Ottawa Senators overhaul IT before NHL draft

The business team behind the Ottawa Senators is getting ready for a power play of their own: overhauling their IT infrastructure in time to host the NHL draft in June.

IBM on Thursday said it had signed a three-year agreement with the hockey team late last year for an undisclosed sum. Under the terms of the agreement, IBM and one of its channel partners, Itex, will set up System x and System p servers along with VMware to manage virtual instances of the hardware. Big Blue will also deploy its Tivoli systems management software and establish disaster recovery and backup support for the Sens’ data centre.

The IBM contract follows a project two years ago when Nortel worked with the Sens to replace aging phone trunking systems throughout the Scotiabank Palace, including the business offices. These have since been replaced by a secure wireless network and telecommunications platform.

“The staff has grown in our use requirements for IT infrastructure three-fold since original design,” said Cyril Leeder, Ottawa Senators chief operating officer. “We had a whole network of servers that were just really cobbled together.”

Besides having more people working for the hockey team, Leeder said the surge in demand for IT resources has come from areas such as ticketing, which the Sens organization handles itself. About 80 per cent of tickets are sold online, and about 10 per cent over the phone. The hockey club also manages eight different Web sites, including the main Senators site, which Leeder said attracts about three million visitors a month.

“It’s like nothing we would have foreseen in 1996,” he said.

Ralph Chapman, vice-president of IBM’s federal public sector practice, works with the Senators as part of its duties as a location executive in Ottawa. He said the Sens are a good example of why you don’t have to wait for your data centre to run out of space before adopting more advanced technologies.

“Even from a smaller footprint point of view, it makes sense to virtualize early on,” he said.

Leeder said he’s hoping for a fully scaleable system that won’t sacrifice reliability or speed, given the Sens’ need to deal with peak use period.

“Around playoff time, we get a lot of traffic on the Web sites,” he said. “It may go up 50 per cent in the first round, and then 200 per cent in the finals.”

Chapman added that sports teams like the Senators may start to see more consistent compute demands over time, even though they don’t play all year ’round.

“In the off-season, that’s when the season ticket drives start,” he pointed out.

The NHL draft will put considerable pressure on the Sens’ IT systems, according to Leeder.

“It’s a big infrastructure challenge, because you’ve got all the teams working the floor needing real-time data and it’s all wireless,” he said. “There’s also probably a couple hundred media accessing wireless data. I doubt that our old system would have been able to handle that.”

Chapman said IBM and the Sens have worked together for more than 10 years as partners in marketing activities, but this deal represents one of its first projects as an actual technology provider to the team.

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