Chicago Symphony Orchestra Paves the Way for the Future with SQL Server Upgrade

Proving that Modernization can be a Powerful Business Differentiator

Written By // Lowry Kozlowski

Performing Arts
Chicago, IL

In today’s fast-paced business environment, an older database solution can have a major impact on an organization’s competitiveness. To stay ahead, many companies are in the process of upgrading their SQL server for better performance and scalability. However, without careful planning and execution, realizing the benefits of server modernization can not only be elusive, but end up costing the organization a great deal of money with very little return — and in some cases even resulting in worse performance than the original system!

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra (CSO) was looking to decrease administration and downtime, while improving security and total cost of ownership. By upgrading from SQL Server 2008 to SQL Server 2014, and leveraging SWC’s modernization methodologies to integrate third-party applications, the CSO were looking to pave the path for continued growth.

Chicago Symphony Orchestra

SWC’s latest engagement with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (CSO) proves that modernization can be a powerful business differentiator – when implemented correctly.

The CSO recognized that, while their organization was founded under the principle of preserving the tradition and culture of live performance, they needed to modernize their infrastructure to support their mission in an increasingly digital marketplace.

Every ticket purchased and processed for an upcoming show, whether it be online or through a sales rep, was managed through a third-party application. Not to mention, all other workloads that help run an arts and culture business (admissions and attendance, donations and contributions, memberships, email and messaging, and other mission-critical business operations) were managed through software solutions that were running on an outdated SQL server.

After experiencing an increase in downtime, maintenance costs, and security & compliance concerns, the CSO knew they needed to take steps towards modernization if they were going to continue to serve the business and their customers. They knew the SQL Server ecosystem was the foundation for making this happen and were looking for a partner to help guide the way.

Partnering with Managed Services to Help Upgrade SQL and Drive Business Transformation

Like most mid-size organizations, the CSO did not have the in-house expertise to manage every potential risk and impact of this type of migration. The world of IT looks much different today than it did several years ago, and seeking external partnerships to help guide the way was an important step to not only advise on the migration itself, but also serve as the go-between third-party vendors to ensure a smooth transition and ongoing performance on the new and improved server.

The CSO leveraged their existing partnership with SWC Managed Services to help determine which platforms to migrate to, proactively anticipate potential obstacles and risks, serve as the bridge between internal IT and third-party vendors, and manage other business and technical factors along the way.

SQL Server Modernization

Prior to partnering with SWC, the CSO was using standard plans to build out the indexes which were growing increasingly difficult to manage. After careful review of the original systems, SWC built a deployment plan to meet the customer’s business goals for modernization.

The project involved upgrading the SQL server from SQL 2008 R2 SP3 standard to SQL 2014 SP2 Enterprise, as well as working directly with the software company to keep long running reports from interfering with the day-to-day operations of the database.

Integrating with Third-Party Applications

As part of SWC’s modernization methodology, a key differentiator for us is that we engage with all key players, including third-party vendors, to make sure all business requirements are met and that mission-critical applications continue to work seamlessly with the newer version of SQL.

In this case, after faster hardware and more memory were added, the organization was still not experiencing improved performance. As a matter of fact, maintenance jobs were running 10 minutes longer than original systems, impacting the business users by blocking other jobs and timing out web users. While there appeared to be an issue with the upgrade, the root cause of the problem had to do with integration issues coming from the third-party vendor.

The third-party vendor had a vested interest in making sure their software was working for the client as well and were happy to invite SWC to work in collaboration with them to troubleshoot the issue. After deeper review, SWC discovered many of the new indexes had a low fill factor. This issue was creating fatter indexes that took longer to load data, affecting the memory usage, updates, inserts, deletes, and space on the disk. From a business perspective, this meant increased business disruptions, maintenance costs, security and compliance risks, and perhaps the greatest risk of all – lost opportunity!

Performing Arts Organization, Software Vendor, and SWC Come Together to Achieve Better Results – A Win-Win-Win

After the issue was discovered, SWC worked directly with the third-party vendor to identify a list of indexes that needed to be changed to remove empty space, thus improving performance. The third-party vendor was happy to approve the changes, which immediately created positive business impact for the performing arts center. The end-user was experiencing faster results and the web connections were no longer timing out.

With the new system in place, the third-party vendor was able to further improve their service and reputation by providing a software solution that worked with the client’s new server. SWC was able to provide end-to-end service for true business value, and the CSO was now on the path towards continued growth – a win-win-win!

The Foundation for Modernization

Looking ahead, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra is excited about the possibilities of expanding a partnership with SWC for ongoing VDBA support to maintain a smooth-running environment and open the door for continued business growth and optimized efficiencies. The third-party software they use to manage nearly every aspect of running their arts and culture organization is looking to the future as well, with plans to integrate SWC’s findings into future software releases.

SWC strongly encourages customers currently using SQL Server 2005 to review their technology needs and see how an upgrade to a modern database platform can have a real business impact. If you’re still considering the move, contact us to learn more about our approach to server modernization.

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