Senior Sysadmin becomes Director of Operations: Retrospective on Seven Years in Digital Cinema

In my position as Director of Production Systems at Deluxe Digital Cinema in Burbank (June 2013 – September 2014), I was responsible for Operation and Quality of Alchemy, Deluxe’s theatrical booking and delivery management system. This system would book which movies are going to play in which cinemas when, so Deluxe Digital Cinema could deliver the movie to each theatre and then deliver the decryption key so the cinema could play it.

Digital cinema took off faster than anybody predicted. We shut down our Hollywood film lab (a city block in size) and sold the facility, including the data center! We moved services to a backup facility in London; moved equipment from LA to our new primary site in Las Vegas, and moved services from London to Vegas. At the same time, we signed a prolific studio client (hence increased workload); and digital cinema technology marched on (witness Dolby Atmos multidimensional sound), so we had to upgrade in flight to keep up.

To handle the upgrades and migrations in a short time with a small staff, I organized dedicated departments for Infrastructure and Application Operations and secured staff allocations. At first, our Application Operations department existed on paper only, so Infrastructure Operations wore both hats while I procured and trained the App Ops staff. We ended up growing Operations from 2 to 5 staff (2 Infrastructure, 2 App Ops, 1 Manager).

To organize for high production, I put in place:
– an organizing chart listing every function and the products of each area
– an organizing chart listing every post and its functions
– a complete knowledge base enabling 100% competent staff
– process tooling and automation
– a ticketing system

In the meantime, our two-person Quality section tirelessly tested bug fixes and upgrades and automated their testing to get Testing ahead of the curve.

I’m proud of how the teams pulled together to handle a Herculean task. I am grateful to my senior for putting me into this harness (he promoted me from Senior Sys Admin to Director when our prior Director left). Kudos to the Dev team, we worked closely with them every step of the way and couldn’t have done this without them.

After the move, we had a fully staffed and operational Support section, 100% industry adoption of digital cinema and most major studios as our clients. Seeing the high growth phase was over, I decided to take a break and then look for a new challenge. What happened next is a separate story.

P.S. Recently, Deluxe and Technicolor created a joint digital cinema venture, Deluxe Technicolor Digital Cinema. “The unit will be managed by Deluxe and based in Burbank, Calif.” –Variety

1. “Ops Report Card” by Limoncelli, et al
2. A Sysadmin’s Guide to Navigating the Business World, by Mark Burgess and Carolyn Rowland
2. “Basics of Organizing” course based on materials by L. Ron Hubbard

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