The next BriefingsDirect Voice of the Customer digital business transformation case study examines how Canadian nonprofit SOCAN faced digital disruption and fought back with a successful storage modernizing journey. We’ll learn how adopting storage innovation allows for faster responses to end-user needs and opens the door to new business opportunities.
To describe how SOCAN gained a new competitive capability for its performance rights management business we’re joined by Trevor Jackson, Director of IT Infrastructure for SOCAN, the Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada, based in Toronto. The discussion is moderated by BriefingsDirect’s Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions.
Here are some excerpts:
Gardner: The music business has changed a lot in the past five years or so. There are lots of interesting things going on with licensing models and people wanting to get access to music, but people also wanting to control their own art.
Tell us about some of the drivers for your organization, and then also about some of your technology decisions.
Jackson: We’ve traditionally been handling performances of music, which is radio stations, television and movies. Over the last 10 or 15 years, with the advent of YouTube, Spotify, Netflix, and digital streaming services, we’re seeing a huge increase in the volume of data that we have to digest and analyze as an organization.
Gardner: And what function do you serve? For those who are might not be familiar with your organization or the type of organization, tell us the role you play in the music and content industries.
Play music ethically
Jackson: At a very high level, what we do is license the use of music in Canada. What that means is that we allow businesses through licensing to ethically play any type of music they want within their environment. Whether it’s a bar, restaurant, television station, or a radio station, we collect the royalties on behalf of the creators of the music and then redistribute that to them.
We’re a not-for-profit organization. Anything that we don’t spend on running the business, which is the collecting, processing, and payment of those royalties, goes back to the creators or the publishers of the music.
Gardner: When you talk about data, tell us about the type of data you collect in order to accomplish that mission?
Jackson: It’s all kinds of data. For the most part, it’s unstructured. We collect it from many different sources, again radio and television stations, and of course, YouTube is another example.
There are some standards, but one of the challenges is that we have to do data transformation to ensure that, once we get the data, we can analyze it and it fits into our databases, so that we can do the processing on information.
Gardner: And what sort of data volumes are we talking about here?
Jackson: We’re not talking about petabytes, but the thing about performance information is that it’s very granular. For example, the files that YouTube sends to us may have billions of rows for all the performances that are played, as they’re going through their cycle through the month; it’s the same thing with radio stations.
We don’t store any digital files or copies of music. It’s all performance-related information — the song that was played and when it was played. That’s the type of information that we analyze.
Gardner: So, it’s metadata about what’s been going on in terms of how these performances have been used and played. Where were you two years ago in this journey, and how have things changed for you in terms of what you can do with the data and how performance of your data is benefiting your business?
Jackson: We’ve been on flash for almost two years now. About two and a half years ago, we realized that the storage area network (SAN) that we did have, which was a traditional tiered-storage array, just didn’t have the throughput or the input/output operations per second (IOPS) to handle the explosive amount of data that we were seeing.
With YouTube coming online, as well as Spotify, we knew we had to do something about that. We had to increase our throughput.
Gardner: Are you generating reports from this data at a certain frequency or is there streaming? How is the output in terms of performance requirements?
Jackson: We ingest a lot of data from the data-source providers. We have to analyze what was played, who owns the works that were played, correlate that with our database, and then ensure that the monies are paid out accordingly.
Gardner: Are these reports for the generation of the money done by the hour, day, or week? How frequently do you have to make that analysis?
Jackson: We do what we call a distribution, which is a payment of royalties, once a quarter. When we’re doing a payment on a distribution, it’s typically on performances that occurred nine months prior to the day of the distribution.
Gardner: What did you do two and a half years ago in terms of moving to flash and solid state disk (SSD) technologies? How did you integrate that into your existing infrastructure, or create the infrastructure to accommodate that, and then what did you get for it?
Jackson: When we started looking at another solution to improve our throughput, we actually started looking at another tiered-storage array. I came to the HPE Discover [conference] about two years ago and saw the presentation on the all-flash [3PAR Storage portfolio] that they were talking about, the benefits of all-flash for the price of spinning disk, which was to me very intriguing.
I met with some of the HPE engineers and had a deep-dive discussion on how they were doing this magic that they were claiming. We had a really good discussion, and when I went back to Toronto, I also met with some HPE engineers in the Toronto offices. I brought my technical team with me to do a bit of a deeper dive and just to kick the tires to understand fully what they were proposing.
We came away from that meeting very intrigued and very happy with what we saw. From then on, we made the leap to purchase the HPE storage. We’ve had it running for about [two years] now, and it’s been running very well for us.
Gardner: What sort of metrics do you have in terms of technology, speeds and feeds, but also metrics in terms of business value and economics?
Jackson: I don’t want to get into too much detail, but as an anecdote, we saw some processes that we were running going from days to hours just by putting it on all-flash. To us, that’s a huge improvement.
Gardner: What other benefits have you gotten? Are there some analytics benefits, backup and recovery benefits, or data lifecycle management benefits?
Jackson: Looking at it from an OPEX perspective, because of the IOPS that we have available to us, planning maintenance windows has actually been a lot easier for the team to work with.
Before, we would have to plan something akin to landing the space shuttle. We had to make sure that we weren’t doing it during a certain time, because it could affect the batch processes. Then, we’d potentially be late on our payments, our distributions. Because we have so many IOPS on tap, we’re able to do these maintenance windows within business hours. The guys are happier because they have a greater work-life balance.
The other benefit that we saw was that all-flash uses less power than spinning disk. Because of less power, there less heat, and a need for less floor space. Of course, speed is the number one driving factor for a company to go all-flash.
Gardner: In terms of automation, integration, load-balancing, and some of those other benefits that come with flash storage media environments, were you able to use some of your IT folks for other innovation projects, rather than speeds and feeds projects?
Jackson: When you’re freeing up resources from keeping the lights on, it’s adding more value to the business. IT traditionally is a cost center, but now we can take those resources and take them off of the day-to-day mundane tasks and put them into projects, which is what we’ve been doing. We’re able to add greater benefit to our members.
Gardner: And has your experience with flash in modernizing your storage prompted you to move toward other infrastructure modernization techniques including virtualization, software-defined composable infrastructure, maybe hyper converged? Is this an end point for you or maybe a starting point?
Jackson: IT is always changing, always transforming, and we’re definitely looking at other technologies.
Some of the big buzzwords out there, blockchain, machine learning, and whatnot are things that we’re looking at very closely as an organization. We know our business very well and we’re hoping to leverage that knowledge with technology to further drive our business forward.
Gardner: We’re hearing a lot promising sorts of vision these days about how machine learning could be brought to bear on things like data transformation and making that analysis better, faster, cheaper. So, that’s a pretty interesting stuff.
Are you now looking to extend what you do? Is the technology an enabler more than a cost center in some ways for your general SOCAN vision and mission?
Jackson: Absolutely. We’re in the music business, but there is no way we can do what we do without technology; technically it’s impossible. We’re constantly looking at ways that we can leverage what we have today, as well as what’s out in the marketplace or coming down the pipe, to ensure that we can definitely add the value to our members to ensure that they’re paid and compensated for their hard work.
Gardner: And user experience and user quality of experience are top-of-mind for everybody these days.
Jackson: Absolutely, that’s very true.
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