CFL muscles up Web site

Chunks of this year’s Canadian Football League season will play out in real time on the Web as the CFL rebuilds its Web site to deliver content from a muscled-up Internet backbone.

The CFL recently moved its IT infrastructure to downtown Toronto’s Front Street data centre warehouse, signing with Peer 1 Network Enterprises Inc. for hosted co-location services.

Among the Web features in the CFL pipeline are live video streams, podcasts, online fantasy games and searchable statistics. To deliver this content across the required bandwidth and to guarantee uptime, the CFL says it needed an overhaul of its Internet infrastructure.

Moving to Peer 1 Networks was a necessary change to accommodate the upgrades in content delivery and gave the CFL greater control of its Web site, including content, design and the technology that makes it all run, says Alexis Redmond, the League’s director of communications.

“Previously, the League was one of many clients on a single ISP and as such, the implementation of new content, features and technologies was far too slow,” she says.

The new infrastructure allows the CFL to more effectively and efficiently manage its Web site and in turn provides a better online experience, says Redmond.

“As we look to expand our online presence and the content we deliver to fans across the country, we are confident we have the right infrastructure and the right partners in place to make it happen.”

According to Redmond, the League was able to move away from its ISP and achieve greater control of its site through a partnership with Markham, Ont.-based Sun Microsystems of Canada Inc. and content management system providers MRX Associates Inc. of Hamilton, Ont.

The CFL also consults with two Toronto-based managed services providers, Scalar Decisions Inc. and B Sharp Technologies Inc.

“We’re in a better position than ever to reach out to fans and deliver the type of content they are looking for through the medium — be it online, mobile or wireless — they want to receive it,” says Redmond.

New Web sites like the French lcf.ca have been launched and the League has developed custom software applications to better manage statistics and offer fans live play-by-play and scoring, says Chris Sonnemann, senior project lead for the CFL.

The League is also developing a roster management system to help streamline some of the League’s most critical internal business functions, he says.

“As part of the shift, the CFL required the right facility to build and house its infrastructure. Peer 1 was selected for its affordable, high availability network,” says Redmond.

Vancouver-based Peer 1 says its network is based on a series of dedicated high-speed links between all its facilities and relies on peering relationships with over 500 networks.

The company describes peering as an agreement between networks to forward each other’s packets directly across an established link instead of using the standard Internet backbone. According to Peer 1, this reduces latency and avoids additional costs associated with a third-party network.

The technology is powered by Cisco’s proprietary Hot Standby Router Protocol (HSRP), aimed at achieving 100 per cent network uptime. According to Cisco, HSRP ensures that traffic can recover from first-hop failures in network edge devices or access circuits, providing network redundancy for IP networks.

Two or more routers can act as a single virtual router, continually exchanging status messages. One router can assume the routing responsibility of another and the hosts continue to forward IP packets to a consistent IP and MAC address.

“If two Catalyst 6500 switches are connected in HSRP fashion, for example, what you get is two boxes connected in redundant configuration, says Rohit Shrivastava, a product manager with Cisco Systems Inc.

“One box serves as the go-to traffic guy for IP addresses and the other box is completely backing up for that particular IP address. If there’s any failover in the active box, the hot standby router will automatically take over.”

While Cisco also supports the standards-based Virtual Router Redundancy Protocol, Shrivastava says Cisco has made further advances in first-hop redundancy protocol. HSRP has evolved into Gateway Load Balancing Protocol to provide automatic load sharing, he says.

Peer 1’s network is fault-tolerant because it uses multiple exit points to the Internet, says Tamara Hossack, Toronto city manager for Peer 1. The Toronto data centre, for example, can connect to Montreal, Chicago, New York or Vancouver.

“Redundancy at every level exists because there is no single point of failure, she says. “When there are multiple exits, you don’t depend on just one system.”

The Peer 1 data centre also provides an emergency power system, with uninterrupted power supply (UPS) units and backup generators. The Toronto data centre was unaffected by the 2003 blackout, says Hossack.

The CFL’s Sonnemann says the League called on Scalar Decisions Inc. to help implement high-availability firewalls and load-balanced servers.

The company was originally tasked with making sure the CFL infrastructure was reliable and scalable, says Roger Singh, CTO of Scalar.

“We’re just juggling things around to ensure better availability and throughput,” says Singh.

One of the first steps Singh took was to consolidate the CFL’s fan site with its in-house stats site. This meant moving the fan site’s Sun Fire 64-bit servers and storage to the CFL’s co-location site at Peer 1.

Additional Sun servers are being deployed to accommodate load balancing and to support the growth of new CFL communities, such as a media and communications Web site, says Singh.

As well, Singh advised the CFL to register its contract with Peer 1 under the CFL’s name. Previously, the League’s data centre was maintained at Peer 1 by B Sharp Technologies.

B Sharp is working with the CFL in the development of its roster management system and in-house stats site.

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