Costly and inflexible on-premises infrastructure was holding back Alchemy Media’s growth ambitions. The company’s employees needed fast, reliable access to core media planning systems from any location.
Alchemy worked with Avetta Global to migrate systems from eight physical servers to five IBM Cloud bare metal servers with VMware virtualization, completing the move non-disruptively in a matter of days.
Fastmigration to the cloud without any impact on online users
Reliablededicated hardware ensures excellent performance with minimal administration
Low-costcloud infrastructure provides greater flexibility for a growing business
Business challenge story
Seeking invisible IT
Alchemy Media was founded in 1969, when two friends began promoting artistic and musical events across the streets of Los Angeles. Alchemy has grown to be the leader in street media in the U.S., enabling major brands to get their messages right in the eyeline of their target demographics.
The ad industry depends on speed and creativity, and Alchemy always seeks first-mover advantage – adopting leading-edge technologies to help it outperform both traditional and pure-digital advertising rivals. For example, Alchemy was the first urban street-level media firm to use NFC and beacon technologies to enable consumers to engage with physical ads using their mobile devices.
However, as Alchemy sought to grow its business into new markets, its existing on-premises IT infrastructure was holding it back and stealing focus from business innovation. Alchemy was hosting its line-of-business application for inventory tracking and reporting out of its LA office, and network bandwidth limitations made for poor user experience for employees based in other cities. With eight physical servers to manage, Alchemy was also fighting to ensure reliability and to contain costs, all of which was dampening the company’s ability to innovate.
Mark Davis, Manager of Real Estate Strategy at Alchemy Media, comments: “IT infrastructure is something we don’t want to have to think about. We want systems that support our business but are invisible and don’t distract from our core activities. Based on our previous positive experience with Avetta Global, we asked for help in transforming our existing set-up.”
Avetta Global first stabilized and rationalized the on-premises systems to get Alchemy back on the right track, then proposed migrating everything to the cloud. This would meet Alchemy’s key goals around fast access from any geographic location and reduced total cost of ownership.
Migration by stealth
Lloyd Marino, CEO of Avetta Global LLC, says: “When Alchemy came to us for help with their cloud migration, we were already working with a major cloud provider to host systems for some of our other clients. Our partner, Ingram Micro, advised us to look at IBM Cloud instead and we immediately saw that it was a no-brainer. Where public clouds offer what often seems like a random stack of open-source tools, the IBM Cloud is very well put together from a network engineer's perspective.”
Avetta decided to migrate Alchemy to five IBM Cloud bare metal servers running VMware vSphere, a setup capable of handling the entire workload of the eight on-premises servers. Avetta used VMware vSphere vMotion to virtualize the existing servers and migrate them – live, with no interruption to users – to the new virtual network on the IBM Cloud. In the case of the company’s file server, whose size made it impractical to move across the internet, Avetta shipped the image on a physical disk to IBM for direct uploading to the cloud.
“The IBM Cloud stack is just so easy to navigate, we saw immediately how we could simply extend Alchemy’s infrastructure right into the cloud,” says Lloyd Marino. “And we did it in a matter of days. It was so straightforward, I think we needed to make only one phone call to IBM support.”
“We only realized the migration to IBM Cloud had happened when we saw our old servers being rolled out the door on dollies,” says Mark Davis. “From our perspective, there was no disruption at all.”
From Avetta’s perspective as a provider of managed services, switching to ultra-reliable IBM Cloud bare metal servers saves time and effort around the day-to-day management of infrastructure. The company can therefore focus its resources on helping clients directly.
“It’s very much in our interest to have technologies that are reliable and easy to use so that we can minimize the administration time,” says Lloyd Marino. “With IBM Cloud, there's not a lot for us to do. Once you architect something that fits the need of the organization, the cloud infrastructure is hands-off for the most part.”
Alchemy is now working with Avetta to develop a new solution on IBM Cloud that will use IBM Watson® Visual Recognition to identify photos and videos of its advertising sites on social media. The plan is to train the IBM Watson solution to recognize Alchemy’s logo on branded billboards, regardless of the lighting conditions or camera angle. The solution will then monitor social networks, alerting Alchemy whenever a user posts about its street media, so that the company can then comment or re-post as appropriate. Avetta plans to integrate location detection based on camera metadata or on recognizable landmarks, and may include semantic analysis of any text posted alongside the image or video – so that Alchemy can automatically understand how its work is perceived on social media.
Dependable and versatile
With VMware vSphere on IBM Cloud bare metal servers, Alchemy has a stable, high-performance, security-rich platform for its line-of-business applications. Reliable, reserved-bandwidth connections from the IBM Cloud to the public internet ensure that Alchemy employees enjoy the same great performance and responsiveness regardless of when or where they choose to work – the only restriction is their local bandwidth.
“Nearly 75 percent of Alchemy employees use the core media planning system on a daily basis: for example, posting digital photos of street media so that clients can log in and verify proof of performance,” says Lloyd Marino. “We helped build the proof-of-performance element, which saved Alchemy over USD120,000 in courier costs in the first year alone by eliminating the need to mail physical picture-books to clients.”
Alchemy is present in most of the major cities in the U.S., and can now operate more flexibly thanks to the standardized speed of access to its core application running on the IBM Cloud.
“The versatility Alchemy now has is just unbelievable,” says Marino. “Their New York office is currently switching ISPs, resulting in a temporary loss of connectivity, so employees are working from home or over public Wi-Fi. But they're still fully productive, because they have this collaboration point on the IBM Cloud where they can all work together on the same projects.”
With known monthly costs for the resources on the IBM Cloud, Alchemy can now accurately assess the incremental cost of onboarding new employees. This means that the media company can quickly see the business case for expanding into a new geography by comparing the expected revenues with the cost of setting up a new office.
“We’ve certainly seen a reduction in our costs for IT, not least because we no longer need air-con for eight servers,” says Mark Davis. “But the biggest benefit is how smooth and available our core systems have been since we moved to the IBM Cloud. This enables us to focus on growing the business and our profitability.”
About Alchemy Media
Alchemy Media is an urban street media provider that transforms blank walls, windows, wall signs, and construction barricades into advertising showcases for some of the world’s most famous brands. Offering both traditional “wildposted” formats with paper posters and more interactive experiential advertisements, Alchemy brings brand awareness to the street at eye level. Founded in 1969, the company has a major presence in the top 20 U.S. markets and subsidiaries in Canada, the U.K., and across Europe.