As video producer and event technology lead for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (USCC), Micky Ronis has spent the past 15 years creating professional event experiences through video, as well as staged productions. Because USCC hosts daily events (from 15-20 person round tables to 500 person keynotes spanning multiple days) the unwelcome arrival of COVID pandemic required him to quickly research and train his audio-visual team on the best way to effectively produce remote events.
Dependent upon the client’s needs, Ronis and his AV team rely on multiple platforms for their remote meetings, including Microsoft Teams, StreamYard, and vMix. Once a platform is chosen, he works with extended team members to ensure production technology is implemented for webcasts.
The challenge they most often encounter is connection issues for some of the remote guests, which can include heads of state and major corporate CEOs, as well as small business owners throughout the country. “Each platform also has its own ups and downs,” Ronis laments. “Teams Live Events is limited to 15fps for screen sharing and is delayed when switching sources. Stream Yard has five minute video playback limits, and vMix is a local desktop program that requires high-end components to run its broadcast production software.” To further complicate matters for Ronis and his team, each platform’s broadcast tools limit the number of remote, live guest speakers, unlike a Zoom or standard Teams meeting.
Ronis’ ultimate goal was to move the U.S. Chamber workflow to full, custom, TV-quality webcast experiences without breaking the bank. But in order to do this, he knew he wanted to use vMix for its flexibility as a production tool with a built-in Remote Guest solution. “vMix is also one of the few tools that would allow for a hybrid experience post-COVID—once we are back producing events in the USCC building,” says Ronis.
When he learned that BOXX Technologies offered BOXX Cloud, a dedicated, remote desktop solution, Ronis immediately inquired. As a longtime PC enthusiast always on the lookout for high-end gear, Ronis had been a BOXX fan since seeing ads in video magazines and online many years before.
With BOXX Cloud, Ronis could access his own, private, dedicated cloud solution (a BOXX FLEXX platform) hosted inside a remote BOXX data center. Accessible from any connected device, FLEXX provides the power and performance of multiple desktop workstations in a rack-mounted, high-density form factor. Based on his workflow, BOXX performance specialists helped Ronis custom configure the remote system and then allowed his team to test it.
“The concept of ‘one size does not fit all’ is what makes BOXX unique,” says Shoaib Mohammad, BOXX VP of Business Development and Cloud Services. “There are special requirements for specific workflows. So whether you’re in architecture, engineering, or in Micky’s case, media and entertainment, a solution purpose-built for your applications is essential.”
The producer was pleased to discover that the remote solution was more efficient and affordable than other options, in addition to being backed by legendary BOXX Technical Support.
“After testing, I knew it was the best fit for me given that I would be working with a team from BOXX and not just spinning up and troubleshooting a random AWS instance,” he says. The decision to go with BOXX has paid off for Ronis’ team who have been successfully deploying their three BOXX instances for half a year, particularly as a dedicated playback system for all of their pre-recorded content. They have also used several additional tools to allow team members to join Ronis when logged into an instance via Parsec and RealVNC. “We’ve also been running a really cool app called Bit Focus Companion,” says Ronis. “It ties the systems together and triggers action remotely.”
While Ronis had been confident in his previous personal hardware systems to produce shows, he still had to take into account that he is just one member of a six-person AV team. In other words, he needed to consider the possibility of being unavailable or if his network or power was down. This steered him toward the advantage of a cloud-based solution.
“That’s really the biggest benefit of cloud-based machines,” says Ronis. “I can still be the main operator, but I can also have someone there as a backup.” With regard to live production, maintaining a seamless presentation can be a challenge, especially if someone from the team has to take a break, step away momentarily, or deal with an emergency. A second person remoted into the machine allows for some work-life balance. It also made sense in terms of production workflow—and money.
“I wanted to use a remote system” Ronis insists. “While many of my peers have chosen cloud solutions with virtual CPUs, I wanted dedicated performance and to avoid renting a system by the hour because we often make changes and test our event day in and day out.” Ronis’ unease regarding virtual CPUs in a standard elastic cloud system was well-founded. He knew that other cloud subscribers would also be on that server, so he would technically be sharing it. This disadvantage was a deal breaker, and one of the key reasons to BOXX Cloud’s appeal.
“With other cloud services, I wouldn’t be getting the full benefit of that server like I do with BOXX Cloud,” he says, “so I would either have to compensate by putting it as like a 32 core system and hope that those 16 threads are working as good as eight dedicated cores or vice versa. At the same time, I'm paying for every time I spin it off. I knew there had to be a better way to do this.”
Recently, Ronis has begun to build full production on the BOXX Cloud systems, pushing all three to work together at once in order to output a unique webcast experience. They test internally before opening up for their public audiences. During a recent meeting, Ronis was asked to create an award experience that included over 50 on-camera nominees as well as six featured speakers. The primary challenge was the sheer volume of nominees.
“I knew the only way to pull off this event was to do it 100% via vMix for maximum control over both the audio and video elements,” Ronis recalls. “We don’t use Zoom for our meetings due to security concerns, yet even if we did, there is no ideal way to pull a camera full screen without pinning the source. Even then, getting it into the production is a challenge without a second screen output from Zoom. Teams only shows nine video cameras at a time, but it does integrate with NDI, a broadcast codec that transmits video over a local network. Since my systems are connected on the same network, I knew I could send a source from Teams into vMix as long as the recipient turned on their camera during the time they were announced as an award winner.”
NDI is also what Ronis would be using for both the return video feed to connect the program output to Teams and the operator of one of the BOXX instances. In the end, he was able to successfully use all three systems to send video across the local network and, receive various production feeds, record, and stream out for the final production.
Since each event is different and often requires an increasing variety of capabilities, Ronis eventually decided on an upgrade in order to meet demand—expanding two of the systems from 8 to 10 CPU cores.
“Flexibility is just another advantage of BOXX Cloud,” says Mohammad. “Micky’s workflow changed. After reassessment, he determined he needed more cores and we quickly upgraded. Take that advantage with purpose-built configurations and the fact that BOXX is always first to market with the latest technology like NVIDIA RTX GPUs, and you have what makes BOXX Cloud so special.”
According to Ronis, the aforementioned benefit of expert technical support also made BOXX Cloud special. “Whenever I had an issue, the team was quick to help and find a solution. They even connected me with outside help and partnered with Teradici when I experienced an issue with USB port forwarding.”
Lastly, Ronis acknowledges that his cloud decision has also been beneficial to his bottom line. “I know that had I used AWS, Renderro, or Paperspace servers, the cost would have been much more than having a dedicated system 24/7,” he says. “In every aspect, working with BOXX has been great.”