Keep on rockin’ in a Windows world

The music business can be fickle, with artists and recording labels falling in and out of love with each other depending on performance and ability to deliver what was promised.

Similarly, Toronto-based InDimensions Entertainment Group was having a love/hate relationship with various Linux-based

Web hosting providers. The site development company creates online communities for bands such as Blue Rodeo, Ziggy Marley and Eagle Eye Cherry. Visitors to the artists’ sites can listen to a band’s music, order concert tickets and read news on their favourite musicians.

When Colin Bowern took the helm as vice-president of technology at InDimensions, the three-year-old privately-held company had been on a roller coaster ride when it came to dealing with unreliable shared service providers, many of them Linux-based, says Bowern.

“”I came on board in September of last year to focus on stabilizing the environment and the platform, and getting the business ready to scale,”” says Bowern. “”We found a lot of the smaller providers in the Linux environment couldn’t deliver the uptime we needed. We represent big rock star brands online and downtime is not acceptable to these artists. As we scale our business and our clientele become bigger artists, we just can’t afford to be down.””

In three years, Bowern said InDimensions went through RedHat, SuSe and other Linux distributions.

“”We were probably on all the majors throughout the three years. The evolution (of Linux) is a great thing, but there are still parts of the platform that are still stabilizing and trying to catch up to the functionality of the rest of the mainstream operating systems, and you definitely have to come to expect that. We just didn’t want to deal with that because we are not an IT shop. We are focused on building and managing communities online for rock stars.””

And much like the garage band that strikes out on an independent label, InDimensions had looked to Linux to get off the ground and save the costs of a larger, more developed operating system.

“”Originally, being a startup, money was everything, so cost was probably the factor for choosing Linux, but hosting over time has become more equal in terms of the cost,”” Bowern said.

But in the world of business, says IDC software analyst Warren Shiau, the question comes down to total cost of ownership.

“”It sounds more costly to be on Linux at this point for them,”” said Shiau. “”The skill sets required for Linux make most sense in large or sophisticated IT environments where there is a knowledge base in Unix and that will be a natural osmosis to Linux, where it doesn’t cost anything extra in skills development. If you’re talking about a shop starting from ground up — a smaller shop — typically the skill set isn’t in Unix and Linux.””

Shiau says much of what Microsoft is offering for a smaller shop does make sense from manageability and administrative perspectives.

“”To aggregate all the tools you need to address that uptime argument — you can get it, it exists now but you have to deal with larger number of vendors. I think a lot of that is changing with Novell and SuSe, but to source it from one vendor for a small shop makes a lot of sense,”” he said.

In addition to the problems InDimensions faced with Linux, Bowern said few shared hosting providers have customer service or technical expertise that would allow them to address problems quickly if a site does down or encounters other troubles.

Last September InDimensions made the decision to focus on hosting its Web production environment on a Windows Server 2003 platform with a U.S.-based firm.

“”We said, ‘look, we have this chaos. Especially when it comes time to switching providers, there’s a huge hidden cost because you have to move the applications and stabilize them. The one thing we found is that every Linux provider had a different configuration, whether it was a different distribution, different module releases and having to deal with that configuration chaos we estimated took us a good two to three weeks every time we had to switch providers to stabilize the environment, and enough was enough.'””

Bowern said the goal was to focus on growing the business, not managing InDimensions’ IT demands all the time. The company can now deploy new sites faster, expand existing sites and add new capabilities with strong developer support.

“”The Windows environment and the .Net framework became a natural choice,”” he said.

Part of InDimension’s choice was not only about its platform, but the provider as well and the company evaluated a number of the Tier 1 providers and selected Atlanta-based Interland, which would handle the operating system, and InDimensions could manage its application.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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