TiVo virtualization project speeds insight into TV viewers

Database provisioning that took hours or days at TiVo now takes minutes

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SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Over the past three years, DVR-maker TiVo has undertaken several major IT projects in order to reduce its risk of data loss and virtualize its server environment to boost its partnerships with electronics stores, cable TV operators and television networks.

The company's most recent IT efforts have focused on creating a database infrastructure that can be easily provisioned, offer developers the ability to independently create and test code, and offer cable and television networks the ability to get next-day data on viewer habits.

"We track everything you watch second by second. If a television show runs an ad campaign for potato chips, we can say who watched it and then combine that data with [supermarket data] and see who went out and bought the product," Richard Rothschild, senior director of IT and facilities at TiVo, told Computerworld at the SNW Spring 2011 conference here.

Rothschild said being able to produce next-day reports on viewer trends is a huge advantage in an industry where advertisers are looking to tailor their products to specific demographics.

"We can augment a single instance of business intelligence software across our virtual databases," said Rothschild, noting that the company's two data centers house 1,500 servers, 100 production databases, and 200TB of storage on EMC and NetApp arrays, and supports 1,400 desk tops and laptops.

Last year, TiVo's IT team deployed database virtualization appliances from Delphix, which allow developers to clone physical databases for testing and report generation.

Prior to virtualizing the database, it could take up to a week for TiVo to produce viewer ratings reports because the information had to be generated from one large database that included all of the company's clients. Now, with the ability to create many cloned databases, each can be used to produce reports for specific clients, such as Best Buy, NBC or Comcast.

Delphix uses standard database APIs to load physical databases onto its x86 appliance, which can then create multiple cloned databases, each of which can use the same back-end storage pool, further saving on resources.

For example, if TiVo developers were to create four database clones, typically 70% of the data would remain the same throughout their use, so they could draw from the same storage capacity while only creating about 30% unique data, which would need to be stored separately. Rothschild said that 75% of TiVo's nonproduction ERP environment is being run on a virtual database, along with the training, quality assurance, and development environments.

Along with storage consolidation for TiVo's Oracle 10 and 11 and MySQL databases, the virtual database deployment saved the company $120,000 in the first year by reducing development life-cycle time and increasing the ease and agility of provisioning, Rothschild said. The savings will increase by two and a half times this year as virtual databases are used more often, he added.

"Now we can use that money for other things," Rothschild said. "The best thing of all is saving 20 hours a week per person. For me, human resource time is the most scarce thing. Anytime you can free up people's time, it's great and you get more productivity."

Lucas Mearian covers storage, disaster recovery and business continuity, financial services infrastructure and health care IT for Computerworld. Follow Lucas on Twitter at @lucasmearian, or subscribe to Lucas's RSS feed . His e-mail address is lmearian@computerworld.com.

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