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A Grand Slam Solution


Illustration by James Taylor

A Master Example

Being able to see a working example of the technology is important for clients. The Masters golf tournament, held annually in Augusta, Ga., traditionally begins on a Thursday. Analyzing historical data, Singer and his team predicted the website would receive significant traffic on the Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday before the tournament as fans logged on to familiarize themselves with the field and look at highlights from past years. They knew traffic would spike on Thursday and Friday and the amount of data being served to visitors would soar as fans began streaming live video. With the tournament starting on Thursday, a workday, many fans have limited access to TV; however, access to a PC and a network—often a high-speed network—is generally readily available. It’s a combination built to drive Web traffic.

Previously, IBM used a private cloud just like its clients do. But last year the company tried something new and tested a true dynamic cloud. IBM took its private cloud and applied predictive analytics to help understand when it needed to provision or deprovision servers to run more efficiently. “We took a look at a variety of factors, like who was on the course at the time, what the twittersphere was saying, what live video streams were driving interest. We found that this confluence of those factors, as well as others, track and mirror our Web traffic very, very well,” Singer says. “The formula we came up with has helped us more effectively and efficiently use our whole infrastructure to address when we believe those traffic peaks will take place. We know, in general, what’s going to happen, but this has really helped us fine-tune it pretty dramatically.”

The objective of IBM’s technological solution is to manage the unpredictable. Retailers understand this challenge all too well. The financial sector deals with similar issues on a daily basis. When it comes to managing website traffic during a major sporting event, traffic can spike when suddenly confronted with a hyper-competitive situation, or website visits can plummet due to inclement weather.

“At the 2008 U.S. Open [golf tournament], Tiger Woods and Rocco Mediate played in a playoff on a Monday. Because everyone was back at work, they were watching the playoff round on the Web. We had more traffic, more video stream that day, that Monday, than we had the previous week combined,” Singer says. “Again, that wasn’t predictable. You can guess that something like that can happen, but we needed to have an infrastructure in place that could really handle that. We were prepared. If the 2013 Masters playoff between Adam Scott and Angel Cabrera went to Monday, we could have handled it. I was attending the tournament and it was getting dark. They might have gotten another hole in, maybe two. We would have gone to Monday and we would have been swamped, but we wouldn’t have had a problem handling it.”

Educating Clients

It isn’t only Singer and his team who are in the background at these major sporting events. Along with the pageantry and the competition, these are excellent venues to educate clients on the relevancy of the technology solutions being deployed. Singer says if and when an IBM client is attending an event, the IBM team will take that client “behind the curtain” to get a glimpse of the technological infrastructure in action.

“It’s always interesting when we bring clients who are attending these events behind the scenes, take them to the Web operations room and talk to them about the infrastructure. We’ll talk a lot about our cloud and what we’re doing with Power technology. It really begins to click for them,” Singer says. “It’s really mixing those personal and professional reference points that make these much more impactful. If we’re going to do that successfully, we have to deploy the same technology our clients buy. That’s why we’re always looking at how we update our infrastructure we’re using. How do we make it more flexible and efficient to address the challenges our customers will face in the future?”

Mobile Madness

If they aren’t already, one of the challenges organizations will face is accommodating increasing mobile traffic and expectations from mobile users. Websites once focused exclusively on visits from desktop users are quickly seeing their mobile traffic increase, a trend that’s guaranteed to continue.

“The explosion of platforms has really changed everything. If you go back probably five or six years ago, basically you had a website and you had a mobile site like m.Masters.com. Those two sites would enable you to reach your entire audience. Mobile was probably 10 percent of overall page views and visitors,” Singer says. “Slowly but surely we’ve added platforms. You go from m.com to iPhone and Android apps, then iPad apps and also, importantly, we do what we call tablet-optimized websites. When a visitor on an iPad comes to USOpen.com this year, it’s quite possible that they may not want to use an iPad app and are there only to browse the site. Those visitors will see a site optimized for an iPad.”

Doug Rock is publisher of IBM Systems Magazine. Doug can be reached at drock@msptechmedia.com.



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