Today, operating a major entertainment venue requires digital tools and technologies. For Austin City Limits (ACL) Live, a 2,750-seat live music venue that hosts more than 100 events annually—including shows for the likes of the Counting Crows, Death Cab for Cutie and Loretta Lynn—the need to stay current with technology is critical.
“We have worked to position ourselves on the cutting-edge of technology, and we have introduced features that haven’t been part of the music industry in the past,” reports German Garcia, IT director for the company.
Among ACL’s showcase technologies: a sophisticated 802.11AC wireless network that supports up to 3,000 devices and digital signage at all 60 displays scattered throughout the theater. But the firm, which relies on 30 Dell servers to run the operation, was hamstrung by Windows Server 2003.
Moreover, with Microsoft pulling the support plug on the aging technology, “We were challenged to move forward with a newer operating system, but one that could support legacy applications and tools,” Garcia explains.
ACL opted to migrate to Windows Server 2008 and Windows Server 2012 R2, with some machines running Microsoft Hyper-V or VMware ESXi. This, in turn, necessitated new hardware, including a Dell PowerEdge Server line and PowerVault NX3200 networked-attached storage (NAS).
The venue began exploring and mapping out the change in the fall of 2014. The IT team experimented and tested different configurations, and it completed the transition in the second quarter of 2015. The infrastructure now runs entirely on Windows Server 8 and Windows Server 2012 R2 environments.
Greater Scalability and Flexibility
The impact has been significant. ACL has achieved far greater IT scalability and flexibility, along with improvements in storage. It also has migrated more heavily to server virtualization tools that provide performance gains and cost savings.
“One of the problems was that we did not have the necessary level of flexibility with our Sony digital signage system,” Garcia says. “It was an expensive four-year-old solution, and we had to find a way to make it work.”
The system is now virtualized on a single machine, and ACL has a high level of flexibility in the way it configures the signage.
Another benefit revolved around the capture of high-definition (HD) video and audio. “We will be collecting more content from performances and using it in different ways, so we required greater flexibility in storage,” Garcia notes.
Windows Server 2012 provides ACL with immediate storage capacity, as well as the ability to continue adding hardware. “As we move forward and deeper into a digital environment, we are able to show upcoming events online, show private events and offer historical content,” he points out.
The biggest challenge for ACL was ensuring that applications and the digital signage system would work correctly in the new environment. The staff spent a good deal of time sorting through driver issues. In some cases, older applications and the digital signs could no longer receive updates and enhancements.
The company worked with Dell to build out an IT framework that could support existing systems, while positioning the venue for the future.
“This is a very exciting time for ACL,” Garcia concludes. “We have taken a giant step forward and built an IT infrastructure that helps position us as an exciting world-class venue.”