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Cartoon Company Uses Cloud Computing to Reduce Data Center Costs

Cartoon Company Uses Cloud Computing to Reduce Data Center Costs

Cookie Jar Entertainment turned to cloud computing in 2008 to meet growing computing needs without growing its data centers.

Back in the 1990s and early 2000s, every business wanted to show off its glass house full of racks of green-lit servers. Today, Toronto-based Cookie Jar Entertainment believes the smaller the in-house data center, the better, and showing investors what good use you're making of cost-efficient cloud computing is a source of pride.

"We have very little infrastructure in-house. Our headquarters are in a 100-year-old building so there's no capacity for a data room the size we'd need anyway," says Mike Haas, director of IT at Cookie Jar, which is known for producing and distributing children's cartoon and live-action programming. Cookie Jar's library of nearly 6,000 half-hour television episodes features some of the world's most recognizable series including Caillou, Inspector Gadget, Arthur, The Doodlebops and Johnny Test.

The company's dual role as developer and distributor puts a heavy burden on IT. Not only does the team have to support the intense demands of massively multiplayer online game (MMOG) systems from its Web portal, but also have enough server capacity and bandwidth to digitally distribute its show libraries.

A gradual move to the cloud

Although Haas had dabbled in cloud computing for one-off applications such as hosted email, it wasn't until 2008, when Cookie Jar acquired California-based DIC Entertainment, that the cloud took center stage. "Cookie Jar and DIC had a lot of infrastructure locations--four--and consolidation and integration became our main focus," he says.

At the same time, the company began relying heavily upon virtualization. The rigorous requirements of MMOGs to support real-time chat, rich graphics and more were burdening servers and other infrastructure. To free up hardware, Haas decided to couple virtualization with cloud computing.

To start, Cookie Jar condensed in-house and hosted assets to two sites, in Toronto and Rochester, N.Y., both hosted by CentriLogic. The Rochester site is home to all public-facing Web servers, MMOGs and Web games. "Instead of having to manage and pay multiple providers, all of that is now under one roof," Haas says.

The 100-employee Cookie Jar, which has three IT staff members, fully outsources management of the dozen physical servers in Rochester to CentriLogic.

The IT team is more hands-on for the 29 physical servers located in Toronto, which serves corporate needs such as development. "We control most of our servers and storage, and they manage other aspects such as monitoring, backups, patching and updates," Haas says.

Operational and financial benefits

Cookie Jar can remotely scale servers up and down as needed at both sites, which Haas has found far more responsive and cost-effective than having infrastructure among numerous vendors or on-site. For instance, if developers require more RAM to test their games, it is automatically provisioned in the cloud.

And the move to CentriLogic is saving money, Haas says, although pinpointing an exact figure is difficult. "The overall hosting costs were reduced by about 8.5 percent, but when you also take into account the fact that we added 12 servers to the hosted facility from our California office, it's a much larger overall savings," he says. "In essence, we dramatically increased our footprint in the facility as well as consolidated our assets at an overall lower cost. It just made good sense."

The cloud also makes good sense for the gaming world because of its fluctuations. "It's difficult to predict how a launch will go. You could have 10,000 or 100,000 users the first day," he says.

His fear in relying on in-house infrastructure: server crashes and bandwidth limitations resulting in a poor user experience. Also, the necessary redundancy would be cost-prohibitive. He concedes that cloud providers have the buying power, skill sets and backup systems a small company like Cookie Jar could never support on-site.

With current projects nicely nestled in the cloud, Cookie Jar is embarking on a new adventure: distributing shows digitally. "Two years ago, online distribution [through channels such as Netflix and Amazon] didn't exist for us. Now we have to accommodate terabytes of data as we digitize our shows," he says.

Originally, Haas tried to support this effort in-house, but it outstripped the company's capacities within a few short months. "We need 10 times our 10Mbps bandwidth and a half-petabyte of storage space," he says. He is now in the process of migrating transmission of all digital shows through CentriLogic. As they would say in the cartoons, this looks like a job for the cloud.

Gittlen is a free-lance business and technology writer in the greater Boston area. She can be reached at sgittlen@verizon.net.

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