by Rodney Gedda

Media production firm consolidates data for growth

Nov 15, 2010
Data MiningIT ManagementProject Management

Sydney-based media production and distribution company, Beyond International, has consolidated its disparate data silos to better prepare it for growth and improve its business continuity strategy.

The $75 million company creates content for broadcast television and distributes and sells content to broadcasters and consumers. Beyond International had grown through acquisition, which resulted in disparate systems across its 12 offices around the world.

The company wanted to link all its systems together and centralise operations as much as possible in case of future acquisitions and partnerships. Back office applications often performed slowly and suffered periods of downtime, said CIO Billy Cobbe.

“We’re paying people a lot of money for their skills, and we don’t want small IT problems hampering their effectiveness,” he said. “We saw that our real investment was in our data, not server boxes or operating systems. In addition to virtualising our servers, we needed to look at the way we were accessing our data.”

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Cobbe, who joined Beyond International in 1997, said centralised data would make it easier to build a disaster recovery plan.

Beyond looked at storage systems from EMC, HP and NetApp before choosing EMC. The company — predominantly a “Mac shop” with little Windows server or virtualisation experience — engaged Sydney-based IT consulting firm Nexus for the implementation work.

With some six servers each running multiple applications, a 3TB fibre channel network storage system was installed to convert the servers to a virtual environment, while migrating the data to the networked storage system.

The project, which is a first step on the road to full DR, cost $120,000 and was originally proposed 12 months ago.

“Our systems run a lot more smoothly now – people have secure access to the data they need to help run the business, 24 hours a day,” Cobbe said. “That alone justifies the cost of our investments.” Beyond International improved the performance and reduced the risk profile of business applications like the ERP system, which was migrated to a VMware virtual server. Moving the data to the new storage system reduced disk-based performance constraints, particularly during end-of-month processing peak loads. Management software allows the IT team to manage the storage and virtual machines in a single interface.

“We didn’t have the internal skills in storage systems, so having these management tools was really important,” Cobbe said. “Once it was all set up and optimised for our environment, it was very easy to manage.”

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Beyond is now buying another drive shelf and adding 6TB of capacity to its storage. Cobbe said the project was started with certain assumptions, but the company is consuming more space than it originally thought it would and is installing more VMs to cater for the growth. Another physical server will be purchased to run virtual machines.

The project highlighted the potential of virtual appliances, which Cobbe believes will be the next thing to take off, particularly in the network services space.

With its data centralised in a single storage system, Beyond was confident enough to proceed with a proper disaster recovery strategy.

“We now have a proper disaster recovery model that protects the value of our investments in company data,” Cobbe said.