Sun wires NHL Entry Draft

National Hockey League (NHL) GMs divvied up hockey’s best young prospects this past weekend using a thin client solution provided by Sun Microsystems Inc.

At the 2002 Entry Draft, representatives from the league’s 30 teams met on the floor of Toronto’s Air Canada Centre (ACC) and, through 9 selection rounds over 2 days, picked the next generation of hockey superstars. With so much riding on the each team’s selections, plus television cameras rolling during the early rounds, the NHL considers the floor technology absolutely mission critical, said Brian Foley a Detroit-based technologist with Sun’s Global Sales Organization.

Since Sun just became the NHL’s official technology partner in January of this year, the technology solution Sun has devised to wire the ACC’s floor is not visionary, Foley said. However, he added, it does show a practical application of Sun’s interoperability in the thin client computing model.

Without time to port the League’s existing customized Lotus Notes application to another environment, providing 30 team tables with access to a Notes Client was a dicey problem, Foley said. For starters, although the Lotus Domino Server is supported on Sun Solaris OE systems, no Lotus Notes Client is available for Solaris – only for Microsoft Windows, he said.

The hockey brain trusts sitting at each table saw Sun Ray thin client – or “intelligent display” – devices running their familiar Lotus Notes Draft app, Foley said. But underneath, when users log in, Solaris started a piece of client software by a third-party vendor, Tarantella, that lets the NHL’s Windows app access the Solaris operating environment. And all of this runs on Sun server, processor and storage hardware with multiple power supplies with high availability and redundancies.

While this architecture may seem a bit contorted, there are many benefits to running a thin client model for the Draft, Foley said. With everything centralized on one server, the system is both flexible and easy to configure and manage.

“I set up and configured the whole thing at my Detroit office in three days … and I’m definitely not a Windows NT administrator. … Then I took it down to the NHL’s head office and they hooked a few clients up to it and tested it there for a month,” he said.

This is compared to last year, Foley said, when the NHL’s IT staff had to set up and manage 40 or 50 full PCs on the floor, complete with OS installs and licensing issues.

The thin client model also offers “session mobility” meaning that when the user plugs in a personalized smart card their individual application pops up, no matter which terminal they are using. Although the team reps stayed at the same stations all weekend, if one Sun Ray just happened to die on the table, the technicians could just pull a new one out of the box, blow the styrofoam chips off it, plug it into the network, and the same session and settings would instantly reappear on the device.

“The goal was to just make everything as easy as possible for non-technical users,” Foley said.

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