Guinness World Records breaks cloud barrier with Ensono

Profile picture for user jtwentyman By Jessica Twentyman November 1, 2018
Once just a publisher, now a digital-media brand agency, GWR has shifted mission-critical systems to Amazon Web Services to support bold expansion plans

World record
As Guinness World Records go, the record for the largest synchronized car dance is probably not the most widely coveted - but it could earn some useful publicity for Nissan, its latest holder, and its Patrol Safari sports-utility vehicle.

That, at least, is presumably the thinking that led the automotive company to bring together 180 Nissan Patrols at The Sevens Stadium in Dubai in recent weeks, and have them drive in formation to create the outline of a giant dancing falcon, under the watchful eye of an official Guinness World Records adjudicator.

These days, the organization’s business model goes way beyond book publishing. A significant chunk involves working with brands and charities in order to design and stage attention-grabbing record attempts, and capture them digitally, for online and offline marketing campaigns.

So as well as Nissan’s dancing cars, for example, there’s also the 3.3-meter house of cards (the world’s tallest built in 12 hours) that was constructed on top of an LG Electronics Centrum System washing machine, to mark that model’s launch and showcase its reduced vibration and noise levels. That particular record-breaking attempt reached 2 million Facebook users and resulted in 407,000 video views, as well as 60,000 video views on YouTube.

Digital directions

In short, today’s Guinness World Records (GWR) is a digital-media brand agency and it needs an more modern, cloud-based IT architecture that reflects its new direction of travel, according director of IT Rob Howe.

That architecture must nimbly support its creative consultancy business, certainly, but also enable GWR to handle incoming enquiries from members of the public seeking record-breaker status. This includes digital applications forms and video files submitted as evidence of their claims. These external submissions, says Howe, already account for some 4 terabytes of incoming data per month. As he puts it:

Our brand ethos is that record-breaking should be open to everyone. Everyone is amazing at something and it’s our job to make that official - so our systems need to be nimble enough to answer the call of any record-breaking event, big or small, wherever it is in the world. We absolutely cannot be confined by old ways of working.

The next phase in our journey is to become an innovative, cloud-first company, with accessible and engaging record-breaking achievements at the heart of what we do; and our IT systems must cater for this.

With that in mind, GWR migrated 200 staff to Microsoft 365 earlier this year, assisted by IT service management company Exponential-e. That project covered staff in six international office, as well as remote workers in over 15 locations.

More recently, Howe explains, his team has worked with IT services company Ensono to migrate business-critical IT operations to an Amazon Web Services (AWS) platform. This platform will be expected to host 4k video downloads, along with the 50,000 digital application forms and 47,000 record enquiries from 178 countries submitted each year, and keep track of of 6,000 world records. Says Howe:

The big challenge for me and my team is getting in front of the organization. I’m a firm believer that in IT, we shouldn’t be sat waiting passively for the business to tell us what direction we should go in. We should be heavily involved in the organization - which we are - and we should help and advices processes and services and act as consultants.

Records management

Among the mission-critical systems at GWR that have moved to AWS is its content management system (CMS), which has in recent years been fully integrated with the equally important records application processing platform. This means that when a world record is approved, content relating to that record can be automatically pushed out onto the internet and social media platforms, as well as repurposed and reused for different media and audiences.

The migration kicked off in February 2018, with Ensono doing most of the legwork, says Howe:

It’s their design and they built out the data center infrastructure. We work closely with them, of course, and other suppliers came in and out as they needed to as we prepared relevant systems for the move. It’s gone very well and we’ve almost finished now. We did the biggest moves - the websites, the content management system, the records system - at the end of September and, in total, we will have lifted and shifted everything in about nine months - but there’s no way we could have done that without Ensono, because they’ve got the know-how that we don’t necessarily have in-house.

GWR will continue to rely on Ensono’s know-how to manage and support the AWS infrastructure, he adds, which in turn will free up his own team to focus more on development work - particularly of the records management system:

It’s an entirely bespoke thing. You can’t just go out and buy a records system of the kind that Guinness World Records needs and our in-house is really focused on delivering enhancements as quickly as possible as our business model, content and audiences expand. There’s a lot of work involved there.

We will also be looking at breaking up [remaining] internal systems into microservices and pushing content out to edge locations, to better serve global audiences. For example, we’ve opened an office in Miami this year for Latin-America. We’ve got an office in China that opened in 2013. We face particular challenges in serving those markets and we want to mitigate some of those challenges by pushing content closer to where audiences are located, but still centrally controlled from the UK.

Think global, act local

This is important, says Howe, because Guinness World Records means different things to different audiences. In the UK and US, it’s still more about the book, the facts recorded in the book and some of the eccentric characters that pursue record-breaker status.

In Japan, there’s no published version of the book, he says, and it’s all about the creative consultancy business. For example, GWR has worked with government agencies in Japan on campaigns to highlight revitalization work carried out in the wake of the Fukishima disaster - such as the world’s largest mosaic made of gyoza dumplings. Says Howe:

What we want to do as an organization is to have a local flavour, but still deliver quality of service and customer experience that reflects what Guinness World Records stands for as a global brand. I see a huge and growing role for IT, and for cloud computing, in that work.