A pioneer in digital media, Gracenote provides music and video recognition technologies and metadata to the world’s most well-known online entertainment products and brands. When a CD gets loaded into your music library or you unlock your music collection in the cloud, Gracenote is there to add the album, artist, and track names along with cover art. Gracenote is also there any time your car audio system is playing a song, providing the music data and voice commands that make it easier to navigate your music collection while keeping both eyes on the road. A wholly owned, independent subsidiary of Sony Corporation of America, Gracenote has offices in Tokyo, Munich, Berlin, Seoul, and Taipei, with worldwide headquarters in Emeryville, California.
Keeping its service “always there” in the face of meteoric growth
The true breadth of Gracenote’s success over its 14-year history is something of a paradox: Its media information services are at once ubiquitous yet also largely invisible to most consumers who use them. Its services are in everything from MP3 players to smartphones to car entertainment systems to TVs. Yet, they remain hidden to most consumers, who have simply come to expect their digital systems to know and display the details of songs and playlists or the shows and films they want to watch on TV. Most remain unaware of the fact that Gracenote often powers this real-time feat.
“We’re a key ingredient in almost every popular music and video product,” explains Matthew Leeds, vice president of Operations at Gracenote. “People just expect us to be there–24/7/365.” But that always-there expectation brings with it a complex set of front- and back-office operational demands that have grown in scope and complexity since Gracenote’s early days.
For Gracenote, being always there has required ongoing IT infrastructure changes as the number of queries to its global media database has grown—from 10 million daily queries in the early years to now more than 500 million. To help put this number into context, Leeds notes that if Gracenote were a search engine, it would rank among the biggest in the world: bigger than Bing and not quite as big as Google.
Sitting at the convergence of a new era of Internet-based cloud services, mobile computing, and digital media, Gracenote has experienced meteoric growth in both its market and its core database systems housing its media metadata. Starting in 1998, Gracenote’s global media database went from information for a few million song tracks to what now amounts to close to a petabyte of storage—with information on more than 130 million song tracks and TV listings for more than 28 countries.
Soon after Leeds joined Gracenote, 13 years ago, he recognized that the company was poised for growth. Although he didn’t know exactly the direction that growth would take, he knew that the storage system Gracenote chose could either aid or stifle the company’s emerging priorities.
NetApp: A solid storage solution for any growth challenge
When Leeds joined the company, Gracenote was looking at a storage product from a smaller, less established storage provider. “We knew Gracenote was going to grow, and we wanted a solution that could grow with us from a vendor who would be there to deliver at both a technology level—in terms of features and functions—and at a support level,” Leeds says. “It was over 12 years ago that we made the commitment to NetApp, and we’ve never looked back.”
To aid Gracenote in evaluating and deploying NetApp storage at the core of its data warehouse environment was Palo Alto-based Integrated Archive Systems (IAS), a NetApp certified Star partner and a trusted, long-term Gracenote advisor. Although he’s seen a general erosion of the quality of enterprise support among some IT vendors, Leeds notes quite the opposite with NetApp and IAS: “It’s a real value-add to know that any time I pick up the phone, NetApp and IAS will go above and beyond to give me the support I need.”
Today, Gracenote uses two FAS6210 dual-controller systems, each at a separate data center, for smooth failover and recovery of key datasets via Oracle® Data Guard. In Gracenote’s primary operations environment, the company also relies on a mix of NetApp® FAS6210 and FAS3210 storage clusters to:
- House Gracenote’s “crown jewels” of data, the company’s main Oracle and Microsoft® SQL Server® database systems of record.
- Provide a valuable data staging repository for hundreds of daily intermediate processes.
- Support applications running on several hundred VMware® virtual servers.
- Provide the foundation for frequent content publishing updates and syndication to clients and partners.
As the key storage backbone behind Gracenote’s extensive content update and syndication services, NetApp fuels hourly updates to Gracenote’s consumer-facing servers that, in turn, process real-time queries to the global media database. NetApp also propels SLA-driven content updates to more than 250 million unique Gracenote users and all the major cloud music service providers. Major car manufacturers also rely on Gracenote to help keep their customers’ car entertainment systems updated with information on the latest popular songs in their area.
Throughout the environment, Gracenote makes heavy use of core NetApp efficiency features such as NetApp multiprotocol support, NetApp Flash Cache™ intelligent caching, and FlexClone®. NetApp Flash Cache cost-effectively speeds performance, especially on database reads. NetApp FlexClone is used to create time- and space-efficient virtual database clones and to help streamline ETL processing and data reporting. In addition, FlexClone helps accelerate ongoing product development and testing—all without impacting the operation of the core production systems of record.
FAS6210HA, FAS3210HA, and FAS3240 storage systems
Data ONTAP® 8.1 operating in 7-Mode
VMware vSphere® v4 and v5
Applications: Oracle Data Guard
Microsoft SQL Server
Mixed server platform: Predominantly Linux® servers with some Microsoft Windows Server® systems
- Fosters smooth achievement of client SLAs via strong NetApp system reliability
- Streamlines frenetic input/output data flows with efficiency features such as FlexClone technology
- Brings adaptability to a new level to solve current and future business challenges
- Simplifies system support with the same core interface and storage OS
Meeting SLAs and keeping information flowing
Leeds gives NetApp storage high marks for its reliable design, which has weathered everything from power outages to downtime-free system maintenance. Today, NetApp storage comprises the core of a speeding digital neural net that sees millions of daily data feeds flowing both into and out of Gracenote’s systems of record.
“We are dealing with not only a large volume of metadata, but also a rapid rate of change. It’s a business challenge to cost-effectively and reliably handle all of our data flows. That’s an important role that NetApp plays for us as our storage vendor, where a rotating disk meets the data,” notes Leeds.
When it comes to meeting SLAs for Gracenote content syndication updates, Leeds knows from experience that he can rely on NetApp to help meet any business needs. “We are a database company at heart. We cannot have corruption, downtime, loss of data, or loss of availability,” he says. “We’ve committed to many customers who supply us with data that we will get data associated with the appropriate media and get the resulting metadata syndicated out within a specified time period. For us to meet those SLAs, we need a storage environment that we can count on. With NetApp, we have that.”
Bringing flexibility, choice, and trust to the equation
Ultimately, the key values Gracenote derives from NetApp remain much the same as they were at the start. Already content with the NetApp system’s outstanding reliability and availability, Leeds also gives a glowing report of NetApp’s attitude toward customers, both in terms of the technology it offers and its wider support services.
Over many years, Gracenote’s trust in NetApp continues to grow. “NetApp has consistent, reliable technology that is always ahead of our needs. In 12 years, we’ve never had to make a platform change, and that’s been of immeasurable value to us. As we’ve moved from 100TB to close to a petabyte, with changing IOPS and data rates, we’ve been able to go to NetApp as a business partner and say, ‘This is our next challenge. What have you got for us?’ NetApp responds with, ‘Well, here’s the technology to solve that.’”
Fostering growth in multiple directions
Leeds also values the inherent scalability of NetApp systems. “With NetApp, we can scale not just aggregate storage performance and capacity, but also scale on budget. I can go from a NetApp FAS2000 system up to a FAS6000 system, add Flash Cache, or change disk types to help solve a problem at whatever value point is appropriate. I can also expand the storage at will.”
Based on his own experiences, Leeds offers useful insights for others. “Do a typical analysis of a storage system’s advantages and disadvantages. Analyze and map that against where you think you’re going. Then, make sure you do the same on an annual basis to see if it still makes sense,” he advises. “There aren’t a lot of choices that will get you there, but NetApp is certainly one of them.”