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Multimedia Rocks Virgin Entertainment Group's WAN

If customers at the Virgin Megastore in Times Square are sampling music or video clips at the same time a store employee places a voice-over-IP call to Virgin Entertainment Group North America's corporate headquarters in Los Angeles, the voice on the other end of the line sometimes comes across choppy--or not at all.


Adding a second T1 line to the New York City store didn't help the voice problems there. The reason? Virgin's increasingly popular digital listening stations, which pull music and video files from an online service, simply need more bandwidth than the retailer allocated. So Virgin is upgrading its 3-Mbps MPLS WAN link at headquarters to 10 Mbps to ensure that voice calls aren't trampled by the Black Eyed Peas or Kelly Clarkson.

Although the company did some basic monitoring of store traffic to ensure it had sufficient bandwidth for VoIP, it hadn't anticipated the success of the listening stations. "Times Square was a surprise," says Robert Fort, director of IT for the music and entertainment company, a subsidiary of the U.K.-based Virgin Group. "We underestimated the number of listening stations that would get [used] at the same time. We thought 3 Mbps could handle it. And, with the high level of activity at that store, there was much more phone traffic, too."

The New York City store has 150 Virgin Vault digital listening stations, which are IBM Anyplace Kiosks running a Virgin-developed Microsoft .Net application. The new listening stations provide faster access to music and far more features than CD-based stations. When a customer wants to sample a song, Virgin Vault first accesses the company's SQL Server at its Los Angeles data center for title metadata, then its Internet Information Server (IIS) for the music clips. The Virgin Vault application grabs the 350KB audio samples from an onsite Virgin Megastore server or off the Internet from online music and video sample services. The New York and Hollywood, Calif., stores--the only ones with Virgin Vaults so far--also run Cisco Application and Content Networking System (ACNS) appliances in-house, to cache some clips and help minimize WAN traffic.

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