Advanced analytics helps Arizona Cardinals

It's a pity that this year's edition of the Arizona Cardinals, a U.S. football team, is struggling so mightily in the field, because the organization's IT team is putting together a championship season. Through a combination of teamwork, timing, and bold strategy, Technology Director Mark Feller transformed the brand-new Cardinal Stadium -- already a crown jewel of NFL venues -- into a high-tech wonderland. Working with IT solutions provider Insight and Cisco Systems, the Cardinals have succeeded in building out one of the world's most sophisticated converged IP networks.

The challenges were daunting: Not only did the new network have to support multiple business operations in both the US$450 million stadium and an outlying training facility, but the whole project had to be completed in 120 days, in time for the first preseason game in August. Overall, the network infrastructure -- along with several architectural marvels -- has elevated the stadium in Glendale from a handsome playing field into a multi-use facility equipped for concerts, business conferences, even rodeos. The list goes on -- all the way to Super Bowl XLII in 2008.

"We wanted to put in place technology that would match the architectural design of the stadium, which we believe is second to none," Feller says. (The structure itself is dazzling, with features such as a roof made of translucent fabrics that opens in two sections for fair-weather stargazing.) "We also wanted flexibility going forward, and that required creating a wired and wireless backbone."

About 800 Cisco IP Phones running Cisco's call management and contact center software do the heavy-lifting required for enterprise-class call routing, voice mail, and other office phone functions. What's more, the network hosts the organization's digital video system, designed to serve several purposes. Before a big game, coaches and players can review game footage on their laptops or monitors, even as broadcast operations personnel are preparing to deliver the event to at-home viewers and in-stadium VIPs, ensconced in well-appointed quarters.

"The stadium, being a very large structure, required a lot of planning and implementation, starting with a cabling system that would be capable of growing with us," Feller says. To better serve onsite workers and contractors, the Cardinals upgraded their cabling from category 3 to category 6, mainly to handle the demands of video.

Feller also went deep in planning for security. The Cardinals have Cisco PIX Firewalls for network perimeter defenses and Cisco VPN devices for creating virtual private links between various locations. Cisco Access Control servers and intrusion protection devices keep watch over network ingress.

For its part, Insight completed the implementation of the fully integrated IP voice-data-video network backbone a few days shy of the four-month allotment. The tight deadline meant that Insight had to deploy the wireless infrastructure as the stadium was being built.

Those connected with the project speak glowingly of a glitch-free system. They are equally exuberant when talking about the fans who fill the 63,400-seat arena, some of whom bring Wi-Fi-enabled laptops and PDAs to the game so they can take advantage of the stadium's wireless network.

"It immerses them in an IT-enabled experience that directly relates to their experience with what's happening on the field," said former Insight Vice President Dino Farfante, who spoke to reporters in August. "For example, IP phones with touchscreen LCDs in the suites allow attendees to play fantasy football in real time. They can buy tickets for future games and pull up statistics. It's a blend of sports and IT on a [new] scale.

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