doing all the high-level design for the platform – and raising money, trying to get early-stage funding.

We launched BASE officially in May 2015 but we’d had the business created since mid-2014.

In the very early days, we just took a very simple approach. The world of broadcast was going to file-based delivery, with things like the DPP format coming out in 2014, and that was like an inflection point for moving to the cloud.

So first we launched storage as a service. We built out a data centre – we made the classic mistakes of investing in a big data centre and a core network and building out all the infrastructure ourselves.

The reason was to mitigate egress fees – added costs charged for every gigabyte of data that’s pulled out of a bucket, every API request and maybe penalties for early deletion of an asset – and reduce costs for our clients so we could be really competitive.

Cloud-storage costs, if you don’t manage them correctly, are hugely unpredictable, and it scares a lot of people away.

When we launched, we decided we weren’t going to charge any of those things. We were just going to charge a flat, per-terabyte, per-month cost and at the time we were the only ones doing it. Now it’s become more commonplace but there’s only a couple of vendors in the world who actually provide that, out of the box.

Recruitment challenges

At the time, we were looking at people who had a more formal IT background or a broadcast engineering background but there wasn’t exactly a flood of public-cloud and devops-type people on the market because it was still relatively new in our sector.

When we started, it was really, really hard to recruit for what we were doing because it was all new. Now there’s definitely more breadth of talent on the market and more people have woken up to the need for cloud skills.

A lot of engineers I meet, and Jon and Tarno, have migrated away from traditional, on-premise facilities and gone full-cloud because they can see that’s the future – and that was before the pandemic kicked off.

Tech revolution

Now we’re full public cloud. We’ve got a really awesome multi-cloud network that we’ve developed and are constantly improving, and what it allows us to do is plug different clouds together, seamlessly, but still bypass things like egress fees and API-call fees for our clients.

And we’ve integrated loads of tools on top, so we now have this whole suite of services, so a media client can pick and choose things like back-up or file sharing or remote edit suites or asset management or streaming. They can choose their modules and they’re all plugged back to the BASE network and storage platform.

It’s really revolutionised loads of the customers’ workflows.

We bring a lot of cost-savings. Once we’ve gone into a client and helped them out, they’re saving loads of money on hardware, staff support, power, cooling and the rest of it.

How has the pandemic affected the business?

We’ve gained clients during lockdown – the BBC, Elmwood, Havas – but we’ve also had a few casualties sadly, which is just the nature of what’s been going on in the world.

We’ve also been very lucky in that we’ve grown this year, while a lot of companies had the opposite so we feel really lucky and well-positioned.

Technical projects manager Jon Wray (JW, below left) and cloud systems engineer Tarno Pusey (TP, below right) on day-to-day operations at BASE Media Cloud

What are the benefits of using cloud services?

TP: A lot of companies are now seeing the value of moving to cloud services, especially with the pandemic.

It’s definitely given a chance to a lot of start-ups and has changed the way people think. Companies were already (considering moving to the cloud) before but were a bit sceptical, but the pandemic has forced their hand.

Talk us through your work at BASE.

TP: We’ll tend to do scheduled work on a weekend just to make sure we’re not impacting customer services but everything else is pretty much office hours.

For me, every day is different. Even if you’re working on the same projects, the day will still be different somehow. That’s just the nature of IT.

BASE is a lot different from the traditional way of doing things. In a physical machine room, if we’re rolling out another service, we’d have to rack-up another server, deploy an application, do all the testing and all of that stuff. That’d take at least three months. With cloud services, we’ve literally tested in a few days and gone live in the next week, so it’s perfect, a lot quicker.

JW: It’s mostly office hours but the engineers and the support tend to do overtime at weekends if needed.

In terms of ‘a day in the life’, we’re starting with morning calls now, and it generally tends to be ‘Has anything gone wrong overnight?’, cover the support tickets, prioritise our day and pick up any projects that have come in, or anything else.

Do you work together on projects?

JW: It’s quite a weird one. There’s a lot of different projects but they don’t all need as much engineering work, so it’s not always, ‘This is one project, this is what we’re working on’. There’s a lot of times when there’s three of four projects and I might be working with Tarno on two of them, and with somebody else on another one, so it just depends on how much we need to engineer for it.

What’s it been like working from home?

JW: It’s been good. We pretty much flicked the switch to home straight away. We were already kind of built for it. A week before (lockdown), we rolled out Teams permanently for us as well, so switching to home working rolled out naturally.

What are the key skills required for the work you do?

TP: Obviously the fundamentals of IT, in terms of how machinery would work even if it was in a physical state because once machines and services are in the cloud it’s actually doing the same thing but it’s a lot easier to manage and support in the cloud. It’s a lot more robust.

Having IT fundamentals will push you in the right direction. And cloud-specific training and knowledge is more desired than essential, I would say, because all the clouds are pretty much similar under the hood. It’s just another flavour of how it looks on the internet, basically, but they’ll all fundamentally be the same thing.

Knowing the fundamentals definitely helps to put the tech-speak into plain English for clients. Once you understand exactly what you’re trying to achieve, (it’s easier) to explain it and present it to clients in a way that they actually understand.

If a client comes and says, ‘Oh, we need to deliver files to a specific location’, we wouldn’t go into the ins and outs of, ‘We’ll be delivering via this protocol and then…’. They just want to know that their files will be delivered where they want them.

Because of the expertise we have in-house, it’s easy for us to understand and explain it to the customer in layman’s terms.

Also, being able to adapt is important. If you’re not ready to adapt I wouldn’t say cloud is for you, to be honest. But then if you’re an engineer, you’ll need to adapt and know what’s needed anyway.

JW: Skills-wise, as long as you’ve got an understanding of the terminology… On my side, because I don’t have to be as hands-on as Tarno, being able to understand what he’s saying when he talks to me really helps.

Another key skill is the ability to think on your feet and not lose the plot when something unexpected comes at you. It might not even be a key skill but it is something that’s very helpful, that you’re able to take something in your stride, not just panic and throw the computer out the window and scream ‘cloud!’. Being able to adapt because, as Tarno says, not every day is the same. Errors come up every other day that we’ve never seen before, and we have to work out why.

How do you feel you have grown at Base?

TP: Joining BASE Media Cloud has given me the exposure to the future of technology.

With the responsibility of building/tailoring cloud services for a wide number of customers is positively challenging. My IT background is more around supporting traditional physical-state infrastructure…I feel BASE has grown my understanding of where technology is going, which puts me in a great place for my future.

I’ve always been quite tech-savvy, naturally. It’s been a great journey at BASE Media Cloud so far, with a lot more exciting projects to come.

JW: In my short time at BASE Media Cloud I’ve been gifted an amazing amount of freedom in what we do. I’m trusted to research and implement new workflows and systems and have learned to be able to take a step back when working on things, which is something I’ve always struggled with.

I naturally like trying to do it all. I’m obsessed with tech so coming here is like being a kid in a candy store, but with the amount and nature of our work here that outlook is impossible to maintain.

The team here are all incredibly talented and you know if you ask them to do something it will get done – and, more importantly, get done well.

What’s next for BASE?

JW: We’re looking at getting representatives in different areas around the world, partnering up with companies. It means we’ll also have 24-hour support through a BASE contact.

One good thing about BASE is we’re never sitting still. We’ve just launched a new product that we weren’t offering a few months back and it seems to have slipped right into what people who are coming to us now need, in terms of accessible servers outside of work, and we’re still looking at other products around the market, and ways of making change.

We can never rest on our laurels.