IBM’s Systems at the U.S. Open Continue to Evolve
September 5, 2006 Timothy Prickett Morgan
IBM doesn’t sponsor the technology behind the U.S. Open tennis tournament just because its executives like to have box seats at the stadiums in Flushing Meadows, Queens, where the Open is held. Big Blue sponsors the U.S. Open, which is managed by the U.S. Tennis Association, because the systems behind the competition can be used to demonstrate the server hardware and software technology that IBM is trying to peddle to other companies.
Every year, the systems that IBM uses to host the U.S. Open and several other global tennis events change, just like the systems do in your own data center. The fans who are interested in tennis want more features on the Web site that details the event, just like your own end users, customers, and partners want you to provider richer applications.
This year, the hot new application at the U.S. Open is called PointTracker, which is a variant of a feature that was initially tested last year as part of the scoreboard system that IBM built. With PointTracker, people who are not able to attend a match can watch a 3D representation of a match. This application is based on real-time telemetry data provided by the HawkEye system, which was installed this year as a computerized linesman. HawkEye consists of 10 cameras that are installed in both Ashe and Armstrong stadiums, and these cameras watch where the ball is and can provide instant replay capabilities when there are disputes about whether or not a ball is in or out. IBM is taking the data generated by the cameras and rendering it in real-time, so fans can watch a virtual match from the U.S. Open Web site. Not only that, but you can drop yourself down into the match and rotate the view around. This data capture is actually performed by PCs and pumped out to the site, which is hosting the Flash-based 3D animation application.
That Web site, according to IBM, is hosted on three remote sets of three System p5 550 servers, for a total of nine boxes. By having the p5 machines in three locations, they can act as hot spares for each other in the event that a network link of a system is knocked out. Each server has six logical partitions, which run Linux and Apache to host the Web site, a scoring database in an AIX partition, and WebSphere application servers (atop AIX) for integrating the applications with Apache. These p5 machines now host the applications that were once running on a mix of 60 different Linux and AIX servers.
IBM always likes to have the System i5 in the U.S. Open mix, and this year is no different. The tennis match is still supported by two loosely clustered i5 520 servers, which run a bunch of Linux partitions and the DB2/400 database. The i5 520s have an IBM-developed data replication package, which keeps them synchronized, and the machines support the publishing system, the scoring system (which drives the scoreboard on the site and presumably what we see on television), and the staging server for the Web site content. The original publishing system was written in Windows, which is why the publishing system has been hosted on OS/400 and i5/OS for many years; Windows servers were connected to the OS/400 and i5/OS platform through Integrated xSeries Adapter cards. The USTA has about 60 people working during the tournament, mostly generating content on the Web site and accessing the systems on the i5 machines. The publishing system has been tweaked this year, and is now based on IBM’s Workplace Web Content Manager software; it runs in a Linux partition.
According to John Kent, the manager of the IBM-USTA relationship, the U.S. Open had a traffic increase of about 60 percent last year, with 4.5 million unique users. And as of last Thursday, the U.S. Open was once again seeing 60 percent growth, with 1.7 million unique users with only a few days of the tournament finished. Part of the appeal is the PointTracker system and the four broadband live feeds that the USTA has added. “The more users come to the site, the more features they use, and the more new features they demand,” says Kent.
Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?