Channel Five switches on to virtualisation

Case study: How the broadcaster is getting set for a digital future

Case study: How the broadcaster is getting set for a digital future

Channel Five is revamping its IT infrastructure by embracing virtualisation as it adjusts to the increasingly digital and on demand media world.

The broadcaster has been working with virtualisation specialists Equalogic and VMWare to boost capacity, improve use of space and make its servers and data storage more flexible.

Speaking at a roundtable event in London, Channel Five CIO, Ken Davis, said: "The ecology and framework for media is changing - we're in a time of great flux. End consumers are consuming in different ways.

"We're in a very, very challenging environment."

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Five saw a sharp increase in the amount of data following the launch of its two digital channels - Five Life and Five US - in October last year.

As a result, during 2006, the amount of data increased by between 30 and 40 per cent, with most of this skewed towards the two new channels.

Davis said: "As with any broadcaster, IT is absolutely central to our operation. The changing business model has changed the business requirements, the system requirements."

In response to changing demand, Five wanted to boost the capacity of its IT infrastructure but in a cost and space efficient way.

As the television station is based in Covent Garden, space and power are at a premium and so improvement of the IT infrastructure needed to take account of this.

Virtualisation was seen as the way to go and since the beginning of 2006, 25 of the channel's 100 servers have been migrated to just three virtualised servers.

VMWare is providing Five with server virtualisation technology to allow the IT team to shift virtual machines around the network to match demand without any manual work.

Davis said: "The interest for us is flexibility and simplicity. Flexibility for us is an extremely important aspect."

The TV station has also boosted its storage with four EqualLogic PS400E arrays, gaining 30 terabytes of data storage to support its rapidly expanding digital media data.

One array is dedicated to general content management - both internal and customer facing - and another for a data warehousing project for the new media being created.

The arrays allow the network to balance demand for individual applications through a centralised pool of storage.

Davis said: "I can't afford for one of my guys to permanently manage storage. I don't need a particular storage expert."

A further two are being used to support a new disaster recovery system.

Davis described the move onto virtualisation as a pleasant surprise: "Often there's a lot of hype [about new technology] and often it disappoints in practice.

"To be honest, it is early days. We see virtualisation as a big opportunity."

He added: "Now that we have that experience, we're moving onto other areas. This is just stuff that enables me to do what I'm interested in."

This could include bringing the on-demand video service, Five Download - currently outsourced to BT - in-house.

Davis said: "We will gradually move into a virtual environment. We're quite confident that we'll move in that direction. It does work for us in practice."

The work has also been instrumental in Five's carbon footprint reduction goals by reducing power usage and cooling requirements.