Super Bowl Comes with Super IT Demands

superbowl xlixWhile your average football fan might prepare for the coming Super Bowl between the New England Patriots and the Seattle Seahawks by stocking up on beer, chips and guacamole, NFL officials and advertisers are focusing their preparations on the big game’s data and IT demands. And those demands are massive.

Forty-eight years after the first Super Bowl was played, the event has gone from a simple NFL championship game to a global mega-event drawing well over 100 million TV viewers and generating hundreds of millions in advertising dollars. With numbers like that at stake, the game has also become increasingly dependent on data and technology.

The 2011 game at Cowboy Stadium, for example, was supported by an advanced data center with 127 new blade servers, 250 miles of fiber optic cable and a 100-terabyte storage area network. That kind of technology is necessary to keep a big-time sports venue’s thousands of TVs, wireless access points, security cameras and point-of-sale terminals up and running. (Consolidation and virtualization at their data center helped the Cowboys lower their annual IT costs by about $1 million that year, according to a case study by HP.)

Ahead of the 2013 game in New Orleans, data Storage Company NetApp was working behind the scenes with the NFL to ensure the IT infrastructure could support the event’s big data demands. “Preparation of the host city typically takes 30 days of execution as the NFL IT team creates multiple data center sites,” NetApp reported.

The 2013 game created a major, unwanted stir when a relay device malfunction led to a 34-minute blackout at the stadium. Amazon Distinguished Engineer James Hamilton penned a commentary afterward noting that the whole incident could have been avoided by planning ahead with the deployment of a couple of diesel generators for emergency backup power.

“Given the value of the game, the relative low cost of power redundancy equipment, I would argue it’s time to start retrofitting major sporting venues with more redundant design and employing more aggressive pre-game testing,” Hamilton noted at the end of his post.

This year’s game at the University of Phoenix Stadium will feature a newly updated wireless network designed to serve the thousands of fans who are likely to check their mobile devices during the game. (CDW, which deployed the Wi-Fi system, estimates that at least 30 percent of the 63,400 people in the stands that day will do so.

According to CDW, “The new network is part of a stadium technology overhaul that improves the fan experience and business operations for the team through improved networking, data center and unified communications solutions.”

The Super Bowl’s IT demands, though, extend far beyond the boundaries of the stadium where the game is played. With advertising costs starting at $4.5 million for a 30-second TV spot this year, companies want to make sure they optimize their impact by measuring, slicing and dicing viewer and social network data in as much detail as possible.

2015 SuperBowlServices like iSpot.tv, for instance, will be monitoring dozens of television networks and correlating the airing of various ads with activity on Twitter, Facebook, Google and other sites.

“We recognize that technology is not a necessary evil, it’s a way to connect to your fan and the customer,” NFL Senior Vice President and CIO Michelle McKenna-Doyle said in a Huffington Post interview last year.

Listening to fans is also critical for ensuring the right technology investments get made, McKenna-Doyle said. She pointed, for example, to the New England Patriots, who have developed a mobile app based on feedback from their fans.

“The app has everything in it from telling fans where the shortest line to buy a beer is, to where they can find the bathroom with the shortest line,” according to the Huffington Post.

So when you’re watching the big game this Sunday, in between the chips and beer, take a moment to think about all the technology that’s making the day possible. There’s really a lot more going on behind the scenes than most people realize.

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