Hagadone Corporation Embraced the Cloud – Before Cloud Computing Was Cool

First and foremost, we wanted to keep our costs in line with our limited manpower.
– Bill Tunison, IT Director, Hagadone Corporation

How To Streamline a Conglomerate

Hagadone Corporation is a privately-held, diversified company based in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. It owns and operates newspapers from Washington State to Wisconsin, a magazine and large printing operation in Hawaii, hotels and a lakeside resort in Northern Idaho, three marinas, six restaurants as well as other businesses. Hagadone is a true conglomerate.

Ten years ago, the company looked at ways to streamline and consolidate IT applications among its diverse businesses. “First and foremost, we wanted to keep our costs in line with our limited manpower,” said Bill Tunison, IT Director of Hagadone Corporation. “Most of the properties are not large corporations in themselves, and they just could not justify sustaining an IT staff. We wanted to centralize support – so that we had proper support but did it for the least cost possible.”

“The other side of the coin was that we needed to consolidate our information. We budget and review monthly. And when the month ends, we want to be able to roll up the numbers. The best and most efficient way to do that was to have the information available to us. So we didn’t want to wait on somebody sending a fax of information and then reposting that information in the general ledgers,” he said.

Consolidate Applications in the Cloud

To address these challenges, Hagadone implemented remote application delivery over public networks, i.e. the Internet. This was long before cloud computing and software as a service were industry buzzwords. It started in the year 2000 with their financial system, which was Great Plains Software at the time and later became Microsoft Dynamics GP. The application system and databases ran in the company’s Coeur d’Alene data center, and remote users at the various businesses accessed it over wide area network links using Citrix clients. The links were configured as virtual private networks (VPN) to ensure data security and integrity.

The Citrix solution, which includes Citrix XenApp and XenDesktop, allows users to run application sessions virtually and remotely on various platforms. The application sessions run in the main data center, and the presentation is displayed on the clients. “Citrix was a far better tool than terminal services or anything else. Citrix always had clients that were more or less universal. One of the things we ran into was, in our newspapers they preferred Macs, and in our hospitality and other areas they preferred PCs. I chose not to decide what type of workstations users would have and opened it up to support both,” said Tunison.

As remote workstations, they used Windows PCs, Macs and, for a while, thin clients. Thin clients are low-cost, scaled-down computers with a display and keyboard, and are completely dependent on the network and server for application processing. As PC prices fell, the price difference between a fully-functional PC and a thin client was merely a hundred dollars. It was worth paying a little more to have local processing for activities like email and Web browsing, so thin clients were no longer advantageous.

At about the same time as the financial system, Hagadone consolidated all subscriber services for its newspapers into a common system that ran in a cloud environment. It later consolidated newspaper production activities such as classifieds and ad design. It deployed a marina management and boat sales application called Dockmaster Marine Management for its three marinas. Again, all of them ran in the main data center and were accessed remotely over a network.

“Some of the systems are handled locally by the properties, some are not. It just depends on whether there is a need for multiple properties to have access to the same system and data,” he said. When an application can serve multiple Hagadone businesses, it is consolidated in the cloud to minimize operating and infrastructure costs. When an application is unique to a business, there are no synergies to gain so it remains at the local site.

Maintain IT Headcount, Reduce Costs

Hagadone has benefitted from its early adop­tion of cloud computing strategies. It has main­tained the same headcount in its IT department over a decade – a number in the single digits – while supporting nearly thirty businesses in various industries stretching from Hawaii to California to Idaho to Wisconsin. Tunison continued, “I feel very good about it. I think it has done everything we hoped it would do. We are able to support it with a small staff. We give good customer service. And the initial objective of consolidation – getting data in and having data accessible – has all come to fruition.”

I feel very good about it. I think it has done everything we hoped it would do.
– Bill Tunison

Looking forward, Tunison said the company is pursuing virtualization of servers and desktops. It is also working on disaster recovery planning and high availability systems. These initiatives will add to the efficiency and flexibility of the IT infrastructure. Clustered servers and redundant storage have always been part of the infrastructure. Now the focus is on network redundancy and load balancing from the corporate data center across the wide area network backbone to the “last mile” connections to the individual businesses. The goal is to provide high end-to-end resiliency in a distributed cloud environment.

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 Copyright © 2010 Apropos LLC. All rights reserved.

For ReadyToPlay CD Ripping Services, Reliable and Trusted Storage Is Paramount

We get collectors who have fifty CDs all the way up to five and six thousand… These jobs are gigabytes, maybe terabytes of data.”
– Jeff Tedesco, President and CEO, ReadyToPlay

Ripping Means Data

ReadyToPlay, based in Palo Alto, California, specializes in high-quality CD ripping services. Ripping is technical jargon for converting audio media to a digital format for playback in iPods and other digital music players like Apple TV, Seagate FreeAgent Theater+, Logitech Squeezebox and Sonos. Since audio files are large, ReadyToPlay must be able to store, handle and ship a significant amount of data in a reliable, inexpensive way for its customers. “We get collectors who have fifty CDs all the way up to five and six thousand. The largest one we’ve done is eight thousand. These jobs are gigabytes, maybe terabytes of data,” said Jeff Tedesco, President and CEO of ReadyToPlay.

To put this amount of data in perspective, a gigabyte is one billion bytes, which is equivalent to the entire Encyclopedia Britannica. In terms of digital media, it takes six gigabytes of storage on average to hold:

  • 100 hours of digital music or
  • 1,600 digital photos or
  • 6 hours of digital video or
  • 1 two-hour DVD-quality movie or
  • 3 video games

As you can see, CD ripping means data!

ReadyToPlay formed six years ago after Apple introduced the first iPod. “It came out and I decided, ‘This thing is really cool, so I’m going to rip my own CDs,’” said Tedesco. “And I found the process to be cumbersome and inaccurate. So I ended up forming a company that rips CDs for people, but I utilize technologies and databases that allow me to do a better job than they could possibly do. So our value isn’t around the time savings – it’s around doing a better job and a higher quality job than they could do themselves. We have robotics equipment, sophisticated software, very rigid processes.”

The company’s clientele speaks to its level of quality. “We get orders from all over the world: Switzerland, Australia, Hong Kong, the Middle East, Finland, all over the United States. I’ve done Elton John’s personal CD collection, Dave Matthews, Michael Tilson-Thomas. We’ve done the Juilliard School and all their classical CDs. So we’ve become accustomed to working with a lot of different types of individuals and a lot of different types of music,” he said.

Quality Is in the Metadata

An important way ReadyToPlay provides quality is through metadata, which is the descriptive information about the music files, such as artist name, composer, genre, album name and cover art. Metadata is very useful for audiophiles who want to organize their music collections, create custom playlists and view album artwork as songs are played. ReadyToPlay’s ripping software cross-checks metadata against four professional music databases, including one used by Amazon: AMG or “All Music Guide.” This multiple database approach generates thorough and consistent metadata. “So what’s great is Sheryl Crow comes up spelled right as Sheryl Crow. In classical music, the artist is always the conductor and it’s never Wolfgang Mozart – that’s under a composer field. So we have very high levels of accurate data,” he said.

ReadyToPlay also rips CDs to multiple file formats according to customer requirements. For instance, MP3 is commonly used for iPods, while full-fidelity, lossless formats like AIFF, Apple Lossless or FLAC are used for home stereo systems. Lossless formats are larger. A CD in MP3 format takes up about 150 megabytes of storage, while a CD in lossless format takes up to 600 megabytes. With multiple formats and CD collections numbering in the hundreds and thousands, the data adds up.

Customers are thrilled. Their whole CD collection which was a wall of CDs is now boiled down to a small, portable disk drive.
– Jeff Tedesco

ReadyToPlay Relies on Seagate Storage

The ripping process starts with a customer emptying his or her CD changer or case holder into a box and shipping them to ReadyToPlay. Once at the company’s facility, the CDs are loaded into robots that hold 600 CDs each. Then ripping commences. After the audio files are created and metadata is cross-checked and honed, the jobs are typically stored on Seagate FreeAgent Go portable external hard drives and shipped back to the customer with their CDs. “Love those portable drives,” said Tedesco. “We will put a person’s entire collection on one of those drives and be able to send it back. It’s literally amazing. We will get six boxes of CDs and what comes back is a three inch by five inch mini hard drive with all their files in lossless format. And customers are thrilled. Their whole CD collection which was a wall of CDs is now boiled down to a small, portable disk drive.”

“Having a reliable drive to put the customer jobs on is really important. I’ve never had a failure on a Seagate portable drive. It’s a name brand people trust and love. Some other companies might use drives that they build to try to save some money. I don’t want to do that. It’s just not worth it. I’m all about quality, so I just take the best name brand drive I can get and do the best quality work that we can.”

At its facility, ReadyToPlay backs up jobs on a Seagate BlackArmor NAS (networked-attached storage) 440 server for 30 days. “If they’re lost in transit, we still have a copy here and can recover them. We’ve never had anything happen, but it’s a matter of policy that we back up every job,” he said. The BlackArmor NAS 440 is RAID 5 protected and scales from one to eight terabytes of room to accommodate growing storage requirements.

Next Step – Audio Recognition Technology?

As a potential future service, ReadyToPlay is exploring automated audio recognition technology for CDs with custom music mixes. Identifying songs on these homemade CDs is currently not possible. But this new technology would analyze each song’s audio profile and beats per minute to figure out what it is. “We’re kind of looking into some partnerships to help us do that,” said Tedesco. “It’s really advanced.”

ReadyToPlay sells its services through Magnolia Audio Video stores, through a national network of custom AV equipment installers and direct via its website. In addition to audio CDs, the company also rips video DVDs to the Kaleidescape System, which is the only legal platform currently available for importing DVDs.

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 Copyright © 2010 Apropos LLC. All rights reserved.