Generally speaking, the summer television extravaganza known as Shark Week is Discovery Communication's version of Christmas.
How the Silver Spring, Md.-based media company performs during those crucial days — on the screen and online and on social media — can affect its entire year.
It's a week when everything counts from the teeth to the Tweets, and poor IT performance is not a nuisance but catastrophic.
So it's interesting that the network used a new, soft-launched product by Splunk during this all-important seven days. Yes, Discovery Communications was one of the early adopters of Splunk's new IT service intelligence (ITSI) product, a category that the San Francisco-based tech company has entered with a, err, splash.
An ITSI Case Study with Bite
ITSI made a public debut at Splunk's recent user conference. But none of the use cases IMHO delivered as much bite (sorry, couldn't resist) as Discovery's, which unfortunately was not among those presented.
It was Jon Rooney, director of IT operations for Splunk, who described to CMSWire how Discovery used ITSI in production.
To be sure, the use cases that were presented at the conference were compelling and illustrative of the product's capabilities.
Some discussed how ITSI was used as a proactive problem management tool — that is, using to predictive analytics to head off problems before they developed. Another described how ITSI was used to monitor the rate of ticketing at a service desk to determine if there was a problem somewhere in the customer service ecosystem.
Andi Mann, chief technology officer at Splunk, described many of these presentations in a blog post from the conference.
Partner monitoring was another example, he wrote, in which the company tracked and alerted on API failure rates for partner services. ITSI's predictive analytics component was the highlight of yet another presentation, but this time as a resource planning tool — that is, the company deployed it to help it plan for upcoming disk space demand and new licenses.
Performance Around Content Management
And then there is Discovery Communications and its use case: monitoring performance around its real time content management strategy.
We will get to the details about ITSI and Discovery's experiences in a moment. First, though, let's note Discovery's performance during this crucial week, held Jul 5-12 this year. It attracted an average 1.27 million viewers, according to Nielsen data, breaking the 2013 record of 1.20 million.
And let's also look on how important real-time system metric monitoring and prediction was to the company's content management strategy in particular this year.
Shop Enabling Shark Week
This summer Discovery launched a number of new digital initiatives to keep viewers enthralled and engaged.
There was a "Sharkopedia" guide to sharks online. There were finbassadors — shark experts including divers, scientists and advocates — at the ready on social media to answer questions and discuss the sharks. SnapChat stories were available and some events, such as shark feeding at the Baltimore, Md., aquarium, were live-streamed.
It also delved a bit into social commerce, tapping another San Francisco-based vendor Delivery Agent, to "shop-enable" Shark Week on the omni-screen. It used Twitter's "Buy Now" button prompting Shark Week's more than 256,000 Twitter followers to buy directly from their Twitter feeds. Exclusive deals were part of the mix, available from the Shark Week website, ranging from shark-themed clothes to accessories.
"The team at Discovery has always been forward thinking as evidenced by their early insight into the value of combining commerce capabilities with TV programming," said Diverly Agent CEO Mike Fitzsimmons, at the time of the announcement.
This year one of Discovery's goals was to align as tightly as possible social, mobile and television platforms with where and how fans were engaging with content.
Okay, now that we're clear on the tech issues at play, let's look at why Discovery opted for ITSI.
There is a well-established industry of IT services and related products, of course, at the ready to address this incoming volume of transmissions.
Splunk is entering the space with a product that not only builds on its long-standing expertise in logfiles processing but also its more recent advances in machine learning and security.
For instance, this is how Rooney describes some of its underlying functionality and why it outperforms competitive offerings:
"A company realizes it has an outage somewhere for whatever reason. It is up to IT operations to diagnose the problem only they are not quite sure where it is origination. The web tier? The network layer?Rather than manually go through the logs, which is what our mythical IT operations guy is doing, what we do proactively collect the data in one place so we can quickly search for problems when they happen."
Now the aforementioned IT operations guy can see the problem at the data level that someone made a configuration change at the base level, Rooney said.
Besides the high-level monitoring, ITSI also has drill-down troubleshooting and analytics in its toolset, along with the expected unified view of critical IT services.
It is available as software or a cloud service.
Your Very Special KPIs
Where ITSI really excels is its ability not only to map critical IT services with key performance indicators but also its ability to let users define their own key performance indicators.
Like say establishing health scores for a crucial week in July when traffic would increase exponentially. URL performance around online content discovery was very important for Discovery during Shark Week, Rooney said. Discovery also established KPIs around storage health, content storage, memory and disc usages. As an added touch it took the KPIs it established and overlayed them on a picture of, of course, giant sharks.
Upleveling What is Important
Splunk has offered alerting services for years, Rooney said. It also has been a leader in logfiles processing, at ease at inferring with what is happening with access logs or custom application logs. It is this service-level definition that is new both to Splunk, and Rooney argues, the industry as well, at least in this particular configuration.
"The user defines the service and then is able to uplevel its visibility to the IT services level."