USTA scores with utility-based computing at US Open

The Williams sisters aren't the only ones who are finding the U.S. Open lucrative.

This year, the U.S. Tennis Association (USTA) has structured a utility-based computing contract with its primary technology provider, IBM Corp., in which it will pay Big Blue for caching, Web measurement and analysis, and Web hosting services based on average utilization over a 24-hour period.

The deal is "definitely a more cost-effective model for us," because the USTA typically needs a 50-fold spike in capacity during the two-week tournament to handle traffic to its Web site, said Ezra Kucharz, managing director of advanced media for the USTA in White Plains, N.Y.

IBM has been supporting the site and the scoring done at the tournament for the past seven years. The USTA manages its own Web activities 11 months a year, "then they turn over their [Domain Name System] to us" to operate and manage just prior to and during the two-week-long tournament, said IBM senior producer Edward Curry.

Under the "e-business on demand" model, surges in site traffic are handled by IBM's Content Serving service, which moves portions of the content-serving workload onto caching servers at peripheral network points to enable efficient content processing. During peak demand, load balancing between distributed servers helps distribute processing requests.

The approach, said Kucharz, helps the USTA handle surges in Web traffic at an effective price point.

"It wouldn't make sense for us to invest in a two-week event on an annual basis," said Kucharz. Though Kucharz and other officials wouldn't quantify the amount of traffic has experienced during the tournament so far, Kucharz said the number of visitors is up from last year, when the site served more than 172 million pages of information across nearly 11 million user visits.

In addition to being more cost-effective for the USTA, the utility-based computing deal provides the organization "with a turnkey system for what we need," said Kucharz.

Utility-based computing offers several potential benefits to customers. For starters, it reduces deployment times by preventing companies from having to build out an infrastructure, and install and test equipment and applications themselves. It also provides customers with improved returns on assets: Customers don't have to pay upfront for hardware, software, storage and the technicians needed to manage those systems.

"There's less investment upfront and faster returns," said Dev Mukherjee, vice president of strategy and marketing for IBM's e-business-on-demand group.

The service also helps organizations like the USTA focus on their core competencies, instead of IT. Said Kucharz, "Let's not kid ourselves -- we're a governing body of tennis."

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