Server Farming

Feb 2 2009   5:52PM GMT

NFL’s biggest game supported by IBM’s smallest system

Bridget Botelho Bridget Botelho Profile: Bridget Botelho

If you watched the Steelers win their sixth Super Bowl last night, everything you heard from the press and all the stats from NFL.com came from IBM’s BladeCenter S system.

Yup, all the operations for the largest sporting event in America ran on IBM’s smallest systems, the BladeCenter S, which is similar in size to a briefcase.

In addition to the big game, next month, IBM will officially announce that every one of the NFL’s 32 teams will be standardizing on BladeCenter S, according to Alex Yost, VP of IBM BladeCenters.

The BladeCenter S is actually designed for small to medium sized businesses that don’t have their own data center and need a compact, all-in-one piece of equipment, according to IBM. It is esentially a data center in a box that contains up to six IBM BladeCenter servers, 9 terabytes of local shared storage and networking components. Everything in the BladeCenter chassis is redundant – power, switching, cooling, and storage, so there is no worry about failures, either, Yost said.

As it turns out, this little data center box on wheels has made life for the NFL’s IT team a lot easier; in the past, for every Super Bowl, the NFL’s IT staff have had to lugg all the necessary servers, storage and networking to the event site and set up an entire data center within just a couple of weeks, said Jonathan Kelley director of infrastructure computing for the NFL.

As a long time IBM BladeCenter H customer that trusts IBM equipment, the NFL contacted IBM last year for some help setting up for the 2008 SuperBowl in Arizona - which this New England fan dares not discuss – and heard about the BladeCenter S.

“When the NFL came to IBM to help them set up multiple data centers for last years Super Bowl, our IBM BladeCenter S was still about three weeks away from deployment, but the NFL was confident enough in IBM to use a brand new type of server, and it went off without a hitch,” Yost said.

To support the operations of Super Bowl 44 last night, the NFL used four BladeCenter S chassis with eight, quad-core processor powered blade servers in them and about eight virtual machines running on each server to support security and credentialing for 60,000 temporary employees and around 11,000 media personell.

They also deployed about 300 PCs, wireless networks, and other necessary computing functions using IBM’s BladeCenter blades, said Joe Manto VP of Information Technology for the NFL.

“The operations at the NFL are all supported IBM blades. We chose them because their technology has proven itself,” Manto said. “These servers are almost over-engineered for what we do with them, and they are reliable.”

(The NFL wouldn’t disclose which CPU vendor they use, or name a specific virtualization vendor; they said they use a mix of virtualization vendors, but IBM reported the NFL uses VMware Inc.)

The BladeCenter S enclosure also has extra space for UPSs or other components that might need to be added, and plugs into a regular wall outlet and Ethernet connection.

“It is great for events because it is portable and can be configured at a partner site then shipped to the right location,” Yost said. “Also, their own storage can be connected to the Bladecenter S. It is super quiet and could be placed in office environments without worrying about the noise, and both the front and the back doors of the chassis lock.”

A tyical deployment is in the $15,000 range, the chassis itself is a few thousands dollars. Cost depends on the number of servers in it and other configurations, Yost said.

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