Getting the show on the road

Canada’s most famous performance troupe is getting some high-tech help from IBM’s wireless and storage products.

World-renowned Canadian circus company Cirque du Soleil has signed a three-year partnership with IBM Corp. Under the agreement, Big Blue will become a worldwide technology sponsor

for Cirque du Soleil, responsible for designing and implementing a wireless infrastructure for the highly mobile Cirque. The infrastructure will be based on the IBM WebSphere Everyplace software, which runs in the new IBM Wireless Enterprise Delivery Environment. The program is expected to manage personal information functions including e-mail, calendar and instant messaging.

The deal will also include providing digital content management consulting to Cirque, as well as storage.

Cirque du Soleil spokesperson Renee-Claude Menard says the organization is already looking forward to simplified communication and reliable data storage. Both have been a source of frustration for Cirque employees, she says.

The performance company has eight productions running all around the world. Of those, five are travelling shows, which Menard says are in sore need of the type of wireless infrastructure IBM will implement because their environment gets completely taken apart every five to six weeks. In the periods of time when the stage and big top are packed for transport, there is nothing close to a functional network, she says, and yet the production team needs to be able to communicate with touring and head office staff.

“”Some tear downs can take up to seven days. In those seven days, we need to be able to still function and be ready to have an operational tour,”” she says. “”We do it now, but of course there’s jinxes and problems and sometimes frustrations for our touring people. So we’re trying to lower the frustration level and that’s where we think IBM can help us.””

“”Up to now and from an IT standpoint, the tour operations has been a succession of fixed sites established for a short period of time, not a truly mobile environment,”” says Cirque CIO Danielle Savoie. “”In this approach IT services are unavailable in the dark period between cities.””

With IBM’s help, says Savoie, Cirque will experiment with wireless technologies that will allow personnel to remain connected at all time, initially providing them with access to e-mails and agendas.

“”The vision is to eventually have more and more business applications available through the wireless devices, such as access to the ERP for purchase order authorization or other key business functions.””

Data storage is of the highest concern for Cirque staff, Menard says. With 2,500 employees sprinkled throughout the globe, passing and effectively storing information becomes a mission-critical process.

“”We’re maniacs about keeping everything,”” she says. “”But we need to have support that reflects what we do, which is quite unique and quite different.””

“”Data storage management has turned out to be complex,”” adds Savoie. Cirque has several servers to manage in all of its divisions in Canada, U.S. and Europe, as well as tours. Right now it is facing two major challenges.

“”The first one is the data storage growth,”” she says. “”For 2001 the data storage growth has been 35 per cent and we have three gigabytes of data to manage. The second one is the time to back-up all this data: It takes 10 hours to back-up file servers. We have decided to modernize our storage facility and asked IBM to provide us a turn-key solution for a storage area network.””

The project has been divided in two major phases: The first was to install a SAN for Cirque’s high-growth file servers. The second phase will be implemented in the second quarter of this year and will include an archiving and back-up solution based on Tivoli software tools.

Cirque du Soleil’s storage needs are unique, IBM spokesperson Mike Quinn says, in that the predominant data are large media files and video documents.

“”They’re also coming up on their 20th anniversary, so it was important for them to be able to create an archive of the old video documents in preparation for the 20th anniversary celebrations,”” he adds. “”That put even more emphasis on the need to have a robust storage management system.””

To handle the large amount of data, IBM is making use of its FastT 500 Storage Solution.

Already quite active in the sports industries as a technology sponsor, Quinn says IBM is hoping to learn lessons from the Cirque du Soleil partnership.

“”We’re very early on in this relationship, but I can tell you we certainly intend to use our Cirque du Soleil solutions as an example to showcase our technology solutions to other customers,”” he says.

— with files from Gary Hilson

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