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MLB Boosts Streaming With New Data Center

Omaha facility provides Major League Baseball with data center operations outside the path of hurricanes and with more power to stream games.

When Hurricane Sandy ravaged the East Coast last year, Major League Baseball was able to keep games streaming from its New York data center, thanks in large part to league staff lugging diesel fuel up six flights of stairs to power a generator.

To eliminate the need for such drastic measures and to minimize the possibility of streams going dark in the future, the league has since opened a second data center in Omaha, Neb. Located in the Scott Data Center complex and subleased from MLB partner Level 3, the 8,000-square-foot facility represents the league’s first hybrid--or multifunction--data center, meaning it will serve up both game streams and other online content, including mobile applications, team websites and e-commerce.

“We already had plans that we were going to move into a multidata center environment,” says Joe Inzerillo, senior VP of content technology and chief technology officer for MLB Advanced Media, the league’s interactive arm. “Sandy just put the punctuation mark on the timing.”

Previously, MLB had streamed all video content from its New York data center, while mobile apps, websites and e-commerce--what Inzerillo refers to as “the table stakes of a Web presence”--were served from a second facility in Chicago. That function has been rolled into the Scott Data Center, which becomes the league’s main data center.

Inzerillo says the league chose Omaha for a number of reasons, including the lack of hurricanes and a design that makes the site essentially impervious to tornadoes and other natural disasters. Other reasons were the facility’s increasingly abundant and affordable power resources, and the relative proximity to the Western half of the nation, which should shore up streams to fans in that region. He also mentioned Omaha’s status as one of the nation’s primary telecommunications hubs, which reduces the likelihood of any major connectivity problems.

[If you're consolidating data centers instead of expanding them, don't make the same mistakes the federal government did. Read the details in, "3 Lessons Learned From Feds' Data Center Consolidation."]

The new MLB data center--which occupies the largest footprint of any tenant at the Omaha facility--is home to 900 physical servers, 600 of which are dedicated to video streams. Virtualization enables those boxes to act as thousands of virtual machines if necessary, says Inzerillo. That, combined with an 80-Gbyte connection to the Internet, will enable MLB to stream up to 150 simultaneous events. The New York data center can stream up to 125 concurrent events. The league also streams video on behalf of third-party clients such as World Cup Soccer and March Madness.

The ability to support more third-party content--and thus increase that source of revenue--was an added driver for the opening of the new data center.

“For folks who do a lot of live streaming, we see a lot of business interest,” Inzerillo say. “We think the ability to deliver two streams simultaneously from two data centers gives us a leg up in the market.”

What’s more, Inzerillo says, the setup will enable MLB to shift streams back and forth seamlessly between its New York and Omaha data centers, a practice he referred to as “black art.”

“Our goal is that we’ll be streaming baseball from both facilities, but we’ll switch to one or the other if the second facility has issues,” he says.

Inzerillo says the league currently serves up 1.2 petabytes of baseball video each year, plus an additional 400 Tbytes of transient “windowed” content for its partners. Windowed content is content that MLB gets for a window of time before it is permanently archived by the partner; MLB does not archive third-party content.

The new data center already is partly operational, having begun supporting the Web content function this summer. Inzerillo says the site will begin serving up game streams--housed in a completely separate cage--in time for this year’s postseason, which begins in early October.

The league is scouting out an additional data center location that will mirror mobile apps, websites and e-commerce, while the New York data center will continue to serve up video streams in conjunction with the Omaha facility, he says.

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