Sports fanatic cloud – Episode 1: Australian Open

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In case you are wondering what’s special about the picture of a tennis ball here: this is autographed by Maria Sharapova. This is special to me as I am a huge fan of hers. I am an avid follower of sports, especially tennis. Two weeks in January are one of my most favorite times of the year. The Australian Open takes place in beautiful Melbourne during this period. Then I eagerly wait for other grand slams.

Like me, IBM cloud is also a sports fanatic. It goes to some of the major sporting events around the world including all grand slams throughout the year. It becomes actively involved by providing the underpinning infrastructure to support data analytics, processing and rendering of data, hosting web sites and many others.

This year IBM has used predictive cloud provisioning for the first time in a grand slam to provide a seamless experience for tennis lovers around the world. You will soon get to know what predictive cloud provisioning is and how it can help not only sporting events like tennis but also other businesses in today’s world.

A few weeks ago, Gerard Frez published an interesting and informative blog post covering the IBM cloud solution to support Australian Open 2013. As such I am not going to repeat the same content here. Rather I want to put a few other facts into the perspective and justify the need for cloud architecture for hosting an event like Australian Open.

Let me start with a story that caught my attention in 2012. Ticketek is a leading ticketing partner for sports and live entertainment events in Australia and New Zealand. When Ticketek announced the concerts of British boy band One Direction in different cities of Australia taking place in September 2013, music lovers rushed to Ticketek’s website. The website crashed due to traffic overload and the huge surge of visitors. It was a sheer disappointment to the music lovers. You can read the story here. This is a great example of how businesses are challenged with the unpredictable nature of data, and faster and impeccable provisioning of IT resources are needed to keep up with this.

In this age of fierce competition, can businesses or organizations afford situations like this? Some situations might be unpredictable. But with advancements of technology, reinvention of business models and business insights, it is possible to be prepared for such situations. When millions of tennis fans around the world are visiting the Australian Open website and the nature of data traffic and load are really unpredictable, Tennis Australia needs to be equipped with the right IT infrastructure and technology. In its aim to provide a connected experience to millions of users around the world, there is no provision for service unavailability even for a minute. IBM has been the technology partner of Tennis Australia since 1993. In the last 20 years, IBM has offered its forefront technologies to help Tennis Australia provide a better experience for fans, players, coaches and media. According to Australian Open 2012 case study, IBM has provided a simplified but dynamic IT infrastructure by means of cloud and reduced the cost per visit to by 35 percent.

The unpredictable nature of data traffic from a sporting event like Australian Open demands a dynamic infrastructure like cloud computing. It has to have the ability to dynamically scale up or down to provide an efficient and robust infrastructure. In an earlier blog post of mine (Clouduitability: Suitability assessment of applications in cloud), I presented different workloads suitable for cloud. I highlighted why seasonal events like Australian Open are a perfect candidate for cloud computing. For 50 weeks of the year, Tennis Australia experiences very little traffic to the Australian Open website. But during the two weeks of the Australian Open, there is a huge surge in traffic and data, which is up to 100 times its usual volume. One can not justify having provisioning for this peak load throughout the year.

If you overprovision IT infrastructure for your business, you are wasting money and resources. On the other hand, if you underprovision, your IT system cannot cope up with the data traffic and demand from customers. The end result is dissatisfied customers and loss of business. What is the optimal solution? You need a dynamic IT infrastructure which can rapidly scale up or down depending on the peaks and valleys of data traffic and demand. Cloud computing is the answer to this challenging situation. In an IBM whitepaper entitled “The power of cloud,” six “game-changing” business enablers of cloud are presented. These are:

  1. Cost flexibility – a shift from CAPEX to OPEX and pay per use software and services
  2. Business scalability – Provides limitless, cost-effective computing capacity to support growth
  3. Market adaptability – Cloud enables a faster time to market and helps in rapid prototyping, development and deployment
  4. Masked complexity – complexity becomes hidden from users
  5. Context-driven variability – supports user defined preferences
  6. Ecosystem connectivity – enhanced productivity through customer and partner interaction

Businesses these days should harness these business enablers to innovate their business models and stay ahead of the fierce and tough competition.

What about tapping into the power of big data and analytics and turning information into intelligence? Wouldn’t it be nice if your IT system could analyze customers’ behaviors and patterns of usage, predict forthcoming growth in data demand and deploy additional resources accordingly?

This is exactly what IBM has done to help Tennis Australia provide a connected and seamless experience for millions of users around the world. IBM predictive cloud provisioning can perform demand forecasts of data and traffic by combining a number of factors and technologies. Predictive cloud provisioning leverages near real time data analytics and natural language processing to extract fans’ opinions from a variety of social media tools like Facebook, Twitter, news articles and blogs.

The latter constitutes the social media sentiment (positive or negative), new technology introduced to Australian Open in 2013. Fans’ conversations in social media (mainly Twitter) are used to gauge a player’s popularity and rank in Social Leaderboard. IBM’s data analytics software and tools combine the data generated from social media, schedule of the play, player’s popularity and historical data to decide when a surge in traffic will be observed. Based on this prediction, additional cloud infrastructure can be provisioned well ahead of time.

This is undoubtedly a remarkable solution from IBM. This is a testament to IBM’s on-going innovation in cloud, big data and analytics to solve real life problems. What IBM has done in sports can easily be applied to businesses to predict demand and provision IT resources accordingly.  You can see from a post by Ian Wong on IBM’s Australian Open website that shows how the same analytic software used by SlamTracker can be used in a hospital to monitor babies in parental wards, prevention of crime and financial services.

We saw earlier how predictive cloud provisioning leverages analytics. In the Australian Open, analytics helped understand fans’ sentiments from a huge amount of data. In real life, analytics can be used to understand customers’ buying patterns to improve sales, customer service, monitor effectiveness of customer promotion and create an efficient business model.

Most businesses will face turbulent business changes ahead. It is the right time to reinvent with cloud, big data and analytics.

I am going to take off my IT professional hat and put on tennis fan hat now. I am thankful to cloud computing for providing such an experience for fans like me. Please stay tuned. I will be writing up another post when IBM cloud goes to the next sporting event.

Senior Managing Consultant at GBS Cloud Centre of Competence

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