iSeries A Serious Player At U.S. Open

IBM's workhorse server is tracking every volley and match during the U.S. Open.

September 9, 2004

4 Min Read
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Michael Borman, the new head of IBM's iSeries product division, chose center court at the U.S. Open last week to make his public debut showcasing how IBM's workhorse server is tracking every volley and match during the U.S. Open's 14-day run in Flushing Meadows, N.Y.

The former general manager of IBM's Global Business Partner organization assumed responsibility for the company's midrange server line 30 days ago, succeeding Al Zollar, who was assigned the task of running IBM's Tivoli software division. While Zollar kept a relatively low profile in his role as iSeries chief, Borman took immediate advantage of IBM's multimillion-dollar sponsorship of the U.S. Open to build visibility for the iSeries line, assembling journalists, end users and key members of the United States Tennis Association (USTA), which oversees the U.S. Open, to discuss the iSeries' role at the Open and his plans for running the organization.

Borman's public meeting comes just days after he was introduced to the iSeries manufacturing and assembly team in Rochester, N.Y., where he was joined by IBM chairman and CEO Sam Palmisano, who is anxious to revitalize sales of the company's server after a disappointing performance in the second quarter. For the quarter ended June 30, IBM reported iSeries revenue "slowed significantly," while sales of the pSeries products tapered off, though to a lesser degree. IBM blamed the sales slowdown on a transition to its Power5 microprocessor architecture.

The USTA said it, too, was making a transition to an iSeries i5 server running Linux on top of the i5/OS. It replaces three Intel-based xSeries servers the organization used for staging, tracking scores, publishing and managing Web content, producing television graphics and feeds, and analyzing player data, such as an individual's serve speed or ball location. IBM was effectively positioning the new iSeries server as the ideal platform to consolidate numerous Intel based application or Web servers.

However, for an executive who had the Midas touch at IBM's partner organization, integrators were noticeably absent from any involvement with the USTA solution. IBM executives present at the event confessed the tennis organization is working directly with the server organization or IBM Global Services, although sometimes it wasn't necessarily clear how the USTA's technology needs were being met. In addition, the CIO of a publicly held furniture retailer -- and IBM customer -- appeared during the iSeries press conference, but privately admitted his company does not currently take advantage of solution providers or integrators.IBM is quick to point out the majority of its iSeries server sales go through partners, such as Sirius, SCS or Solution Technology, and those partners are a satisfied lot. On Aug. 17, the IBM iSeries received the 2004 VARBusiness Annual Report Card award for highest partner satisfaction among midrange servers. The product has traditionally garnered some of the highest loyalty and product scores in the entire ARC survey. However, IBM's iSeries partner base has not grown in recent years, and server-oriented VARs do not necessarily understand many of the recent iSeries innovations, such as its ability to support multiple operating systems, or the benefits of the new Power5 architecture, or its Virtualization Engine technology.

However, those innovations were on display at the U.S. Open, which was the ideal venue for IBM to showcase an on-demand computing environment. As described by Ezra Kucharz, the USTA's managing director, the organization's computing and infrastructure needs are "calm" for nearly 50 weeks a year. However, during the U.S. Open tournament, the operation's IT requirements are "50 times greater than normal," as evidenced by the nearly 15 million visitors to the USTA Web site who view some 100 million Web pages. The organization projects its site attracts some 2.5 million unique Web visitors for what is billed as the world's largest annual sporting event. It attracts 630,000 fans to the Arthur Ashe stadium and surrounding courts and attractions. Building out a Web infrastructure to support such enormous computing needs year round would be cost-prohibitive," Kucharz says, so bringing in computing power on demand fits the organization's needs and budget.

The computing needs of the U.S. Open are being met by an iSeries i5 server running IBM's DB2 database and WebSphere Web server software. Those applications sit on top of Novell's Suse Linux Enterprise Server 9 platform. In addition, the USTA is deploying Tivoli's system management and security software. During a tour of the USTA's facilities, visitors witnessed dozens of networked IBM Thinkpads connected to several Cisco routers.

In addition to the USTA, IBM has sponsorship pacts with the PGA, the Masters golf tournament, the NFL and the acrobatic entertainment troupe Cirque du Soleil, says Rick Singer, who has the enviable job of IBM's vice president of worldwide sponsorship. Such agreements include not only the typical advertising and promotional activities, but technology implementation as well.

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