The Nightmare of Changing Ad Servers 2.0

15 years ago I wrote an article where I outlined the operational challenges to changing ad servers for publishers. Is that really still a problem? What has changed and what does it mean for the future? 

Keep in mind, 15 years ago we had ad servers DFP, DE, OAS, AdTech, Atlas, Falk, Zedo and others. Publishers had a choice and when they chose to switch, it was a problem as outlined in the beginning paragraph:

“Changing ad servers. Those three words are enough to strike fear into the hearts of every ad operations person on the publisher side. For those of us who have had to experience the non-stop work involved in routine operations, the best of all possible worlds is when you don’t have to think about your ad server at all. When you contemplate that change, you have to think about it a lot and for a long time thereafter.”

In outlining the challenges, I listed several roadblocks including migration of customers and campaigns, integrating contract management and financial systems, commitment from senior management to prioritize the project, training and project management – just to name a few.

How does this POV hold up 15 years later? The challenges are still the same — but holy monopoly, Batman! With apologies to some of the other smaller ad serving players, there are only TWO ad servers used across our industry by major publishers. Google Ad Manager and Freewheel, with GAM having the runaway lead on market share. And when I say ad servers I mean publisher-side ad servers that specialize in managing direct sales, in addition to support for programmatic. The aforementioned challenges still persist, including (but not limited to):

  • Recalibrating the ad product catalog
  • Propagation of new ad code across all pages and ad units
  • Migration of orders and line items
  • Integration of peripheral ad systems like order and inventory management
  • Testing to ensure inventory remains in a steady state from one ad server to the next.

So yeah, “The Nightmare of Changing Ad Servers” even in a world with more limited choices still holds up today. It’s no picnic.

The Nightmare of Changing Ad Servers (Originally published for iMedia Connection 11/16/05)

Changing ad servers. Those three words are enough to strike fear into the hearts of every ad operations person on the publisher side. For those of us who have had to experience the non-stop work involved in routine operations, the best of all possible worlds is when you don’t have to think about your ad server at all. When you contemplate that change, you have to think about it a lot and for a long time thereafter.

On the supplier side, this scenario presents both a challenge and an opportunity. Companies are often tempted to stay with their current solutions simply to avoid the pain of switching. The larger the company, the greater the pain. So “conquest” over an incumbent supplier becomes more difficult. The opportunity for vendors is to become highly engaged and committed to taking as much of the burden off their customers as possible.

This column will discuss why companies change ad servers and what happens when they do. Unlike my last column (“”). An integrated contract management solution. An inventory management system that doesn’t force a publisher to rely on their own spreadsheets.

What to expect when you change

Here are just some of the action items you need to consider when you change ad servers:

  • Migrating current customers and campaigns to the new system. If you’re lucky, your new provider will help transfer data files from the old system to the new
  • Integrating any current in-house inventory management systems with the new ad server
  • Integrating any contract management and financial systems with the new ad server
  • A clear commitment from senior management to clear the decks of all other projects during this window of transition
  • A clear commitment and formal project plan from your engineering staff to make the switch
  • Communicating the changes to both sales staff and the customers themselves.
  • Training existing operations staff on the new ad serving application
  • A designated project manager in your own group

How does it affect you?

I’ve lived through several ad serving changeovers — sometimes from only a peripheral standpoint, admiring and respecting the people who actually effected the change, sometimes in the trenches. Regardless, you can’t help but remember the effort involved.

How much of an impact does this make on those involved in operations? I actually had a very weird dream last night that somehow managed to involve ad serving. In the dream, I was having a conversation with Steve Finley, the outfielder with the Los Angeles Angels about the ad serving options for a start up he was managing in his spare time. (What?!) I was looking a list of vendors he prepared for review — and about 50 more I hadn’t heard of. Where did they all come from? Sweat was forming on my brow. Then, I was interrupted by Colin Powell (hey, it’s a dream) who said our car was outside and Zbigniew Brzezinski was waiting for us so we better get going. We got in the car, Colin tried to drop me off at my house in suburban New Jersey, but the driveway was blocked by a herd of angry deer.

“Changing ad servers” in the same dream with Major League Baseball, American foreign policy and hostile wildlife?

It’s all relative.

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