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Omnifone delivers music on demand for millions of people all around the world

Recognised by the British government as one of the UK’s most innovative companies, Omnifone is at the forefront of the thriving digital music industry.  It relies on F5’s application delivery platform to help it serve up a choice of 38 million tracks to global music fans in 45 countries – in less than a second. 

The F5 solution delivers tracks in less than a second, enabling us to provide an incredibly high performance solution Adam Neale, IT infrastructure manager, Omnifone

Business Challenges

Omnifone was founded in 2003 to provide cloud-based digital music services and quickly became one of the fastest-growing technology companies in the world.  Its unique cloud music delivery platform, MusicStation, has been selected by a wide range of consumer electronics and media companies to enable them to deliver music to global customers, on any connected device.

In 2010, the company deployed Sony Entertainment Network’s Music Unlimited service, the world’s first global, multi-device, ad-free cloud music service available on web, games consoles and mobile devices.  “This was a huge deal for Omnifone,” says Adam Neale, IT infrastructure manager at the company.  “We therefore decided to create a whole new IT environment to meet the needs of Sony and future customers.”     

Whenever we have any challenges as a business, the F5 devices always seem to be able to provide a solution Adam Neale, IT infrastructure manager, Omnifone

Solution

Omnifone took the opportunity to review all the components of its existing network and evaluate them against other products to make sure that the new network was formed of the very best technology available.  The company knew that load balancing was a critical requirement and tested four different products including F5’s application delivery control platform. 

F5 stood out as the most powerful solution.  However there were other factors that influenced the company’s decision too.  “It was really apparent that the other products just didn’t have the flexibility and manageability that the F5 devices did,” Neale says.  “Realistically, at that point in time, we didn’t even realise just how much we would come to appreciate and rely on the flexibility that the F5 platform gives us.” 

The company initially acquired two F5 BIG-IP devices and set them up internally as part of a proof-of-concept network design.  “We had them up and running within an hour,” Neale says.  “They were so easy to install and configure.”

Days later, the company encountered an issue with the transfer of packets within its proof-of-concept environment, triggered in part by the unusual configuration of its switches.  Neale recalls: “The thing that shocked and impressed us was how quickly the F5 development team was able to supply a hot-fix to solve this problem.  We had never had that sort of responsive support from a vendor before and, from that point on, we knew we had made the right decision.  We knew that the support from F5 would be exceptional.”

Omnifone now has four F5 BIG-IP 3900 devices loaded with F5’s Local Traffic Manager (LTM) module and two F5 BIG-IP 1600 devices with F5’s Global Traffic Manager (GTM).  Three of the products reside within the company’s UK datacentre, while the other three are located in a US datacentre.  F5 LTM sits directly between the external and internal network, filtering and optimising customer traffic on 600-800 physical and virtualised servers.  Omnifone uses F5 GTM to balance traffic across its UK and US datacentres, as well as direct traffic to an external hosting partner, as needed, during peak times.  “BIG-IP is very much at the core of our network,” Neale says.

Benefits

F5’s application delivery controllers are now a vital part of Omnifone’s network, serving up music (and, in the future, video) to many millions of consumers around the world every single day.  They offer the performance, flexibility and reliability that enable the company to provide a top quality experience for music fans and consistently high service availability for the leading businesses that are its customers.

Outstanding customer experience 

Speed is absolutely essential in the digital music industry – and speed is what F5 delivers.  The GTM and LTM modules intelligently route vast amounts of traffic every day, minimising latency and enabling the company to stream any track from a vast library of music content to almost any device, on request. 

“In the on-demand music world, if anyone has to wait more than three seconds for a track to start playing, they will move on and go elsewhere,” explains Neale.  “The F5 solution delivers tracks in less than a second, enabling us to provide an incredibly high performance solution.”

Consistent high availability

Twenty four hours a day, day after day, week after week, the F5 platform delivers what Neale describes as “exceptional reliability”.  Consequently, the company can meet its service level agreements with its customers and provide a highly available service for global users.  The six F5 devices operate in an active/standby configuration, so even in the very unlikely event of a problem with one device or a disaster at a datacentre, another device can take over and handle 100% of the traffic.  This continuity gives the company invaluable peace-of-mind.

Since winning the contract with Sony, Omnifone has gone on to attract many more large and prestigious new customers to its cloud service, including SiriusXM, Guvera and Neil Young’s PonoMusic service amongst others.  “Quite honestly, I don’t think we would have such a successful service without the F5 devices in place,” Neale says.

Flexible configuration and control

Omnifone uses F5’s iRules programming language extensively to support user authentication and re-direct traffic according to business needs.  The tool is also indispensable in helping the company to quickly and transparently overcome restrictions in development code.  “To wait for a developer to alter code can take up to eight weeks, whereas we can use F5 iRules and LTM to make changes almost instantly,” explains Neale.  “There is nothing we’ve found yet that we can’t realistically do with an iRule.”

This was a surprise benefit for Omnifone, but one that it has come to really appreciate.  “We bought F5 for its performance and got flexibility and control thrown in for free,” Neale says.  “We don’t have to compromise with any service we provide.  Whenever we have any challenges as a business, the F5 devices always seem to be able to provide a solution.”  

Time and cost savings

Omnifone believes that the F5 platform is highly cost effective to manage and operate.  Firstly, the F5 devices are easy to use, so the company doesn’t have to employ a member of staff to provide dedicated management and support.  Secondly, the solutions off-load processing tasks from servers, which minimises expenditure on new server infrastructure.  Finally, iRules often eliminates the need for costly code redevelopments, as explained above.  “I can confidently say that we have saved money on staff, server infrastructure and development costs – although I couldn’t begin to try to quantify it,” Neale says.

The F5 platform also saves time for the company.  Omnifone regularly synchronises vast amounts of data between its two datacentres in the UK and USA.  Following the introduction of F5, the amount of time required to complete this synchronisation reduced by 80%, as the F5 devices maximised the full capacity of the 1GB connection between the sites.  

A trusted partnership for the future

Neale considers F5 to be a trusted partner, with the right knowledge and expertise to support the business now and in the future.  “Every time that we speak with a specialist at F5, we learn more about the best practices on these devices,” he says.  “We can come to F5 with any potential business challenge and the team will take the time to understand it and offer us a solution.  I’m more than happy.”

In 2013 Omnifone was named in the British government’s ‘Future Fifty’, a list of the fifty most promising and innovative companies in the country.  With this accolade and government support, Omnifone now expects to increase its network traffic by at least 400% in the medium term.  Confident in its decision to continue working with F5, it plans to upgrade and expand its use of BIG-IP to facilitate its future success.