US Open gets the edge with IBM virtualization technology

Despite rolling out new, interactive technologies and experiencing a 43% increase in online traffic, the US Open reduced the number of servers it needed to power its Web site from 60 to nine during the 14-day event this year.

It did so using virtualization technology from partner IBM, which has long been hosting the US Open Web site. This year it stepped up its use of virtualization technology on its pSeries Unix servers to reduce the hardware needed to support the increasingly popular Web site.

The US Tennis Association, which runs USOpen.org, has seen traffic to the Web site more than double in the last couple of years, from about 2.7 million in 2004 to about 6.5 million this year, during the event that ran Aug. 28 through Sept. 10, says Jeffrey Volk, director of advance media at the USTA, in White Plains, N.Y. Last year about, 4.5 million unique visitors came to the site.

In addition, the USTA made the USOpen.org Web site more interactive this year by rolling out new features such as live scoring feeds, instant-replay information, Web casts and an enhanced point tracker application that provides 3D images of the ball’s trajectory in each of the 18 courts.

The USTA used the latest version of IBM’s Workplace Web Content Management software, running on a System i5 server, to make it easier – and faster – to publish up-to-the-minute content, such as podcasts, slide shows and live radio, all designed to draw in a bigger audience.

“We fully redesigned the site, and we’re producing more broadband content than ever,” Volk says. The challenge, however, was working with IBM to create an infrastructure that would support a jump in traffic, but also would be economical, he says.

Virtualization was the key in addressing the USTA’s concerns, says John Kent, program manager, IBM sponsorship marketing.

The US Open first took advantage of virtualization technology on the midrange iSeries in 2004, but IBM expanded the use of virtualization in the Web site’s infrastructure this year, using IBM Virtualization Engine technologies, including workload management and system provisioning capabilities, on Big Blue’s pSeries.

“The challenge with appreciable growth [like USOpen.org is experiencing] is how do we support that with an infrastructure and do it affordably,” Kent says.

Virtualization enabled IBM to do that. “But it’s more than just about consolidating servers,” Kent adds.

With the p5 line of servers, IBM provided USOpen.org with more powerful systems that include partitioning technology so that single physical servers can run multiple workloads.

“So we no longer had to dedicate servers to smaller applications,” Kent says. “We can manage those servers as a pool and shift resources around using business tools and business policies, leveraging some of the Virtualization Engine capabilities.”

That comes in especially handy since USOpen.org sees traffic increase 50 times normal during the tournament and then drop to average levels the rest of the year. Using the IBM technology, CPU and memory resources can be shifted as needed within the infrastructure that also supports the three other Grand Slam tennis tournaments, the Masters Golf Tournament and the Tony Awards, as well as internal IBM programs, at other times throughout the year, Kent says.

In addition, IBM uses a trio of geographically dispersed data centers to ensure the Web site stays up and running.

“Each site is 50% of full capacity, so if you lose a site due to flood or natural disaster or some other reason, with the two other locations, you still have 100% available,” Kent says.

The architecture also provides a good testing environment, since technology can be introduced in one geographical location, while the other two sites support production environments.

By using such technologies as virtualization, IBM is able to reduce the cost of running the infrastructure, which pays off for organizations such as the USTA, Volk says.

“As costs go down on the IBM side, there is more opportunity to do cutting edge things with the resources that are available,” he says. “So the real benefit for us is the ability to constantly stay on the cutting edge and constantly roll out innovations with the same resources.”

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