If there is anybody who understands the need for flexibility and scalability in a system, it’s Chris Yates from Tennis Australia. As the CIO of the governing body for tennis in the country, Yates oversees an IT strategy that is perhaps best known for supporting the organisation’s prestigious tournaments, including the Australian Open and Davis cup.
Each year, Tennis Australia’s workforce increases from 300 by about 1500 per cent for the Open, and the IT infrastructure likewise scales to meet demand. Half a million attendees, including players, support teams, fans, journalists and TV crews descend on Melbourne Park — and the availability of the IT systems is vital.
Beyond the excitement of the Open, however, the day-to-day activities within Tennis Australia are equally important — supporting tennis at all levels. And, in an era when most organisations struggle with increasing data requirements, it became clear that an updated storage strategy would need to feature on the agenda.
“In terms of our digital assets, we generate a lot of content,” Yates said. “But sport has also become very vision oriented in terms of how you do analysis. One of the aspects is recording video of players to analyse their playing — both strategically in how they move around the court, and from a biomechanical perspective to analyse their strokes. A lot of video means you’re using up a lot space.”
Yates cited a recent example where a coach in Melbourne was able to stream video to an expert in Perth to diagnose a problem with his player’s serve.
“All of this stuff is critical,” he said. “And from a historical perspective, we need to look at how people have developed over the years. If you have a look at somebody who goes from age 11 to 15, there are massive changes and you need to track those.”
Yates contacted technology partner, IBM, and asked about its storage area network (SAN) product, XIV. IBM bought the Israeli manufacturer, XIV, in early 2008 and incorporated it into its product set. Yates and his team sat down to talk about the organisation’s storage strategy. “I think we have the best guys in storage and servers based in Melbourne,” he said.
“We have great resources to sit down and say, ‘this is where we want to go’. We looked at how it would integrate with our current server configuration and so on, mapped it out and it looked like a great solution for us.”
It turned out to be one of the first XIV installations, although Yates points out it was less about being first then about getting things working. Tennis Australia worked with IBM, transferring 30TB of data overnight. The system had to be in and working before the traditional two-month IT lockdown period that preceeds the Australian Open. But the organisation uses the system for all its disk storage requirements, including as an interface to its scoring system and as the backend to its website, and has decommissioned its other storage systems.
“We have two IBM guys on-site all the time,” Yates said. “We spent a lot of time doing risk analysis and so forth — it’s the same with any implementation. But the IBM guys are quick off the mark and work with us so we thought the risk was very low due to the level of support.”
Yates also wanted a solution that was reliable and would work well in a disaster recovery environment, and the team has undertaken the massive task of cleaning up its data.
“You need a lot of storage space so you can put it all in, tidy it up and shrink it down to a more usable format — the stuff that is critical versus the stuff that is historical with low access. The other thing is building an environment where things are unlikely to go wrong.
“The key thing for me is that we are not going in a DR situation because of a problem with the equipment. So it’s [about] making sure there is resilience in terms of what you’re doing and, where there are errors, you are able to resolve them without going into a DR situation — which the XIV does.”
In the longer term, the data cleanup process will morph into a data management strategy. Yates estimates the process will take 12 months.
“We are three months into it,” he said. “But it’s all about the planning. We plan to implement after the Open next year in terms of the first major reconstruction of how our data is managed. At the moment we are tidying up but next year we will begin more active management in terms of how we mange space.
“[The XIV] was part of our future planning in that we knew the rate of data collection is becoming exponential with no sign of backing off. It’s problematic in that you have to start looking at cultural shifts and I think one of the major problems we face is duplication. We’re looking to centralise information and thus stop the number of copies.”