Putting together the UK's most famous reality TV show, Big Brother, is no mean achievement. Endemol UK Productions produces over 8,000 hours of programmes for British television and in addition to BB it has also created some of the biggest national TV hits including: The Games, Changing Rooms, Ground Force, Fame Academy and Restoration.
After a flying start with record viewing figures, Big Brother 5 peaked at 7.2 million receiving its highest ever share of viewers for a Big Brother UK opening night since the programme was launched in 2000.
Such high profile programmes generate large volumes of information, and Endemol's data storage system holds documents from film scripts, to running orders and essential contact details. If the worst happens and computers crash, the consequences are unthinkable. Blank screens and down time for the successful complementary website are not an option; Endemol had to ensure that it had systems in place something to rely on.
Currently, Endemol requires the capacity to store a massive 1250GBytes of data to ensure the smooth production of its shows.
Simon Croyden, Endemol's head of IT explains the challenge in terms of reliable data access: "A secure, reliable back-up system is very important in the fast-paced, television production market not only for disaster recovery but also for business continuity. The fact that we produce ‘reality TV' means we need to be able to restore data immediately as we don't have the luxury of extendable deadlines. If disaster occurred, it may mean trying to regenerate huge tasks such as rewriting scripts.
"We previously backed-up our data on tape and managed this activity from a separate location. This meant the IT team had to transport the back-up tapes containing highly sensitive and commercially invaluable information between offices. This process was insecure and also prevented us from retrieving data at an efficient rate in the event of a disaster. "
After assessing its options, Endemol opted for hSo's Vault product. The disaster recovery and business continuity solution at Endemol’s head offices in London and Birmingham, in time to support the production staff throughout the broadcast of Big Brother 5 this summer.
Remotely managed, Vault is an online back-up system and was installed using Endemol's existing internet connection. It took less than a week to upload one full set of data which involved working outside of production hours to install Vault and configure servers. All data is now encrypted and sent to the hSo Data Centre where Endemol accesses remotely its archived data filing system and receives the benefits of 24 hour customer support.
"We trialled Vault throughout the production of Fame Academy 2003 and were impressed with the support provided by hSo for the programme's duration. It was cost-effective to roll-out and ensures we have a resilient disaster recovery plan in place. The solution was installed with minimum fuss and effort and complements our existing communications infrastructure," says Croyden.
Among the benefits of its new solutions, says Endemol, are a more sophisticated and secure management of its mission critical data than the previous tape solution via the "always on" access to online monitoring and management facility. Different teams within the operation can vary when to back-up according to the stage in the production cycle.
"[The new solution] has transformed the way [we] handle the task of backing-up vast amounts of data. Now, the IT department is able to prioritise exactly what types of data are backed-up and at what intervals, to best suit [our] needs. If a member of staff has lost data, they can now phone our IT department, who are able to restore any missing information whilst they are still on the phone, irrespective of any other back-up taking place," Croyden says.
"The system has provided Endemol and Big Brother with a fail-proof disaster recovery plan. If our data is irregular a member of the hSo team will contact us, and if a disaster did occur we could restore data within minutes. Previously it would have taken up to 24 hours because of the time required to download taped data; Vault has revolutionised the way Endemol would handle disaster recovery and business continuity."
This was first published in December 2004