Case Study

Loud and clear: AccuRadio abandons bare-metal servers in favor of consistently stable streaming through Linode's cloud

AccuRadio is expertly-curated Internet radio ("Hand-crafted by music lovers — not by a computer”), offering over 1,000 customizable channels of rock, pop, country, R&B, jazz, classical, Broadway, classic rock, and oldies, with a unique focus on listeners in the 35-to-64 age group.

Founded in June 2000, AccuRadio was one of the earliest pioneers in online radio. According to Triton Digital, AccuRadio is in the top three of all "pureplay” Internet radio stations, boasting a global audience of more than two million users. For the past year, AccuRadio has been the fastest-growing rated webcaster in the US and has the highest-rated music app in the iOS and Android app stores.

AccuRadio's chief technology officer, Michael Schmitt, graciously responded to our questions for this case study.

Challenge

Convince AccuRadio that migrating from legacy, dedicated servers into the cloud would exceed its stringent benchmarks, including fast and helpful user interface, pay-as-you-go billing, rapid customer support, state-of-the-art hardware, immediate scalability, and geographic breadth.

Solution

Enlist Linode Manager, Images utility and Longview system metrics on native-SSD servers with 40Gbps network with multiple levels of redundancy, and Intel E5 processors.

Results

Processing time accelerated 50 percent. Load times cut 33 percent. RAM upgraded 400 percent. 99.99 percent uptime. Random I/O spikes eliminated. Cron tasks expedited. Images renders immediate server scalability. Longview confirms real-time system status. $2,000/month saved

"Linode... is simply miles ahead of what we were used to."

Situation:

As an online radio service, AccuRadio diverts from most typical web-based services. Because a typical listener tunes in for an (industry-leading) average that approaches two consecutive hours, certain infrastructure challenges present themselves. Flexibility and constancy are crucial.

Consider: usage rates fluctuate throughout a day and across the year depending on the preferences of AccuRadio's primarily workplace- based audience. Daily usage spikes during lunch and coffee-break times. During March Madness, listenership wanes; and during the holidays, it more than doubles. Any obstacle that prevents a user from accessing a favorite channel, regardless of traffic, means dissatisfied users, curtailed usage and subsequent revenue loss.

Using out-of-the-box, non-customizable infrastructure inhibits AccuRadio from measuring and interacting with its audience. Having the flexibility to scale a virtual server up or down, to use in-house solutions and tools, or to experiment or kick the tires on new ideas is critical to AccuRadio's ability to efficiently manage its 1,000-plus channels.

"We need our infrastructure to be flexible and affordable enough to launch new ideas, scale up when things work out, or tear it down when things don't," said Schmitt. Finally, because AccuRadio is a small company with a dedicated but small tech team, any cloud-host had to "pull its own weight and not slow us down."

Challenge:

AccuRadio's identified several essential criteria that guided its choice of a new cloud-services provider. Directly attributable to the shortcomings of its previous host, these benchmarks had to be met or exceeded and, more importantly, sustained.

Consequently, AccuRadio sought a cloud host that:

  • Presented a modern, fast, and helpful user interface from which its tech team - not the host's account rep - could do everything from launch a new server to check hardware statistics in real-time – not days later.
  • Offered metered, pay-as-you-go billing without binding, long-term contracts. "We couldn't get slowed down negotiating new prices on a server, or get locked-in to a one-year commitment," said Schmitt.
  • Delivered system alerts and rapid customer service. "(In the past) we experienced significant downtime, headaches and lost revenue due to poor communication and unresponsive service. That couldn't happen again," said Schmitt.
  • Operated on the latest hardware, driven by agile software, both of which would receive regular and timely updates.
  • Charged for midrange-capacity and processing power on front-end-ready servers at less than $130 per month.
  • Afforded on-the-fly server scalability to supply necessary RAM to handle memory-hungry database demands.
  • Had established multiple datacenters so AccuRadio could eventually build redundant service across different geographies.

Nevertheless, Schmitt admitted that perhaps the greatest challenge would be to "convince us that migrating from dedicated, ‘real' servers to the cloud was the right thing to do."

Solution:

Linode's cloud far exceeded the storage and memory capacity, processing power and speed, and I/O bandwidth of AccuRadio's previous infrastructure.

Linode's utilities suite, add-ons selection and customer support not only facilitiate AccuRadio's streaming but also foster peace-of-mind.

For example, by enlisting the Linode manager, AccuRadio creates and deploys new servers in an instant, on its own terms and schedule, without getting tied up in a sales process or inattentive account rep.

Images, Linode's server-clone utility, facilitates AccuRadio's audience fluctuations, allowing "fast and painless” server scalability as demand dictated. The immediate flexibility inherent with Images allowed Schmitt's team to spin up server clones and shift traffic from any affected server to avoid any downtime. When maintenance is finished, he shuts down the clones and reroutes traffic to the original server. "It is fast, cheap and – frankly - easy to do," said Schmitt.

For example, to patch a security vulnerability in its Xen hypervisor in March 2015, Linode needed to reboot its entire fleet of servers. That reboot meant AccuRadio's servers faced the prospect of downtime. However, using Images, Schmitt's team cloned servers at different datacenters and stayed a step ahead of the rolling reboot. AccuRadio remained fully accessible to all its users. Images averted any downtime. "Linode's flexibility - spinning up new servers, taking down others, cloning drives all within minutes - is invaluable," added Schmitt.

Complementing these system-based faculties, Linode's customer support team began addressing AccuRadio's inquiries even before the enterprise was a customer. Once onboard, AccuRadio received Linode's alerts about helpful how-to's or heads-up for planned or unplanned network issues. In addition, the support team posts up-to-the-minute status page tracking of networks, which frequently deters AccuRadio from submitting a ticket. Instead, Schmitt's tech team can address – or disregard - an issue.

And because AccuRadio's global reach is expanding, access to Linode's seven datacenters, (four in North America, two in Asia, and one in the United Kingdom and one opening summer 2015 in Frankfurt, Germany) will foster growth of the online radio service.

Moreover, according to Schmitt, Linode's utility billing saves AccuRadio $2,000 per month compared to what it was billed previously for slow and spotty cloud service.

Long story short: Since migrating to Linode, AccuRadio is running faster on better equipment with less downtime and more peace of mind for its tech crew and executives at less cost.

"Linode met and exceeded all the criteria we had," said Schmitt, who also chose an add-on, Linode's Longview Pro to monitor and predict audience levels. This app serves as a system metric, the dashboard of which provides an informative, valuable, real-time status check of AccuRadio's servers. Three reasons prompted Schmitt to subscribe to Longview Pro: the breadth of information provided, installation simplicity and affordability.

Schmitt elaborated, "It was just a ‘why not' situation. Longview just makes life easier for our tech team, from reminding us about pending updates for our system to offering a quick overview of server specs and if hard drives are filling up."

Longview metrics that are most essential for AccuRadio operation include aggregate CPU (and subsequently, per-process CPU when anomalies show up), load, and the ability to compare real-time to past performance. In addition, Longview's RAM usage tracking helps Schmitt monitor AccuRadio's memory- hungry database.

"It's those little things that tend to get forgotten by a small team with so much else to do, but Longview just takes care of it," explained Schmitt.

As a radio service that is constantly monitored by third-party ratings firms, real-time stats are priority for AccuRadio. If those ratings change, Schmitt needs to know why. Longview's analytics help determine if the issue is technical - within the cloud - or elsewhere.

"If the issue is technical, users may leave and not come back for the rest of the day," said Schmitt. "That means every minute the problem continues, we lose considerable revenue."

For example, Longview helped confirm that a considerable audience drop in March was not tech related but, in fact, due to the first round of March Madness games starting. Audience attention had been diverted. However, when its database server struggled under a heavy, constant load, Longview pointed to the problem's root, which enabled AccuRadio to identify and fix an inefficient query and lessen the load.

Additionally, Linode's hardware upgrade greased the gears of AccuRadio's nightly cron tasks: cleaning the database and aggregating data for analytics purposes, among others. Considered a low priority, performing these tasks in the past resulted in daily downtime – albeit for only a few minutes- "Since switching to Linode, the cron tasks complete much faster and our infrastructure can easily handle the load," said Schmitt. "No more downtime and no more worry."

Results:

Since migrating to Linode, AccuRadio has witnessed processing time for key transactions cut by approximately 50 percent.

Random, huge spikes in disk I/O have been eliminated.

Load times have dropped by a third and leveled off, having formerly swung erratically from 300ms to 700ms depending on the time of day and audience demands.

Linode's 40 Gbps bandwidth has rendered consistent, reliable load time flat-lines.

Because of frequent, disruptive downtime with its previous "bare-metal” host, AccuRadio received regular discounts for SLA threshold violations. Such inconsistency stifled audience growth. Linode guarantees 99.9 percent uptime, and has achieved 100 percent uptime for AccuRadio through April 2015. That trumps the previous host's troublesome 98.87 percent over a similar time period in 2014.

Moving from HD to SSD servers combined with a 400-percent upgrade to RAM has made database transactions noticeably quicker.

All things considered - system performance, speed, reliability, customer support and metrics - "Linode... is simply miles ahead of what we were used to," asserted Schmitt.