Managing Spikes in Demand

By Tony Kontzer Print this article Print

What started with the migrations of early adopters toward software-as-a-service applications has become a fast-maturing strategy that has business and it leaders considering any potential cloud service offerings when evaluating new technologies.

Managing Spikes in Demand

Few things bring more dramatic spikes in demand than online video, and companies that consider online video either a core component of their business or a growing part of their marketing mix are making the most of whatever services can help. In the case of the Museum of Broadcast Communications in Chicago, a storage-as-a-service vendor’s ability to improve the performance of the museum’s video streams has been a lifesaver.

Since it opened in 1987, the nonprofit museum has had a mission to preserve historic television programs in a way that would provide easy access. By 2004, the museum had digitally encoded 6,500 shows, and founder and President Bruce DuMont decided to upload that digitized content to the museum’s Website, where it would be available for free streaming.

After several weeks, the museum started getting irate e-mails from users having buffering problems. In February 2008, all the programs were pulled from the site. “My desire to share this content with as many people as possible worldwide was stymied by the technological challenges of what we had,” DuMont recalls.

Fortunately, one of those early users was Chris Gladwin, CEO of Cleversafe, a startup that provides “dispersed” storage as a service, in which data is sliced into unusable packets and then reassembled on the fly to respond to user requests. Gladwin felt this technology was the ideal tonic for the museum, and with his staff’s help, the museum began uploading Windows Media Video files to Cleversafe’s dispersal network, while its high-resolution master files remained on its own network.

The impact was immediate and dramatic, with users reporting a 180-degree change in their experiences. Since then, the roster of registered users has swelled more than 40 percent, to more than 20,000. In the months since it began working with Cleversafe, the museum has uploaded more than 10,000 hours of content, or more than 15 percent of its library.

In the case of Kohler in Kohler, Wis., storage as a service wasn’t enough to support its fast-growing video initiatives. With business units offering everything from the company’s kitchen and bathroom fixtures to golf resorts, engines and generators, Kohler has more than 50 Websites on which video is a growing component. Rather than investing in a comprehensive video-delivery infrastructure, the firm decided a few years ago to work with Brightcove, which provides end-to-end video services.

Doing so required just a six-figure annual investment—one-tenth of what it would have cost to build and maintain that video infrastructure, estimates John Engberg, manager for global media and Web development at Kohler. It also kept a time-consuming obligation off of Engberg’s team’s plate. “Having all that in the cloud, off of our servers, without having to worry about response times worked for us,” he says.

In 2008, visitors to Kohler sites watched 4 million videos on topics such as faucet installation, golf course design and home décor. Engberg says the firm is very happy with the quality of the video streaming customers are encountering. Recently, Kohler tapped Brightcove to support a campaign to reduce water usage. After viewing a brief video about the benefits of saving water, site visitors are prompted to take a quiz about their own water-use habits. As part of the campaign, Kohler is donating $500,000 worth of water-saving products to Habitat for Humanity, and it will add an additional $1 for each quiz completed.

Kohler’s effort demonstrates a model for future cloud adopters: tapping the cost-efficiency of the cloud to create inexpensive, temporary public-education and fundraising campaigns.

This article was originally published on 2009-06-01
Tony Kontzer is a freelance writer for Baseline magazine.
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