Cineplex to extend IT platform to Famous Players

Cineplex Galaxy LP may soon follow up an internal rollout of Microsoft Systems Management Server by extending its entire IT platform to Famous Players, which it acquired this week in a $500-million transaction.

The deal will make

Cineplex Canada’s largest movie theatre chain with 132 locations, more than 1,300 screens and a combined box-office market share of about 61 per cent, the companies said. It will also mean Microsoft’s security and management software, which has already been extensively deployed at Cineplex, will be monitoring the health of a much more extensive network.

Cineplex’s IT infrastructure, including its security software, was originally handled out of the United States by its former parent company, Loews Cineplex. A firm called Onex, which formed Galaxy Entertainment Inc., bought Cineplex in 2002 while it was under bankruptcy protection and merged the two Canadian operations. That meant creating a more homegrown IT environment, according to Cineplex Galaxy CIO Jeff Kent. 

“It was an opportunity to build from scratch,” he said. “At the time, when I went looking for all the technologies I wanted to put this together, Microsoft was in the best position to do what we needed to do.”

Cineplex has already installed Internet Security and Acceleration (ISA) Server 2004, for example, along with the more recently released Microsoft Operations Manager (MOM) 2005. The Systems Management Server (SMS) rollout, which is expected to begin next month, should only take a couple of weeks, Kent said. Although he hasn’t seen much information about Famous Players’ IT infrastructure, he said he isn’t worried about integrating the two.

“I don’t foresee any scaleability issues,” he said. “We’ve been developing an environment to integrate new businesses very easily, knowing they were looking to grow.”

MOM is intended to help organizations administer Windows servers and applications, tracking performance and addressing tasks such as end user security. Derick Wong, Microsoft Canada’s senior product manager of security and management, said customers are using the tool to identify CPU or disk space usage and keep services up and running. The tool offers the ability to do historical reporting that would let IT managers know, for example, when they would need to purchase a new set of servers to prevent problems with Exchange. 

“From a utility computing standpoint, it’s almost a break-fix type of thing, but also a kind of a safety net,” he said. “I don’t like to use the term ‘self-healing,’ but it is a way of making the networks aware of themselves.”

Kent said Cineplex Galaxy will be measuring how many incidents are reported by users before MOM does, which would indicate any configuration problems, as well as how many incident MOM reports on that require direct action.

The combination of ISA 2004 and MOM 2005 was intended to support a contingent of mobile workers  including salespeople and district supervisors and operations people that audit theatres and train people – with remote access to e-mail and the company’s intranet. Kent hopes it will also allow Cineplex Galaxy to push out fixes to users that can’t always be trusted to use devices properly.

“We’ve got a lot of kids working in the theatres. When they’ve got PCs available to them, they tend to get a little creative with them,” he said. “It’s a double-edged sword, though, because they’re locked down, but then they can’t do the simplest upgrade.”

Wong said Microsoft Canada typically defers to its partners – which in Cineplex Galaxy’s case was Legend Corp. – to help with the integration issues that come up with a large merger such as one with Famous Players.

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