Voice of Experience: Site Surveyor

By Baselinemag  |  Posted 2005-01-13 Print this article Print

Marc Saffer, CIO of Columbia House, says IBM's highly reliable hosting services ensure his Web site will never go down.

Marc Saffer
Columbia House
Senior VP, CIO
New York, N.Y.

Manager's Profile: In charge of information-technology strategy and operations for the direct marketer of music CDs and videos, which business information provider Hoover's estimates had sales of about $1 billion in 2003. He was previously head of I.T. for the Macy's East division of Federated Department Stores.

Revenue at Risk: In 2002, Columbia House's New York technology staff managed the 45 servers powering its Web site. The site had grown without any formal planning out of the marketing department since the mid-1990s. "We were at risk, because we had tens of millions of dollars in revenue tied to a Web site on the 18th floor of a high-rise in midtown Manhattan," Saffer says. The company wouldn't disclose sales related to the site, but it says 4 million customers use the site on a regular basis.

Lack of Backup: Saffer says a key drawback of having the site hosted at the company's New York headquarters was that the facility wasn't designed to handle a catastrophic outage. It lacked a backup power generator and was connected to a single Internet service provider. "It was as close to running under someone's desk as you'd want to get," he says.

His Project: Columbia House outsourced Web site operations to IBM Global Services, which manages the site's 60 servers at a data center in St. Louis. "IBM provides a higher level of operation and monitoring than we could at the time," Saffer says.

Back in the Fold? Now, however, Saffer is thinking about taking Web site management in-house. First, he estimates internal operating costs (for salaries, electricity and so on) would be 60% less than IBM's hosting bill. Columbia House also recently had 10,000 square feet of data center space open up at its distribution facility in Terre Haute, Ind., after several mainframes were moved offsite.

Boot the Babysitter: In addition, Saffer says, the reliability of Web technology has improved in the last two years, while automated system-monitoring tools let fewer staffers manage a larger number of machines. "It's not that IBM is providing less of a service," he says. "It's that we don't need the kind of hands-on babysitting we used to."


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