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NHL data centers serve up HD video, data for fans

The National Hockey League's infrastructure must stream 40 games a week online in HD and make mountains of statistics accessible to fans.

Peter DelGiacco, the CTO for the National Hockey League, is in charge of one of the most robust sports league Web sites. The company's GameCenter Live application allows subscribers to watch games online in high-definition, in real-time. Other non-paid sites on allow fans to see up-to-the-second statistics for ongoing games, such as how many shots a particular player has taken, and from where on the ice. DelGiacco must make sure those applications go smoothly or face a bunch of angry hockey fans, which is never a good thing. DelGiacco sat down with SearchDataCenter at the Gartner Data Center Conference in Las Vegas last week to talk about how he does it.

Tell me about the GameCenter Live online application and the infrastructure that supports it.

This is the third year. The first year I think it was just one game. Now you can watch up to four games at one time. You can time-shift the game. You can chat with your fellow fans during the game, or with the opponent's fans.

It's very expensive to move video. If you were to ask me what one of my biggest challenges is, it's really moving video and data around our network in a timely fashion. We have two data centers, one in New York and one in Pennsylvania. Most of the dotcom stuff is served out of Pennsylvania. That all basically runs on Sun boxes, Solaris, Apache. We use Java.

All I care about is serving up my pages to the fans. They get what they want in a timely manner. Meanwhile, we need to make sure we're getting every drop of CPU out of the boxes.
Peter DelGiacco
Chief Technology OfficerNational Hockey League

So how do you ensure the performance of those applications? If there's any outage or lagtime, I'm sure you hear about it.

At the end of the day, all I care about is serving up my pages to the fans. They get what they want in a timely manner. Meanwhile, we need to make sure we're getting every drop of CPU out of the boxes. We've uncovered underutilized CPU capacity at certain times of the day.

We still have a lot of work to do to figure out the right configuration we need to be at to serve the page views and support the business in the next few years. You need quick insight because you need to adjust quickly. There are a lot of things that are coming that are changing and you can't just guess.

I would imagine that the dotcom side of the business is mostly busy during gametime. So what are those servers doing during off-hours?

Yes, we have our peaks, and it ramps up less on a one-game night than a 15-game night. But we use those servers solely for the purpose of supporting those Web pages. The key for us isn't that we need to use those Web servers to do other things. The key is that I don't want to buy any more servers for a long time, if I can help it. Or if I need to spend it, I can justify it from an ROI perspective.

We have different infrastructures that support different parts of the business. We have a couple AS/400s. They do very well for processing the data. The data is what drives everything, it feeds 80 to 90 percent of our applications: scoring, central registry, you've got your scouting, you've got your coaching tools. There's a dashboard of about four pages that Gary [Bettman, NHL commissioner] gets and it tells him the rundown of where we compared to the last five years on the amount of goals scored, what are the particular penalties. They're changing the rules and they need to know what the impact is.

There are a lot of different pieces of technology we use for other parts of the business. So I'm not so concerned about using that for something else. I want that sitting right there for when I need it.

What are you focused on moving forward?

We're going to identify our top 10 workflows, which would allow us to monitor about 80 percent of our transactions and manage our operations better (using Compuware software). I'm looking to have them monitored by Level 1 support. We only have so many Level 2 or 3 support people, and I want to use them when I have to use them. I want to identify when I need to get them in place. That's a requirement.

One thing I've learned is that just because the data center has all green bars doesn't mean our customers are satisfied. I've been guilty of thinking that in the past.

Mark Fontecchio can be reached at

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