Boston Celtics clamp down on spam

Celtics turn to software-as-a-service for e-mail security and archiving

Until recently, the Boston Celtics' e-mail infrastructure was outdated and badly in need of an overhaul.

On the basketball court, the Boston Celtics are a well-oiled machine, dispatching lesser opponents with ease and style. But behind the scenes, the Celtics' franchise recently found that its e-mail infrastructure was outdated and badly in need of an overhaul.

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Celtics' vice president of technology Jay Wessel said over the years he had built up layers of filters and spam tools, to sit on top of Microsoft Exchange, some that were homegrown and others purchased from vendors. Wessel wanted to get rid of this patchwork of tools and find a single vendor to manage his e-mail security and archiving.

"It just started to become unmanageable," Wessel says. "There were too many places, too many points of failure where mail could be stuck in queues. It was time to overhaul that infrastructure."

Wessel decided to go with a software-as-a-service program and considered Google's Postini and Mimecast, ultimately choosing Mimecast. The two vendors seemed to offer similar technology, but Wessel liked that Mimecast was a "small young nimble company," joking that he preferred not to deal with "big bad Google." 

Mimecast's e-mail management service handles all spam filtering and archiving off-site. The company has data centers on multiple continents "so a catastrophe in one data center isn't going to kill my e-mail," Wessel says.

The Celtics, who have about 100 end users, switched over to Mimecast at the beginning of 2009. The cost ended up being less than the price of Wessel's subscription updates for his other e-mail filtering tools, and saved him a lot of time on maintenance. That's important given that Wessel is one of only two IT pros with the team.

"I used to have to look at mail queues constantly," he says. "Now in the Mimecast world I don't touch it."

Wessel knows it's working because "I have a very loud user community. If they're getting too much mail, they're going to let me know. And if there's mail they're not getting that they should be getting, they're going to let me know."

Before moving to Mimecast, the Celtics suffered various e-mail outages, but no major virus attacks in the last five years.

"I started building spam filters over 10 years ago," Wessel says. "I was doing a really good job of keeping viruses and spam out. I was nervous about moving but I also knew it was time. It outgrew me and I really needed to move on."

Now that Wessel has solved his e-mail problem, he can focus more time on providing services to the Celtics' business and basketball operations. Wessel, who is in his 20th season with the Celtics and has been a full-time employee for about 10 years, is based mainly in an office down the street from the TD Garden, where the Celtics play home games. Wessel also spends time at the team's practice facility in Waltham and game days at the arena.

"We're called 'technology' and not 'IT' because we get involved in a lot of different pieces of technology," he says. "The goal for us in IT is to let IT run itself and do things more important to the team."

One of Wessel's tasks is to maintain systems that provide statistical analysis to coaches and scouts, and game videos to players.

"We have some unique mathematical analysis tools that look at the data in unique statistical ways," he says.

Players "get a lot of video specified for them," Wessel adds. "We start with video for an entire game and cut it into little bits and individual plays. We might give Paul Pierce his good plays from last night and his bad plays from last night, plus we might give him the good plays and bad plays of the guy he's going to guard tonight."

Pierce can then watch his tailor-made videos on a TV screen or even his iPod.

IT support for the players is limited, though, since most players have their own agents and support staff taking care of their technology needs.

"Every once in a while a player will come and say 'I'd like you to set me up with a laptop and give me an e-mail address' and we do it," Wessel says.

The Celtics' main goals are, of course, to win basketball games and sell tickets, and IT is there to support both. Wessel is helping the franchise perform ongoing upgrades in the Garden.

Video upgrades have been on Wessel's agenda this year.

"We are slowly upgrading the entire stadium to Cisco StadiumVision, their interactive high-def TV systems," Wessel says. Screens in concourses will show a mix of game play, statistics and marketing content, while in expensive suites fans will be able to use an IP phone to change content on the TV, he says.

Wessel isn't the world's biggest basketball fan, but he's glad to be part of the Celtics franchise. "It's much nicer than your day to day tech job," he says.

Follow Jon Brodkin on Twitter.

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