How a Canadian orchestra keeps Web sales up and running

The Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, which has 100 employees, is a $12.5 million business that relies on its Internet connection to make money.

The group does about 150 concerts per year at 14 venues, and uses software from Tessitura Network Inc. for its online ticket sales, fundraising and Web transactions.

“The key for us is our business operates all the time,” said Alan Gove, VSO’s director of marketing and sales. “On any given concert night between 7:00 and 8:00 p.m. we will put through, on average, close to 200 tickets and that would account for just over 100 individual transactions involving a credit card server.”

The orchestra’s mission-critical applications use Microsoft Corp.’s SQL Server database, using an HP ProLiant DL380 G4 as the primary server. This backs up to another HP server using VMware ESX Server.

To keep the system up and running, the organization recently added software from Austin, Tex.-based Neverfail Ltd.

The VSO uses Neverfail’s Data Rollback Module in case they need to restore data from earlier points. They are also using Neverfail for SQL Server to make it easier to failover to the alternate server if they need to.  The software replicates and monitors the database, and is designed to failover when necessary.

“We’re doing all of our ticketing on the SQL Server and most of the ticketing at the last minute happens in the evening, so the primary server going down is just not something we can entertain,” said Debra Marcus, VSO’s office manager and payroll administrator, who handles the IT systems.

Neverfail says its software looks for data changes to ensure changes to file groups and databases are included in the replication set, and it monitors the physical server, network infrastructure and operating system.

“Neverfail monitors the software as well as the hardware,” Marcus said. “Even if the software failed it will failover for us so we’re not apt to have problems simply because of a software issue.”

Gove said the software has to simultaneously handle ticket sales, credit card transactions and donations.

Whenever someone orders tickets, a customer service rep needs to query the database.

Marcus said the customer service rep can tell if a buyer is a donor or a subscriber.

“It can affect how that person is dealt with at the time of the sale, so that’s a direct pull from the database,” she said. “If you’ve got somebody looking where somebody else is seated and they’re a high-end donor, customer service is able to figure that out as well through the database and that’s just at the time of sale.”

Neverfail also ensures the system can stay up and running after hours. Although Marcus has some remote management capability from home, she would not be able to restore the system without taking an hour to drive in to work.

“I live 50 miles (away) so I would not be able to physically come in soon enough to fix the disaster before the show has to go on,” she said.

The Neverfail software also allowed the VSO to update their main server and still sell tickets, she added.

“It made it so we were able to do the work during business hours instead of coming in on a weekend or something,” Marcus said. “Even then, without Neverfail, it would have been an issue because of the Web sales and the off-site sales.”

The total cost was about $10,000, and it was not the least expensive option considered.

“Interruptions to the business on the sales side or donation processing side are potentially catastrophic,” Gove said.

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