Big Data Is The Big Winner At The U.S. Open
September 17, 2012 Jenny Thomas
Andy Murray and Serena Williams may have dominated the courts at USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows, New York, during the recent 2012 U.S. Open, but behind the scenes, the real action was being served up by IBM.
Sure, it’s easy for the average fan to get distracted by the tennis action, but to Big Blue, each serve, volley, and point is more than just an exciting play between athletes. To IBM, that action is big data.
“Big data is impacting so many aspects of sporting events, that it’s no longer a stretch to say that it is changing the way fans watch and enjoy sports,” said Rick Singer, vice president of sports sponsorship marketing at IBM. “Whether on the court or in the board room, big data is being leveraged to achieve similar goals, such as keeping operations up and running seamlessly, having accurate data readily available for quick decision making, and improving productivity.”
Big data is no exaggeration when you see the numbers. More than 15.5 million tennis fans caught the action in 2011 via the tournament’s website, viewing a record number of 84 million pages from their mobile devices, and IBM is confident they will more than match those numbers when all is said and calculated after the 2012 tournament. Add to that the more than 700,000 fans in attendance and another expected 53 million viewers (based on the numbers of who tuned in last year) and you see IBM is hosting data for one of the hottest sports events in the world.
IBM has been providing the IT that supports the U.S. Open for 22 years, but it wasn’t surprising to learn that while there is an “i” in “tennis,” it was missing from the U.S. Open deployment. Back in 2008, The Four Hundred reported that IBM had ditched IBM i and AIX in its U.S. Open setup for Linux. At that time, IBM consolidated physical servers onto logical ones to a total of six Power6-based Power 550 midrange servers.
For the 2012 tournament, IBM used a private cloud environment built with IBM servers and storage in three geographically dispersed locations virtualized as one. The servers included Power Systems running AIX, System x machines running Linux, back-ended by storage area networks and front-ended by WebSphere application servers. This was exactly the same setup IBM used for the French Open in April, which we told you about earlier this year, and, according to Tracy Sullivan, external relations for the IBM systems and technology group, was employed to support all of the Grand Slam tournaments this past summer.
There was new technology in play this year, with mobile apps taking center court. New for this year’s tournament was a free iPad app that served streams of match data, access to live video, and in-depth statistical information. The app delivered an insider’s view of who’s gaining the edge on the court and made predictions on who would take the win based on the data from the match.
Sport watching is becoming a social sport and IBM monitored Twitter to determine the fan favorites of the tournament using IBM’s Social Sentiment Index, which uses analytics technology to sift through tweets with the goal of creating real-time public opinion snapshots. IBM believes making use of data that is available from sources like Twitter illustrates how analytics technology can identify important and otherwise non-obvious trends to help businesses make better decisions about how to connect with customers.
On site at the tennis center, IBM built the IBM Game Changer Interactive Wall, which was largely an extension of many of the USOpen.org and mobile app features. Fans in attendance were able to interact with the wall to access live scores, match analysis, and data visualizations from the IBM Social Sentiment Index analysis, as well as information about local weather and its effect on player nutrition and hydration.
IBM’s SlamTracker, which was first introduced in 2007, was also a featured player at the Open. The SlamTracker technology is comprised of IBM SPSS predictive analytics software running on System x machines, and leverages historical and real-time match data, featuring maps of player momentum, and key turning points such as aces and winning shots. It also uses seven years of historical Grand Slam data to determine the top three things a player must do in order to perform well in a specific match.
Taking care of data at the U.S. Open has become a showcase for the kind of analytics technologies that are also being used to monitor babies in prenatal wards, help police departments prevent crime, and enable financial services firms to improve customer service. All of this sounds like it could also be a job for the IBM i to me, but then again, I am not much of a tennis player, so what do I know?