Astro Radio powers ahead over the cloud

  • Local radio station a satisfied customer on Amazon cloud services
  • Research well and focus on fundamentals before making the leap though

Astro Radio powers ahead over the cloudTHE ability to innovate, scale up and save cost all at the same time has often been cited as some of the most convincing reasons for any enterprise to move to cloud computing and one company that has reaped all three benefits is Malaysia’s Astro Radio.
Speaking to Digital News Asia (DNA), Jayaram Nagaraj (pic), head of new media at Astro Radio, says that before the days of cloud computing, such advantages for a company all at the same time were unheard of.
Jayaram said the cloud has fundamentally changed the way Astro Radio operates and has not only given them scalability and cost savings but the agility to do a lot of things they weren’t able to in the past.
“Before 2010, we operated our own servers at a co-location data centre,” he reveals. “But it was hard doing everything ourselves and every time we needed to scale up or change things when supporting new [radio program] campaigns, we struggled to keep up.
“We also did not have redundancies to support our server and our platform was susceptible to outages.”
Established in 1996 and wholly owned by Astro Holdings, a Malaysian media and entertainment company, Astro Radio today broadcasts 10 Internet radio stations and as many FM radio stations across the country.
The company delivered its first Internet broadcast stream in 1999, operates in four languages and supports a wide range of listener demographics, according to its website.
Such was the volatility of the situation Astro Radio faced in 2008 that it paid a heavy price, suffering outages and complications during a very important period for the company.
According to Jayaram, a router had then failed as the radio network was entering a period in which feedback ratings were being compiled. This caused systems to go down for a number of hours and resulted in its inability to measure web analytics for streamed content from its website.
“It was a big challenge for us,” he says, with a wry smile. “Overall, we tended to achieve availability levels around 97%, which wasn’t good enough for our business internally, our visitors, or our advertisers.”
Getting onto the cloud
But as serious at that sounded, such an experience wasn’t the main impetus that prompted Astro Radio to move into cloud computing, recalls Jayaram. According to him, it was a stroke of uncertainty that forced him and his team to rethink its data centre infrastructure and the Internet platform used to power Astro Radio’s Internet services.
“Our co-location provider at that time informed us that it was getting out of that business and shutting down and as a result, we had no choice but to shop around for a new data centre co-location vendor. We were looking around and that’s when we discovered Amazon Web Services (AWS).
“However, we didn’t really consider AWS at that point as it was outside Malaysia and we had legitimate concerns about link latency, issues to do with local peering [keeping its data circulating within national borders], and frequent international submarine cable outages.”
Jayaram says Astro Radio then considered all the big Malaysian data centre boys but a short while later discovered that AWS’ South-East Asia (SEA) operation was based in Singapore, which made it more plausible to consider AWS as its data centre provider after all.
“We decided to try it out as there were no major investments and commitments required on our side,” he explained.  “Being a public cloud provider, we could easily sign up and test its service without any major impact to us. If we weren’t happy, we could have terminated our contract easily and gone with someone else.”
Jayaram says Astro Radio tested AWS’ service in late 2010 and the results of its trial turned out to be good.
“What enticed us about the service is there is no capital expenditure spending for us on AWS,” he says. “Meanwhile, our old equipment was re-used internally for other purposes and we could easily scale up and save cost at the same time. This was the clincher for us.”
Jayaram says that by January 2011, Astro Radio was on AWS and he claims that it took the company only two days to plan and draw up its architecture on AWS, and a similar length of time to get the new environment up and running. Over the next three days, it completed penetration testing, secured the environment, and tested its applications.
Savings, productivity gains
Astro Radio powers ahead over the cloudAccording to Jayaram, Astro Radio achieved considerable capital and operating expenditure savings by moving to the AWS Cloud.
The company claims to have reduced its hosting and migration charges by 90% of what it used to pay under its shared co-location agreement. Moreover, the reliability of Astro Radio’s availability issues went from an uptime of 97% to around 99.9%, Jayaram adds.
“There was even one time when with we had peering problems between a specified timeframe and we move our workloads from Singapore to Japan seamlessly,” he says.
Jayaram also says that moving the AWS Cloud improved the productivity of his team, noting that he used to employ two to three people to look after data centre operations but now only needs one engineer after migrating to the cloud.
The Astro Radio head of new media says it runs its IT environment in Amazon’s Virtual Private Cloud, which gives the company the ability to determine the websites that visitors can access.
To make content available to listeners, Jayaram says Astro Radio uploads audio podcasts, articles, photos, and client campaign materials directly to six Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) instances six times a day.
Once the content is loaded and tagged, it is entered into the databases that the company uses as a master content repository and the website references this database to retrieve the content, he says, adding that data backups are stored in an Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3).
Asked what his advice was for those wanting to make this journey onto the cloud, Jayaram says, “Remember to prepare carefully  and don’t forget the fundamentals – that is the security infrastructure, appropriate architecture [design] and a proper deployment plan.
“Take your time with understanding the platform, understand between instances (servers) and applications (Elastic Load Balancer). There is a lot of documentation online that you should read and research. Speak to those who have made the jump and learn from the mistakes made.”
For more information on AWS Cloud and its services, click here.

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