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TiVo Uses F5 Solutions to Provide Advanced Global Television Services with High Reliability

TiVo strives to maintain performance goals that ensure reliable service for its retail and corporate customers. In 2012, TiVo turned to F5 to optimize the implementation of key applications to handle unexpectedly high demand. Now TiVo enjoys more reliable application delivery, higher customer satisfaction, and a rapid return on investment.

Business Challenges

 

TiVo has evolved from the pioneer of the digital video recorder (DVR) to its role today as a leading global provider of advanced television services to the cable and satellite industry. In addition to its consumer set-top boxes and on-screen guides, the company produces and delivers in real time the software that enables TV providers to offer advanced viewing experiences. It also delivers solutions for television audience research and interactive advertising.

These services require high-capacity, highly reliable IT systems that can scale to meet fast growth. “About three years ago, we didn’t realize how popular our services would become. It turned out that we needed more Internet bandwidth to meet rapidly expanding demand,” explains Barry Hubbard, Director of Infrastructure at TiVo. “The number of set-top boxes that had to send data to TiVo and then from TiVo back to those boxes would sometimes strain our capacity.”

Additionally, outages occasionally affected not only TiVo but also some of its nearly six million customers and 30 multiple system operators (MSOs, the providers of cable and satellite TV services across multiple geographic areas). Many MSOs offer TiVo products under their own brand. Says Hubbard, “When there was a problem with a set-top box, customers called the MSO, and the MSO would call us.” Preventing these problems has always been part of TiVo’s mission. “TiVo is already the number one choice for user interface, but we also strive to be the number one choice for reliability, uptime, and mean time to repair.”

“The ROI we get from F5 means, hands down, we don’t need to consider another company that offers similar solutions.” Barry Hubbard, Director of Infrastructure, TiVo

Solution

 

TiVo had been an F5 customer for years, and Hubbard is a strong advocate for the F5 VIPRION and F5 BIG-IP platforms, given their high reliability and cost-effective application delivery capabilities. “We took a look at all the different capacity and downtime issues and believed that F5 would not only help us minimize them but also understand what they were.

“For instance, in our business, it’s important that we have intelligent traffic management in all our data centers,” he says, referring to BIG-IP Local Traffic Manager (LTM) in particular. Hubbard says he also sees BIG-IP LTM as a comprehensive, flexible, high-performance application delivery system. “And the modularity of our F5 platform in general is ideal. It scales more effectively than any of the competition that we’re aware of.” Along with BIG-IP LTM, TiVo has deployed BIG-IP DNS and BIG-IP Application Security Manager (ASM) across its three data centers. The company uses VIPRION 2400 chassis with 2150 blades.

Despite its enthusiasm for F5, however, TiVo was concerned that its F5 solutions might be the cause of some of downtime problems. To resolve the issue, TiVo contacted its F5 Support team. The two companies worked closely to trace outages back to their source. “After a lot of help from U.S. and offshore F5 engineers,” Hubbard says, “we realized that TiVo had chosen the right F5 solutions—that they were doing what they were supposed to do. But in some cases we didn’t have the right understanding, the right implementation, or the right utilization of them.”

TiVo now feels confident about recommending F5 solutions to customers as they put together their data center configurations. “So, for instance,” Hubbard adds, “one of our customers will now have F5 traffic management technology in London and Denmark data centers because that’s what we knew would work best.”

Hubbard believes that F5’s collaborative expertise was the key to solving reliability and performance issues. “F5 represents a partnership with TiVo. We don’t have that relationship with other vendors; they don’t support us the way that F5 does.”

“F5 is the clear winner for security. Choosing BIG-IP LTM, BIG-IP DNS, and BIG-ASM was a no-brainer.” Barry Hubbard, Director of Infrastructure, TiVo

Benefits

 

By choosing F5 solutions based on VIPRION and BIG-IP products, particularly BIG-IP LTM, TiVo gains a highly available, high-performance application delivery controller that resolves previous performance and downtime issues.

High reliability and flexibility

Hubbard has learned from experience that when application (or even hardware) problems occur, F5 solutions are likely not to blame. “F5 components are so reliable that, if a failover occurs, we’re really troubleshooting the different layers of an application or our database or any of those things that turn out to be the true cause of problem.”

Additionally, employees enjoy highly reliable workplace tools, such as Microsoft Exchange, within the infrastructure. “We don’t have downtime issues with internal productivity applications,” Hubbard adds. Consequently, employees are more productive.

Also, TiVo has 14 domestic MSOs, and each of them has at least four different service level agreements for different TiVo services and different IT setups. “Our F5 solutions have proven remarkably flexible. No customer ever comes to us and says, ‘This doesn’t serve us well. F5 isn’t the right tool for us. We need something that gives us greater agility.’”

Summarizing the performance of TiVo’s F5 platform, Hubbard says, “F5’s reliability has boosted our reliability. Thanks to F5, we have exceeded our uptime goals and expectations, even as we raise them each year. We continue to reduce our mean time to repair—from hours to just a few minutes for many typical problems in general, and we’ve had no problems at all specifically with our F5 solution for the last 9 to 12 months.”

Strong security

TiVo takes care to safeguard important information, particularly for any device or service that touches the network. “We have to protect everything from our computer code and employee records to customers’ viewing habits,” Hubbard says. (The company uses data mining techniques to help determine what viewers might want to watch later.) “That’s a lot of information we want to keep confidential. Based on our experience, F5 is the clear winner for security. Choosing BIG-IP LTM, BIG-IP DNS, and BIG-ASM was a no-brainer.”

Rapid return on investment

Hubbard says the first thing TiVo looks at when evaluating competing technologies is the quality of the technology itself. The second is return on investment (ROI). The standard benchmark against which these are judged is F5. Says Hubbard, “Unless there were a compelling reason, why would we want to sort through difficult infrastructure changes when F5 is working so well?

“We at TiVo have extensively analyzed our operational expenditures and capital expenditures, and we’re doing a good job protecting both of them—so good that that our clients can say, ‘Okay, next year save us another $2 million on a $35 or $40 million dollar budget.’” And he says TiVo can usually do it by passing along part of TiVo’s savings to its clients. “We expect this to continue as we expand into Europe by quoting lower prices for some of our new MSOs. The ROI we get from F5 means, hands down, we don’t need to consider another company that offers similar solutions.”

He adds that the total cost of ownership of F5 is an even better value when TiVO takes into account amenities such as expert, conscientious, and responsive sales reps and monthly informal whiteboard trainings.

Hubbard concludes, “Thanks to working hand in hand with F5, TiVo has enjoyed much greater success as a company.”