Claranet cloud powers Channel 5's Big Brother

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Claranet cloud powers Channel 5's Big Brother

Cliff Saran

Cloud computing is the only way Channel 5's IT can cope with spiky traffic driven by calls to action on the Big Brother TV show.

Speaking at Cloud Expo, Clive Malcher, head of product development and technology at Channel 5 TV, said peak events such as opening night, closing night and evictions can result in a 1,000% increase in traffic.

The broadcaster uses Claranet’s virtual datacentre cloud service to support web, mobile and social media-based audience interaction on its TV programmes.

The cloud gives Malcher and his team a fairly large server pool. 

Clive Malcher said: “We work closely with the production teams to work out the impact of up and coming programmes.” 

By taking into account what is about to happen when a new episode is aired, in terms of audience interactivity, Malcher can dynamically increase the capacity of the Claranet virtual datacentre to meet traffic peaks.

Audience interactivity

Big Brother has become one of Channel 5’s defining programmes. It is on television 16 weeks a year, it is on the web, Facebook and has mobile applications. He said it takes up a lot of his time. “Big Brother is our Forth Bridge. We have people dedicated to this all year round.”

How cloud computing supports business at Channel 5

Malcher works in the digital media group at Channel 5, which was set up in 2007. It is a small group and relies on partnerships with suppliers to support digital interactivity within TV programmes.

The broadcaster previously used a legacy infrastructure to support TV programmes. He said: “We drove traffic while programme were being broadcast. It was hard to manage spikes with an expensive, difficult to manage infrastructure.”

He said Channel 5 wanted a very high level managed service, to support TV interactivity. 

“We now run a hybrid cloud with dedicated resource based on a tiered multi-tenant architecture.” 

The switch has resulted in direct cost saving of between 10% and 15%. However he said the cloud does not mean IT spends less.

Within Channel 5’s business, the larger the audience, the greater revenue. Larger levels of audience interactivity drive traffic volumes on the website and back-end infrastructure. 

“The cloud is more tightly aligned with our revenue. If the business wants to move quickly or there is a new business opportunity we can spin up new capabilities quickly.” This means Channel 5 is, in fact, buying more cloud resources.

Big Brother relies on the cloud. 

“It is the solution that works so well for the show," Malcher said. "One of the big factors that pushes IT is audience interaction. 

“When people watch something interesting on the show, they immediately grab their laptop, tablet or mobile phone and go to one of our [IT-powered] services. So we see huge traffic spikes during the show around an eviction, or when a juicy bit of gossip comes out. We’ve seen spikes of over 1,000% that occur over a few minutes.” 

Handling these spikes requires a considerable amount of IT capacity. According to Malcher, the cloud is the most efficient way to use IT resources at Channel 5. When traffic demand dies down, Channel 5 is able to wind down the servers in its virtual datacentre. 

“Outside of programme time, we want to run a much leaner service," Malcher said. "We schedule [cloud capacity] very specifically around programme time.” 

Concurrency

The cloud also helps his team manage streams of work for the Big Brother show. “Because it is on for so long, we work on the current show, the next show, and we are thinking about the show after that.”

The cloud allows Channel 5 to spin up different IT environments, allowing his team to work in a concurrent way. 

“Within the cloud, we can do maintenance, work on the next series, load test our most problematic traffic drivers and move to new environments.

 “We can work on one [show] and have a development, test and release cycle and concurrently work on the next version,” Malcher said.

Without cloud computing, it would have been prohibitively expensive to work concurrently on different shows. 

“We would not have been able to dedicate infrastructure to the different strands of development,” he said.


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