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Business Impact Article - Posted 2/27/2012
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VRX Studios

How One Company Turned an Internal Business Project Into a Global Business

Overview
David MacLaren is a veteran entrepreneur who has seen a lot, having started, run and been involved with multiple companies over the past 20 years. Yet the number and variety of new customers knocking on his door today continue to be a source of astonishment. Only a short while ago, most of these companies were not even on his radar: manufacturing firms, advertising agencies, resource companies, semiconductor manufacturers, apparel firms, religious organizations, retailers, entertainment companies, and more. Many are household names, all are well-known in their fields, and they’re responsible for driving his company’s turbo-charged growth.

“We’re getting calls from companies, in all variety of industries, from all over the world,” says MacLaren, founder and CEO ofMediaValet and its sister company,VRX Studios. “Every day, someone new calls and urgently needs help managing their digital assets. It still amazes me that only two short years ago we were focused solely on providing photography services to the global hospitality industry.”

MediaValet is the direct result of an internal business effort at VRX Studios to streamline and improve several labor-intensive production and operational processes. In the course of pursuing this initiative, the team at VRX Studios turned to theWindows Azure cloud-computing platform. The decision was groundbreaking: It spawned an entirely new global business that uses the latest technologies to serve customers in a billion-dollar market.

“The moment we launched MediaValet, we were competing head-to-head with the largest digital asset management providers on the planet,” says MacLaren. “Windows Azure enabled us to harness more than a decade of experience in producing, managing, distributing, and licensing digital media to build an enterprise-class, globally accessible digital asset management system—in less than 12 months.”

Starting With an Internal Project
The chain of events began in 2009 at VRX Studios, the parent of MediaValet. VRX Studios, based in Vancouver, Canada, is a global photography company with services that include content production, management, distribution, and licensing services. It’s a successful enterprise that serves a roster of big customers in the global travel and hospitality industries, including Hilton Worldwide, Wyndham Worldwide, Fairmont Hotels & Resorts, and Hyatt Corporation.

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* As we developed new lines of business and grew our customer base, we had to continually adjust and manipulate our homegrown system by bolting on new modules of custom-built software. It lacked an elegant architecture that could scale to meet the needs our rapidly changing business. *

Jean Lozano
Chief Technology Officer
Media Valet and VRX Studios

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Since 2000, when the company was founded, VRX Studios has used a homegrown digital asset management system. At the time, no off-the-shelf alternatives existed that could handle the full range of tasks required by the business, such as archiving images, delivering virtual tours and interactive maps, and handling post-production, hosting, licensing, and content distribution.

The custom solution was complex, cumbersome and labor intensive, and by 2008 it was becoming a steady drain on the company’s resources. “As we developed new lines of business and grew our customer base, we had to continually adjust and manipulate our homegrown system by bolting on new modules of custom-built software,” says Jean Lozano, Chief Technology Officer for VRX Studios. “It lacked an elegant architecture that could scale to meet the needs our rapidly changing business.”

There were other problems, too. The system was co-located at a single data center in Texas, and with each new computing and storage need, more hardware had to be added and configured—an expensive and time-consuming process that could take days or even weeks to complete. With more than 10,000 hotel customers and images of hundreds of new hotels being generated each month, the storage needs alone fluctuated significantly, making it hard to forecast the businesses infrastructure needs for the quarter—let alone a year or more in advance.

Because it was a critical component of its business, VRX Studios needed to replace its existing digital asset management system with a new solution that was more flexible, scalable, and cost-effective. Equally important, the company hoped to find a new solution that would allow it to geo-locate its server infrastructure to address sluggish performance for its growing base of overseas clients in Europe and Asia. In the past, adding physical servers in Europe and Asia had been ruled out due to the cost and the complexity of setup, management, and maintenance.

In search of a solution that addressed all of these needs, VRX Studios looked to the cloud.

Looking to the Cloud
VRX Studios evaluated Amazon Web Services and Google App Engine, but neither offered the extensive development capabilities, support, and service levels that the company needed to reach its business goals. Instead, VRX Studios turned to Microsoft and Windows Azure to provide a platform-as-a-service cloud platform for a new digital asset management system. With Windows Azure, VRX Studios gained a full range of capabilities and technologies, including on-demand compute, storage, and bandwidth; a content distribution network to host, scale, and manage web applications through data centers in North America, Europe and Asia; and a familiar set of development tools. It also gained a global partner with decades of enterprise software experience that understands the business-to-business software model, and which is experienced at supporting a global partner ecosystem.

“Windows Azure gave us a major leg up when it came to developing as we were able to use the sameMicrosoft .NET development resources that we had for other projects,” says Lozano. “If we had used Amazon Web Services or the Google App Engine, we would have had to replace and increase our existing developer resources by at least 40 percent.”

*
* If we had used Amazon Web Services or the Google App Engine, we would have had to replace and increase our existing developer resources by at least 40 percent. *

Jean Lozano
Chief Technology Officer
Media Valet and VRX Studios

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Windows Azure also provides an open development environment, which gave VRX Studios the flexibility to use alternative programming software such as JavaScript and helped deliver a solution that works on the most popular web browsers, including Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari, and Chrome.

Reaping Immediate Benefits
VRX Studios’ cloud-based digital asset management solution, called MediaValet, went live in late 2010 and immediately delivered benefits to the company. It easily handles the company’s business needs, quickly scales up or down in response to daily storage, bandwidth and compute needs, and eliminates the heavy capital expense and ongoing maintenance and support costs associated with typical digital asset management solutions.

At the time of deployment, VRX Studios’ management viewed their new cloud-based digital asset management system as a great internal solution for addressing their extremely vexing operational and infrastructure issues.

Then MacLaren had an “aha” moment.

“We were talking with the senior management at a large hospitality customer, and they were complaining about the issues they were having keeping track of all of their digital assets,” says MacLaren. “They have thousands of hotels and worked with us to produce extensive content for each, but once we produced and delivered the content, it became very difficult for them to track and manage that content. They were overwhelmed by the sheer volume of the content we were delivering as well as the need to keep track of what versions were current and approved, at any given time, for use in their marketing campaigns.”

MediaValet
MediaValet provides an intuitive cloud-based solution for managing digital assets.
MacLaren realized that the inherent benefits of Windows Azure and the newly created cloud-based digital asset management system went well beyond internal business efficiencies. They could potentially unlock an entirely new business opportunity for VRX Studios.

“Based on those initial discussions with one of our major hotel customers, we decided to spin out our new digital asset management system, re-brand it, and make it available as a standalone service,” says MacLaren. “From this decision, MediaValet was born. Every day since then we’ve been inundated with calls from companies looking for a way to easily and cost effectively manage a tidal wave of digital assets. In all of the companies I’ve been involved with, I’ve never experienced anything like it.”

What VRX Studios ventured into—almost unwittingly—is a billion-dollar-plus global industry that, until now, has been dominated by companies deploying traditional, on-premises software systems.

“Based on our success today, we anticipate that within three years of its launch as a stand-alone service, MediaValet will exceed VRX Studios in revenues and profits,” says MacLaren.

Microsoft General Manager Kim Akers notes the rapid success of MediaValet since it was launched on Windows Azure. “That MediaValet emerged from an internal IT project within VRX Studios, a photography company, to become a fast-growing cloud-based business is a remarkable feat,” Akers says. “It clearly demonstrates the possibilities that a cloud-based platform such as Windows Azure can offer to many organizations for monetizing their expertise and opening up brand new revenue streams.”

New Markets Revealed
How did adopting Windows Azure help VRX Studios monetize its expertise and open up a brand new revenue stream? MacLaren says it was through the combination of market need and the ease with which Windows Azure unleashed his company’s internal talents to exploit an idea that could be taken to new markets.

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* Windows Azure represents a tectonic shift in how businesses will use technology and develop new opportunities. It can help businesses of all sizes and in all industries reduce their operating costs, increase their competitive advantages, and uncover entirely new opportunities that weren’t previously possible. *

David MacLaren
President and CEO
CMedia Valet and VRX Studios

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“Our initial target market for MediaValet was travel and hospitality companies, but with each new customer call that came in, the market and opportunity increased exponentially,” says MacLaren. “Most companies don’t realize the sheer quantity of digital assets they own and the opportunity cost of not making them readily available to their internal teams.”

Managing digital assets is a huge challenge for all companies in every industry—including many VRX Studios hadn’t thought off. “One day we received a call from a large religious organization that had its own video production department. They had terabytes of assets and were actively looking for a system to manage them,” MacLaren says.

“We turned to Windows Azure because it gave us the tools, the infrastructure, and the platform to solve our long-term business challenges,” MacLaren continues. “Windows Azure enabled us to focus all of our resources on building the solution we required and left the global infrastructure that we needed entirely up to Microsoft. With Windows Azure, we came to market with an industry-leading set of features and benefits, delivered on a global scale, beginning on day one.”

Prior to 2009, VRX Studios was not in the digital asset management business or even a software developer. Windows Azure helped the company identify a new business opportunity that took advantage of the company’s extensive experience and existing resources, while providing a deep pool of developer talent with the tools and infrastructure needed to succeed. In less than 12 months, VRX Studios developed an enterprise class, globally delivered, cloud-based digital asset management system.

“We discovered a ‘Rembrandt in our own attic’,” says MacLaren. “Up until that moment, we hadn’t realized the value of our decade of experience producing, managing, distributing, and licensing terabytes of media assets. Windows Azure helped us uncover and monetize this asset. To our surprise, MediaValet is expected to surpass VRX Studios’ revenues within the next couple of years.”

Along with new revenues from new and existing customers, MediaValet is helping VRX Studios reduce its operating costs. For the same amount of money spent before on a single Texas data center, VRX Studios now hosts its content using MediaValet at three Windows Azure data centers in North America, Europe, and Asia. That, in turn, lets the company reach new global markets while providing faster, better service to more customers.

“Windows Azure represents a tectonic shift in how businesses will use technology and develop new opportunities,” says MacLaren. “It can help businesses of all sizes and in all industries reduce their operating costs, increase their competitive advantages, and uncover entirely new opportunities that weren’t previously possible.”

For More Information
Microsoft Corporation
To learn more about Windows Azure, visit www.windowsazure.com.

MediaValet
To learn more about MediaValet, visit the company’s website at www.mediavalet.co or call (604) 687-8032.
Solution Overview



Organization Size: 30 employees

Organization Profile
VRX Studios, the parent of MediaValet. VRX Studios, based in Vancouver, Canada, is a global photography company with services that include content production, management, distribution, and licensing services. It’s a successful enterprise that serves a roster of big customers in the global travel and hospitality industries, including Hilton Worldwide, Wyndham Worldwide, Fairmont Hotels & Resorts, and Hyatt Corporation.

Software and Services
  • Microsoft Azure
  • Microsoft Azure Platform
  • Microsoft Visual Studio 2010
  • Microsoft .NET Framework 4
  • Microsoft SQL Azure

Vertical Industries
  • Hospitality & Travel
  • Travel
  • Accommodation

Country / Region
Canada

IT Issues
Cloud Services

Languages
English