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Linux Knows the Way to Sesame Street

Sesame Workshop is a non-profit organization with has 40 years worth of digital media over 20 programs distributed to over 120 countries working with over 1000 international partners, almost 50 web sites with manage, and a highly mobile workforce using leased equipment around the world.

Looking for a long-term solution to their IT needs, Sesame Workshop selected Novell ZENworks Asset Management to streamline its inventory processes, and SUSE Linux Enterprise Server as the open platform for its Web architecture.

Noah Broadwater, Vice President of Information Services at Sesame Workshop, will be one of the featured keynote speakers at the first LinuxCon event on September 21-23, 2009 - Portland Marriott Downtown Waterfront, Portland, OR. We recently talked with Noah to find out a little bit more about his organization's use of Linux and how it solved Sesame Workshop's problems as easy as 1, 2, 3.

Linux Foundation: Can you describe the IT environment of the Sesame Workshop?

Noah Broadwater: A Sesame Workshop has two Data Centers with one co-located with approximately 60 physical servers between the two. Primarily it's Linux, with our co-location being 100% Linux and primary data center to be 80% Linux by year-end. We have over 500 computers ranging from Windows to Mac to Linux.

LF: Can you elaborate on what your IT environment is doing? Is it handling business data, video file management, rendering tasks?

Broadwater: Our IT environment is responsible for all IT/IS operations from Line of Business Applications, Databases, File/Print Systems, Directory Management, Intranet, Extranet, Public Websites, Production editing environments, Video fulfillment, Digital Distribution, Asset Management, etc.

LF: What unique challenges and advantages, besides Muppets, does the Workshop have?

Broadwater: Sesame Workshop has 40 years worth of digital media over 20 programs (Sesame Street, The Electric Company, Pinky Dinky Doo, Sagwa, Dragon Tales, 321 Contact, etc.) distributed to over 120 countries with 32 countries having unique versions of Sesame Street tailored to their culture and educational needs. Sesame deals with over 1,000 international partners. All of this while being a non-profit organization.

LF: How did Sesame's migration affect IT interfaces with your organization's many partners? Or was there no effect?

Broadwater: Our migrations were almost completely transparent. The only real change was we were able to integrate accounts into eDirectory, where we hadn't before on Linux. As for Virtuals, nobody noticed.

LF: When dealing with asset management, what was the biggest challenge you had to face?

Broadwater: A mobile workforce that traveled for long periods of time both internationally and off site for producing our shows.

LF: Was the implementation of the ZENworks Asset Management system transparent to customers? Suppliers?

Broadwater: It was not transparent to users, but in a positive way. The previous system would lock up their desktops when running periodic scans. ZAM no longer slowed their machines down in the middle of doing their work.

LF: Can you sketch out how the server migration/consolidation plan was implemented?

Broadwater: We have used Linux since 1997 for developing web projects and as we looked to upgrade applications, we wanted a lower cost than our current Solaris/Sparc implementations. We began migrating web based systems first and slowly moved towards business applications (also moving away from client/server to web based models).

[Regarding] virtualization, we began to run out of space and needed to bring up test and dev environments quickly. Again, being a non-profit, we didn't have a lot of money to spend so we chose to test Xen for virtualization. We quickly realized the value of virtualizing and began to run audits of our servers and their utilization to determine the proper systems to virtualize and those that required the full resources of the hardware.

LF: You mentioned auditing systems to determine their worthiness for virtualization. What sorts of applications were suited for virtualization, and which weren't?

Broadwater: What we found was that some applications were deceptive. We have one application that for 75% of the month runs at 2% CPU and 4% memory. However, for the other 25% which is spread out it spikes to 80% CPU for hours on end and 41% memory. A long-term audit caught the spikes so we didn't accidentally assume it remained low and put it as a virtual that it might choke out. It wasn't that we didn't virtualize, but we virtualized smarter.

As for what we did and did not virtualize, we were able to look at our old domain controller, print servers, and simple web servers and quickly virtualize those. As we moved into larger DB systems (Oracle masters), we decided that they required such large amounts of processing and memory that it didn't make sense.

LF: What drove you most to consolidate?

Broadwater: Space and cost (the cost of additional space, power, AC, equipment, maintenance).

LF: What additional IT challenges does you organization face, and do you see a possible open source solution?

Broadwater: Our biggest challenge is managing our digital assets. We have migrated some systems to Alfresco Open-Source ECM for managing our web repository and use Liferay to run our CMS for our website, but may expand our Alfresco implementation for our entire Digital Asset Management needs.

 

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