- From CIO Digest, April 2010 Issue ( Download This Entire Issue in PDF)
Firsts are nothing new for premium movie service provider Starz Entertainment. It became the first pay TV provider in the United States last year to reach 50 million subscribers for its Starz and Encore brands. And the year before, Starz Play became the first affiliate-based broadband subscription movie service to be offered via an affiliate.
Achieving firsts requires strategic leadership and innovation, characteristics that apply not only to the creation and delivery of content at Starz but also cascade across the organization. Consider the convergence of technologies and delivery channels that are changing how broadcast companies such as Starz conduct business. For this reason, Starz’s executive management team made a strategic decision to consolidate IT and Broadcast operations under the same umbrella. Ray Milius, the senior vice president of Programming Operations and IT, was given the charter to oversee the effort.
Consolidating the two entities was not an easy undertaking; the organizations not only had different technologies and processes but also dissimilar cultures. Once complete, however, the integration drove a number of operational efficiencies, in addition to helping the organization rapidly embrace the movement toward multi-delivery channels.
With this in mind, seeking to avoid expensive upgrades to its proprietary broadcast systems, Starz began integrating its broadcast and IT systems in 2007. “Our number one priority over the past couple years has been the migration of legacy broadcast equipment to the IT environment," says Judy Batenburg, the executive director of Infrastructure and Operations at Starz Entertainment. The migration is slated for completion in the spring of 2010 and has been the primary focus of Batenburg and her team.
The other parallel, and related, initiative is the move to multi-channel delivery. “The viewing habits and preferences of those consuming our broadcast content are changing,” Batenburg says. “They don’t want to be constrained to watching programs at scheduled times. They want to view them on their mobile devices or over the Internet.” This creates serious implications for network bandwidth. Batenburg explains: “Leveraging and coordinating corporate use of the network bandwidth in conjunction with that of the broadcast operations is one of our biggest challenges.”
Milius did not envision that the integration of the broadcast and IT functions would happen immediately. To facilitate the process, he challenged his direct reports to establish the baseline for the remainder of the organization through collaborative teaming. “By building those bridges at the manager and director levels, we led by example, and it cascaded down and across the larger organization,” Batenburg comments. “Ray truly provided the change leadership to make the effort a success.”
Integration prompts upgrade
Symantec AntiVirus has been in place at Starz for a number of years. Batenburg and her team opted to upgrade to Symantec Endpoint Protection about a year ago. “We had some endpoints that weren’t protected and a number of different versions of the software on individual clients,” Batenburg relates. “And it was really important for us to complete the upgrade in a short period of time. In less than a week, with only two staff resources, we had rolled out the antivirus and antispyware components across nearly all of our more than 8,000 endpoints.”
Because the broadcast systems are business critical, the broadcast team was concerned that the endpoint security solution would interfere with the stability and performance of their systems. “They were pleasantly surprised, however, when we rolled out the solution,” Batenburg proudly reports.
“We created different profiles for scanning in order to minimize the impact to broadcast systems during peak usage,” says Colin McGuire, senior manager of IT Service Delivery at Starz. “The smaller footprint is another factor that enabled us to extend endpoint security to the broadcast machines. The scans and updates are able to run behind the scenes without affecting the performance of each system.”
Symantec Endpoint Protection also provides Starz with a much cleaner environment, according to Robin Veit, senior manager of IT Service Support at Starz. “For example, the consolidated console allows us to have a view across all of our different endpoints,” she notes. “And we also benefit from faster and more accurate reporting of our security posture.”
While Batenburg and her team are currently using only the antivirus and antispyware capabilities of Symantec Endpoint Protection, they plan to explore expanding their deployment to include other features such as intrusion prevention and device control. “I’m a big believer in building strategic relationships with a few core technology providers and then working with them to extend your technology investment,” Batenburg says.
IT governance and business alignment
Close alignment of IT and the business is one of the factors that ensured the successful integration of broadcast and IT. A governance team meets with business owners on a regular basis, and then captures and reports their requirements to an IT steering committee. The IT steering committee prioritizes the different business issues and allocates them as individual IT projects and programs.
“We recently began holding quarterly business meetings with the business managers to review individual IT projects,” Batenburg reports. “This is promoting closer collaboration and moreover keeps business owners apprised of any issues that might arise.” In addition to the quarterly meetings, Batenburg challenges her team to reach out to someone with whom they haven’t worked within the business each quarter.
Indeed, the ability to forge strategic relationships with her business partners is one of the aspects Batenburg, who worked at Bell Labs (now Lucent Technologies) and HP for 11 years and then several smaller companies, relishes the most about working in a smaller company. “One of the things that I love most about Starz is the nature of our business,” she says. “Without technology, we wouldn’t be able to broadcast over the air and deliver content to the Internet. IT is a core part of Starz’s business, and there is a level of trust between the business and IT that is quite unique.”
A rewarding archiving and discovery replacement
As with any publicly traded company, email archiving and discovery are critical functions for Starz. When Batenburg arrived three years ago, the company had just experienced a significant issue with the prior technology solution. Plagued by a number of deficiencies, including insufficient indexing, it was not meeting the needs of the business. Batenburg initiated a lengthy conversation with the business, and a number of options were put on the table, including outsourcing the function altogether. After significant deliberation, they determined that a software-based solution was still the right choice and selected Symantec Enterprise Vault to replace the incumbent technology.
“I put a lot of personal capital into the selection of Enterprise Vault,” Batenburg says. “It turned out to be a huge success and my team’s first big accomplishment.” In less than two months, Batenburg and her team migrated to Enterprise Vault. “We hired a new staff member to manage the Enterprise Vault implementation,” she reports. “We sent him for off-site training with Symantec Education Services for a week. He returned and installed Enterprise Vault in less than two months.” For implementation support, the Starz’s team leveraged Symantec Consulting Services.
The difference between the prior solution and Enterprise Vault is dramatic. For example, legal discovery requests could take up to 10 weeks to complete and involved multiple people working 16 hours a day. “We’re now able to perform that same discovery task—from search, to exporting everything, to burning the DVDs, to sending the data to the relevant parties—using Enterprise Vault Discovery Accelerator in a day or two,” Batenburg says. “And the actual search takes a few minutes.” Enterprise Vault also provides superior capabilities around indexing and the granularity of searches compared to the previous solution. “We’re also saving on third-party legal costs,” Batenburg adds. “We no longer need to send email data offsite and pay extensive fees for our legal firm to search through the data to locate all of the pertinent records in question.”
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The benefits don’t stop there. Leveraging the deduplication and data compression capabilities of Enterprise Vault, Starz cut its email archive in half. “With the previous solution, we were a big customer of Best Buy,” quips McGuire, “as we constantly had to purchase larger drives to store all of the data that had been pulled. The deduplication feature in Enterprise Vault results in a much smaller discovery output.” And as Batenburg and her team now archive email data to tier-two storage rather than tier-one storage, they also cut the cost of their email storage in half.
In addition, end users can perform their own email restores instead of routing the requests to the IT help desk. This self-service feature provides enhanced productivity to both sides of the spectrum—the end user and the IT staff.
Because of the success they have achieved with the archiving and e-discovery of email data, Batenburg and her team are determined to extend their investment in Enterprise Vault. As soon as the migration of broadcast systems to the IT environment is completed, they plan to begin archiving unstructured data such as Microsoft SharePoint Server and file and print data. “We’ve purchased Enterprise Vault SharePoint Archiving and Enterprise Vault File System Archiving,” Batenburg says. The team anticipates comparable results, from a dramatically smaller storage footprint using deduplication technology to more rapid discoveries when unstructured data is required.
Client provisioning and reimaging
With approximately 2,000 desktops and laptops, provisioning and reimaging of those machines is a significant undertaking for the Starz team. “We’ve had Symantec Ghost Solution Suite since I joined the company more than seven and a half years ago,” Veit notes. “It has evolved with our environment, and we’ve gained significant value as a result.” Veit and her team refresh up to a third of Starz’s systems annually and use Symantec Ghost Solution Suite to create a standard image that is then provisioned across all of them. This process reduces the amount of time required to complete provisioning by about 75 percent, according to Veit.
“My IT Service Desk team is able to manage each of the machines more efficiently by having a standard image across all of them,” Veit says. And for the reimaging of machines throughout the year, Veit and her team see additional value. “With Ghost Solution Suite, we’re able to reimage the machines in approximately 20 to 40 minutes, compared to about four hours or more without the toolset.”
Virtualization of the server environment is another big accomplishment that Batenburg touts. Three years ago, as part of the company’s larger green initiative to reduce its carbon footprint through less power consumption, she and her team implemented VMware for virtualized management of their Microsoft Windows environment. “Over 60 percent of our data center servers are virtualized,” she reports. “What’s more impressive is that we increased our server footprint by 72 percent while at the same time increasing our power consumption by only seven percent.”
Symantec technologies aided in this evolution of the data center environment. For example, virtualization support in Symantec Endpoint Protection allowed Batenburg and her team to seamlessly migrate over to the virtualized environment without any changes to the endpoint security deployment.
Piloting for success
The winds and weather on the eastern slope of the Rocky Mountains are notorious for their volatility and unpredictability. A private pilot, Batenburg has successfully navigated these since moving to Colorado 11 years ago. But as her assignment at Starz attests, she is not only adept at piloting her aircraft in adverse circumstances, but has the right touch for charting complex and challenging IT programs and projects—from takeoff to landing.
And with leaders like Batenburg, Starz will most certainly continue to achieve its firsts—hallmark achievements that will help it reach all the way to the stars.
Patrick E. Spencer (Ph.D.) is the editor in chief for CIO Digest and The Confident SMB and the author of a book and various articles and reviews published by Continuum Books and Sage Publications, among others.