Shaw Media is the television broadcasting division of Shaw Communications Inc., one of Canada's largest media and communications companies. Shaw Media conventional television network, Global Television, reaches almost 100 percent of Canadians and is complemented by 18 specialty channels, including HGTV Canada, Food Network Canada, History and Showcase. These brands inform, enlighten and entertain consumers with a roster of hit shows from Canada and abroad. Global National, the early-evening national newscast for Shaw Media, attracts almost a million viewers every weekday. Global also has successful local news programs in markets coast-to-coast, with 11 television stations in markets from Vancouver to the Maritimes.

Beyond the traditional airwaves, Shaw Media offers Canadians access to full episodes of their preferred programs through more than 20 multi-media websites, 4 dedicated video-on-demand channels and a growing number of mobile applications. Shaw Media engages with twenty-five million Canadians a week for news, information, and entertainment on every platform they seek.

Augusto Rosa manages the Server Operation team responsible for Shaw Media websites and all related applications. The team wanted to implement a new content management system (CMS) and infrastructure. “As the company grew, we inherited technology and infrastructure from acquisitions and mergers that didn’t meet current business goals,” explains Rosa. “Our data centers in Winnipeg and Toronto were a challenge to manage. We had frequent power outages and hours of downtime. Furthermore, we were paying expensive hosting fees to use the CMS of our former parent company.” After investigating options, Shaw Media decided on Amazon Web Services (AWS).

Shaw Media chose AWS because the company wanted to keep operational and capital costs low and have a flexible infrastructure. “You can’t beat the speed of deployment,” says Rosa. “Our first site went live in just four weeks, including the planning and development. After that, we implemented a full migration of 29 websites and related web services in 10 months.” Shaw Media is using Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) with Amazon Elastic Block Store (Amazon EBS) volumes, Elastic Load Balancing, Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3), and Amazon CloudWatch. The figure below provides a diagram of Shaw Media site architecture.

Shaw Media Architecture

Figure 1: Shaw Media Architecture Diagram

After the initial AWS migration, the Shaw Media team migrated six additional websites and web services in two months, including migrating from Microsoft Windows Server 2003 and Microsoft SQL Server 2005 to Microsoft Windows Server 2008 and Microsoft SQL Server 2008. “We created new web farms in only two to five days. It took longer to procure the CMS license than it did to create the infrastructure,” says Rosa. “The last time I did a network migration, the security component was incredibly complicated and it didn’t work right for months. Using AWS, I just had to learn how security groups worked, and we had audits within a week. It was simple. That part alone saves so much time.”

“Before migrating to AWS, we experienced 10 to 20 hours of downtime a month,” says Rosa. “With AWS, our downtime is significantly reduced. Between January 2011 and May 2012, our average uptime increased rapidly from 98.8 percent to 99.9 percent without re-architecting applications.”

AWS also helped make it possible for Shaw Media to implement a disaster recovery plan. Rosa describes it this way: “We didn’t have a disaster recovery plan because it was too expensive to set up a second physical site. If it costs $1 million a year to operate on-premise data centers, you’re probably looking at $1.8 million to operate with disaster recovery. Using AWS allowed us to implement a disaster recovery strategy at a fraction of the cost.” Shaw Media backs up images of Amazon EBS volumes in the US East (Northern Virginia) Region to Amazon S3 in the US West (Oregon) Region, enabling geographic diversity at a low cost. “We create Amazon Machine Instances of our servers monthly as well as daily snapshots. It’s currently about $3,300 per month per site, and I can go back to any month that I want.” Shaw Media also found that the ability to utilize snapshotting enabled them to implement historical backup and archiving in a manner that complies with applicable government regulations.

“Our business goals can change within a very short period,” says Rosa. “Using AWS gives us the ability to be agile and scale to meet editorial and business objectives while keeping our operational and capital costs low.”

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