Partners in a private cloud

As the largest cinema operator in South Africa – with 33 Junction value cinemas and 15 Classic cinemas countrywide – Ster-Kinekor Theatres has unique telecommunications needs. Co-ordinating its vast entertainment kingdom from its head offices in Sandton, it has a highly specialised IT environment that it runs with the help of MTN Business.

Henri la Grange, IT GM at Ster-Kinekor Theatres, says:“We operate within our own private cloud using MTN Business’s multiprotocol label switching (MPLS) network. Security is a major issue for us, because we conduct online transaction trading. So we need to be in a private cloud in order to have easy access to all of our remote cinemas.”

In 2008 Ster-Kinekor Theatres partnered MTN Business to establish its MPLS network to all its various cinema complexes – 57 in total. The network is managed from Ster-Kinekor’s head offices. Outside the MPLS network it makes use of the MTN Dedicated Internet solution and its fixed Diginet lines for general purposes, such as email, web browsing, marketing research and social media.

MTN Business has one of the world’s most sophisticated MPLS networks that enable ultra-secure and automated business processes, including e-commerce, shared intranets and communications. MPLS technology is designed for high performance in carrying data from one network node to the next, making it ideal for carrier-based voice-over IP, multicast and other value-add services.

“Historically, the mobile operators – when they came into this sector – were the only ones that could provide a proper MPLS solution,” says La Grange. “So before partnering with MTN Business we had links to all the complexes – but it wasn’t in a secure MPLS environment, which posed a high risk for us.”

La Grange says the biggest value add in terms of its current IT setup is reliability. It uses its network to continuously track data, conduct credit card transactions via payment gateways and allow cinemagoers to make bookings and pay for tickets through the Ster-Kinekor website. The website also tracks showtimes and titles for all individual cinema complexes, interfacing with the ticketing systems specific to each.

“One of the major benefits for us with MTN Business is the fact it understands our business,” says La Grange. “It understands we operate 24/7. Even though a link may go down at 2am – which for some businesses wouldn’t be a problem – that would be critical for us, because that’s the time we collect data from all our complexes. When Ster-Kinekor cinemas stop trading after the last show all the network application systems kick in.

“In addition, the type of support we get from MTN Business is of a high quality,” says La Grange. “If there’s a major issue or concern we have direct access at a senior management level to help resolve it.”

Given its complex security needs, Ster-Kinekor Theatres is also exploring the use of virtualisation as a tool in its disasterrecovery environment. La Grange says future disaster recovery solutions will involve MTN Business at some level.

“With regard to the advancement of cloud computing and convergence, MTN Business certainly does have a leading edge – particularly because of its African footprint,” says La Grange. “Furthermore, convergence is all about being mobile – and who knows the mobile space better than your mobile ISPs?”

With a growing African presence, Ster-Kinekor is constantly exploring ways to extend its reach into the continent. That will also depend heavily on its technical capabilities. “In terms of possible expansion into other areas of Africa, the presence of MTN Business obviously does make it easier for us,” La Grange says. “Just recently, we changed the satellite link-up with one of our international locations to MTN Business. It didn’t make sense for us to have a link outside our private cloud, as we had to open certain lines and ports to give them access to that environment. With the link now coming in through MTN Business’s network it’s far easier to manage from a security, reliability and performance point of view.”

MTN Business’s substantial presence throughout Africa – which includes a pan-African MPLS network and ownership of various undersea cable projects – makes it the perfect partner for Ster-Kinekor Theatres’ expansion plans. 
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