Behind the Scenes in Mobile Entertainment
- From The Confident SMB, May 2010 Issue (Download This Entire Issue in PDF)
When growing up in the sand hills of western Kansas, watching a Sunday afternoon National Football League (NFL) game on CBS was always filled with uncertainty. The broadcast tower was outside of Dodge City, much farther than the towers for ABC and NBC in Garden City, and thus we needed not only to configure the rabbit ears on the television in just the right way, but also cooperation from Mother Nature. On the best days, the players, even if the game was being played in an indoor stadium, appeared to be standing in a blizzard of snow.
About the time I left for college, satellite dishes came along and transformed the viewing experience. Now, a little more than 20 years later, I wouldn’t even need a television to watch a Sunday afternoon NFL game on CBS. With a handheld wireless device such as a BlackBerry or iPhone, a subscription plan with a wireless carrier, and MobiTV, Inc. providing real-time streaming, I could enjoy the game while working on the farm or simply relaxing at the house.
With its award-winning Managed Services Platform, MobiTV, Inc. offers a disruptive technology that is revolutionizing the ways in which television, video, and music services are consumed—one very tiny screen at a time. And only four years after winning an Emmy Engineering Award, the company touts over nine million subscribers.
Information technology (IT) for a company in such a dynamic market segment is both exciting and challenging. When Chad Kalmes assumed the role of IT director at MobiTV, Inc. two years ago, the company had a little more than three million subscribers, a number that has tripled since then. And during this time, IT has gone from an underpinning technology component to a business enabler under Kalmes’ leadership.
Consulting career: a unique lens
Kalmes began his career more than 10 years ago with Arthur Andersen LLP (now Accenture), where he served as a professional services consultant in the Computer Risk Management Group. Much of the group’s focus was on security infrastructure and processes. This provided him with unique insight that most SMB IT leaders simply don’t possess. His consulting work helped prepare him for his current role in many ways. “As an IT consultant you have an opportunity to gain a breadth of experience across a number of different functional areas working with companies from a number of industry segments—small to large and privately held and publicly held,” Kalmes explains. “However, you rarely get a chance to see each project through to full implementation and then ongoing management.”
This changed when Kalmes made the transition from IT consultant to IT director in early 2008. He and his team are responsible for traditional IT functions from business applications, telecom, and desktop support to technical support and messaging. He also is responsible for security and compliance, physical facilities, and business intelligence around mobile media reporting, trending, and data analysis.
IT governance—the starting point
One of the first projects that Kalmes oversaw at MobiTV was the development and institution of standard operating procedures and policies. “The company had grown to the point where we needed to adopt an IT governance model to scale the business,” he says. “Getting the blocking-and-tackling basics down was an important starting point.” Often IT governance is associated with large businesses, Kalmes explains, but “they can be just as important for a midsize business as it grows and matures.”
As part of this process, Kalmes examined the company’s service desk and systems management tools. “The service desk is our central hub for delivering internal services and technologies to employees,” Kalmes explains. “We needed a solution that was much more integrated and would allow us to plug and play various features into a common dashboard. This included not only traditional service desk ticketing, but also inventory management, asset tracking, provisioning, and security management.”
Kalmes and his team conducted a thorough review of the different service desk and systems management solutions on the market. “The whole process took us about two months,” he recalls. “The suite of products from Altiris met our requirements—everything from centralized management and reporting, to integration with our Microsoft Dynamics GP financial system.”
Chipping away at endpoint management
For service desk management and asset and inventory management, Kalmes and his team selected Altiris Asset Management Suite from Symantec. For client and server provisioning and patch management, they opted for Altiris Client Management Suite and Altiris Server Management Suite. MobiTV, Inc. had a long-standing relationship with Symantec Partner Blue Chip Tek, Inc., which had helped the MobiTV IT team several years prior to Kalmes’ arrival to migrate from a hosted data center to one managed by his team, and he opted to reengage them for implementation support.
“Having a systems integrator that understood our IT environment as well as the different pieces in the Symantec portfolio was important,” Kalmes says. Relationship continuity was also a factor. “Blue Chip Tek knows our IT environment and business,” Kalmes observes. “They also had the expertise to help us customize the inventory management aspects of Altiris ServiceDesk with our existing Dynamics GP financial system.”
With the help of Blue Chip Tek, the configuration of policies and implementation of the different Altiris technologies took less than two weeks. Asset, inventory, and patch management policies map to the IT governance polices Kalmes implemented when he arrived, including Control Objectives for Information Related Technology (COBIT) and Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL). And MobiTV has a centralized management console that provides a consolidated view across all of its different systems.
Immediately following the rollout of the different solution pieces, the company began to realize tangible results. For example, the amount of time Kalmes’ team spends on service desk requests has dropped by approximately 40 percent. “Not only do we have an accurate picture of what we have installed on each endpoint,” he explains, “but we have the ability to remediate issues remotely using the remote management technology in the Altiris product suite.”
Kalmes and his team have also seen dramatic improvements around asset and inventory management. To begin, “we are able to manage our hardware IT budget more efficiently by knowing what assets are inventory, which ones are in use, and which ones are unused,” he says. “We are also able to reallocate and redeploy assets much more quickly when employees change roles, are hired, or leave the company.”
Prior to Altiris Server Management Suite and Client Management Suite, the process for client and server deployments was a manual process, consuming valuable IT staff time. With standard images and remote control capabilities, the time for client and server provisioning has been reduced 25 percent and 10 percent, respectively.
In addition, Kalmes and his team automated patch management with Server Management Suite and Client Management Suite. “We’ve been able to offload much of the manual work that we previously had to do,” Kalmes reports. “This has been a big time saver.” The impact extends to the end users as well. Security updates and antivirus patches could take servers and clients down for as much as four hours. Now automated with Altiris, this is no longer the case.
Endpoint security in a suite
Endpoint security across a highly heterogeneous network of systems and devices is a critical business driver for Kalmes and his team. “Because we’re in a very high growth position and our managed services platform relies on a number of backend server and storage technologies and supports hundreds of different handset devices and platforms,” he explains, “endpoint security is a critical requirement for us.”
“The security landscape definitely continues to grow and evolve,” Kalmes adds. “The number of vectors is exponentially greater, and our security risk is dramatically higher with the proliferation of social media channels, applications, and devices.”
Immediately following the endpoint management deployment, Kalmes led the decision to migrate from his existing endpoint security solution, which consisted of several disparate point products, to Symantec Protection Suite Enterprise Edition. The team elected to purchase Symantec Protection Suite instead of just Symantec Endpoint Protection because they were able to acquire an integrated set of product solutions at a lower cost.
“We largely had a fragmented endpoint security architecture, with separate solutions for antivirus, personal firewall, and antispyware,” Kalmes says. With Endpoint Protection, Kalmes and his team were able to consolidate those down to one integrated product stack and have added network intrusion prevention and application control features. They also have a limited deployment of Symantec Network Access Control that covers highly sensitive areas and remote access scenarios. “We need to ensure the highest level of security, ensuring baseline antivirus and patch levels before allowing access to our network,” Kalmes says.
The deployment of Endpoint Protection and Network Access Control was relatively simple, according to Kalmes. With the help of Blue Chip Tek, removal of the prior set of endpoint solutions took approximately one week and the initial roll out another couple days.
MobiTV, Inc. is quite pleased with the endpoint security migration. Results include a reduction in malware and intrusions. “Our previous solution didn’t have adequate controls around spyware and network intrusion prevention,” Kalmes says. “With Endpoint Protection, along with Network Access Control, we’ve gotten ahead of the zero-day attacks and other malware exploits that had caused problems in the past.” The smaller footprint with Endpoint Protection created productivity improvements for end users, as security updates and patches run in the background rather than overwhelming CPU utilization on each machine.
Evolving data challenges
As it is part of Symantec Protection Suite, Kalmes and his team elected to implement Symantec Backup Exec System Recovery at the same time they rolled out the endpoint security solution. “The primary focus of its deployment was high profile assets on which we had sensitive information,” he says. “It gives us an extra level of assurance.”
Symantec backup-and-recovery technologies are not new to MobiTV, Inc. The team opted to migrate to Symantec NetBackup in late 2004, also with the help of Blue Chip Tek. “The company previously relied on several silo-based technologies that simply couldn’t scale with our business,” Kalmes reports. With NetBackup, the company is able to manage backup windows, data rotations, and retention policies from a single console. As the underlying infrastructure for MobiTV, Inc.’s Managed Services Platform is comprised of various server platforms and storage systems, NetBackup’s heterogeneous support has been crucial.
And NetBackup has scaled to meet MobiTV Inc.’s expanding business requirements. It starts with backup windows, which have remained relatively static despite a 30 percent annual data growth rate. Enhanced virtualization support, the centralized operations console, and deduplication capabilities in the latest release of NetBackup are features Kalmes plans to explore adding later this year.
In mid 2006, about 18 months after the NetBackup implementation, MobiTV, Inc. turned to Blue Chip Tek again, this time for help in addressing burgeoning email storage volumes. “Storage requirements for our Exchange environment were creating a lot of downstream performance issues and ultimately costing a significant amount of money at the hardware and maintenance levels,” Kalmes says. “We needed a reliable, effective way to get the information from expensive storage disk to lower cost, offline storage.”
The MobiTV, Inc. team looked at several email archiving solutions and eventually settled on Symantec Enterprise Vault. Blue Chip Tek helped to architect and implement the solution. A few months after initial deployment, the team added Enterprise Vault Microsoft Exchange Journaling to ensure that all email—sent and received—are archived according to corporate policies.
With a number of employees mobile on a regular basis, MobiTV, Inc. also implemented the Vault Cache to Symantec Enterprise Vault. “We want to ensure that our team has the ability to access their email archives regardless of their location and proximity to Internet connectivity,” Kalmes says.
The reduction in email storage was immediate. MobiTV, Inc. eliminates about 40 percent of its email storage using single-instance archiving and data compression technologies in Enterprise Vault. Kalmes estimates this equates to as much as nine terabytes over the past four years. In addition, migration from tier-one storage disk to less-expensive SATA disk shaved nearly 50 percent from email storage costs.
The business benefits of Enterprise Vault extend to end users. “We rarely receive request from end users to recover messages any longer,” Kalmes says. “They can perform these tasks themselves rather than contact the service desk.”
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Innovation—from product engineering to IT
When asked which emerging technologies will have the greatest impact on MobiTV, Inc.’s IT environment, Kalmes quickly cites cloud storage. “The ability to offline or offload large amounts of data to a virtualized cloud is something that could deliver substantial value for us—everything from a smaller footprint, to less energy consumption, to reduced storage costs,” he notes. “The ability to access this virtualized storage from any location without adding to the data center footprint and power consumption is very appealing.”
Technology innovation is a constant at MobiTV, Inc. Whether adding offline storage or broadcasting the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympic Games for NBC Sports or making President Barack Obama’s 2010 State of the Union address available to consumers on their mobile phones, MobiTV, Inc. is continually enhancing its technology platform and adding more value to its offering. And this philosophical approach permeates all aspects of the organization—from product engineering to IT.
Blue Chip Tek Pays Long-term Dividends
When Founder and CEO Jessica R. Geis started Blue Chip Tek in 2002, one of the first things that she did was to become a Symantec partner. “We initially became a Veritas partner and then a Symantec partner with Symantec’s acquisition of Veritas,” she says. “It created additional opportunities to deliver solutions that fit into some of our core competencies. Our customers really like having an integrated suite of products from one technology provider. They don’t need to go out and purchase point solutions from 10 different solution providers.”
Blue Chip Tek’s customer base runs the gamut from the FORTUNE 500 to fast-growth startups such as MobiTV, Inc. In the case of the latter, Blue Chip Tek maintains an aggressive program that meets their requirements—both financially and technologically. “As a small business, we understand the need for flexible credit terms,” Geis notes. “We also listen closely to our customers. All of our technology solutions are the result of customer requirements.”
In 2005, MobiTV, Inc. made a decision to migrate from a hosted data center solution to one managed in-house and engaged Blue Chip Tek for assistance. MobiTV, Inc. determined they could reduce their total cost of ownership by bringing the data center inhouse. “We helped architect and implement the data center infrastructure,” Geis relates. “We had a master contractor agreement and had an opportunity to work with them on a number of different fronts.”
It was at this time that MobiTV, Inc. decided to standardize backup and recovery on Symantec NetBackup. “We worked with the MobiTV, Inc. team to select and design a solution that made their backups much more ‘future proof’ with better performance and reliability and far more scalability,” notes Dave Unger, director of sales engineering at Blue Chip Tek. Shortly thereafter, Blue Chip Tek worked with the MobiTV, Inc. team to add Symantec Enterprise Vault, helping the MobiTV Inc. team to architect the solution and define archival policies.
When Chad Kalmes was appointed IT director, he engaged Blue Chip Tek for assistance in rolling out the different pieces of the Altiris suite as well as Symantec Protection Suite. “We were able to complete both deployments in a relatively short timeframe with the help of Blue Chip Tek,” he says. “Their team understands our business, and the collaborative relationship they’ve formed with our team allows us to gain optimal value from the different technology solutions they’ve helped us deploy over the past five years.”
Patrick E. Spencer (Ph.D.) is the editor in chief and publisher for The Confident SMB and CIO Digest and the author of a book and various articles and reviews published by Continuum Books and Sage Publications, among others.