Thursday, September 08, 2011

Tampa Bay Rays Hit Home Run with Virtualization That Enables Tablets Applications Delivery in the Field

Transcript of a BriefingsDirect podcast from WMworld 2011 Conference in Las Vegas on how a major league baseball team is streamlining operations with virtual technology.

Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes/iPod. Download the transcript. Sponsor: VMware.

Dana Gardner: Hello, and welcome to a special BriefingsDirect podcast series coming to you from the VMworld 2011 Conference in Las Vegas. We're here in the week of August 29 to explore the latest in cloud computing and virtualization infrastructure developments.

I'm Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions, and I’ll be your host throughout this series of VMware-sponsored BriefingsDirect discussions.

Today’s consensus is no longer around an "if" for cloud computing and large-scale virtualization, but the "when," and what types of cloud models are best suited for any particular business.

The present challenge then is about the proper transitions to improved IT for better business results. Our next VMworld case study interview focuses on the Tampa Bay Rays, a Major League Baseball team that's using an extensive amount of virtualization.

They're also extending the value of virtualization into disaster recovery (DR). And they have just started bringing more and more of their applications, data, and processes out to the mobile tier using virtualization and thin-client approaches to make the mobile device, the tablet, super powerful for them.

Please join me now in welcoming Juan Ramirez, Senior Director for Information Technology with the Tampa Bay Rays. Welcome to BriefingsDirect, Juan. [Disclosure: VMware is a sponsor of BriefingsDirect podcasts.]

Juan Ramirez: Thank you. How are you?

Gardner: I'm doing great. We know that you're a baseball team. People understand the sports side of things, but obviously there's a lot more to a baseball franchise these days when it comes to technology and media and distribution. So we're going to hear some more about how that works. Tell me a little bit first about the size of your IT organization. What does it take to support a major league team?

Ramirez: First of all, coming from a small-market team, we don’t have the luxury to have a large IT department to support the 300 plus users that we currently have. So it’s very important for us to be very proactive and be ahead of the game.

It is a 24×7 operation, especially during the season, which as we all know, is one of the longest in professional sports, with 162 games per year, not counting playoffs. So it is challenging for us, but I believe that we have a great team.

We also have great resources that we've implemented in the last five or six years and we're on top of it. Without VMware and the different products that we deploy, I think today we'd be in a lot of trouble if we wouldn’t have gone that route.

Gardner: I'm glad that you're optimistic that you're going to be there for the full length of the season, well into the playoffs, perhaps even longer.

Why has virtualization, in general, been good for you? As you say, you're trying to get a lot of bang for your buck. You probably don’t want to be dealing with administration issues, time in and out, day in and day out. Why has virtualization been good for your organization?

A lot of issues

Ramirez: Back in 2007 when we first looked out at virtualization, we had a lot of issues. Our main data center was located at our stadium in Saint Petersburg, Fla. We were actually running out of space. Electricity was a huge problem. We kept hearing from our operations department that our data centers and our equipment were just consuming too much energy.

We had to come up with a new data center. We needed to build something else, because we were just basically outgrowing it. We needed a plan to say, "You know what, this is going to be our new data center. We're going to be there 5 to 10 years," without going back and requesting additional space or consuming more electricity.

That's when everything started. We went from a two-room data center room to basically just using half of that room with virtualization. We started very small -- four hosts to manage our own infrastructure. Now we have 10 hosts in production and growing.

Another dilemma that we had was every time we needed to provision servers, or a new application needed to be introduced, it would have taken weeks, if not a month, for us to procure the proper hardware and software to make this available for different departments. So we needed to cut time on that and make things happen faster. It is a fast business.

Gardner: So I understand that virtualization has been good for you, but to what degree have you actually delved into it? Are you at 60 percent, 70 percent, 80 percent virtualization?

Without VMware and the different products that we deploy, I think today we'd be in a lot of trouble if we wouldn’t have gone that route.

Ramirez: Currently, we're at 95 percent. We had certain goals to start -- about 50 percent -- and gradually every year just adding more and more resources. At 95 percent, you can see that we really value this, and this is the route that our business is going to.

Gardner: Clearly it's working for you. Tell me about how many apps you're supporting? What sort of workloads have you have got? To what degree can we help our listeners understand what it takes to support a major league baseball team from the IT perspective?

Ramirez: From the applications perspective, we have everything from our scanning application, which is homegrown SQL back-end, Windows application front-end, and web-based front-end to our finance departments, Great Plains, Microsoft Great Plains 2010.

We also have our customer relationship management (CRM) system, which runs on a proprietary application from Ticketmaster, to homegrown application. Close to 10-30 applications are used on a daily basis from every department and different aspect, which is incredible.

Our email system, Microsoft Exchange 2010, is 100 percent virtualized. And every new application that comes up in our pipeline is basically virtualized. Going forward, nothing resides in our physical server, which is tremendous for us.

Popular website

Gardner: And of course you are supporting your ball club, so that would be sort of the B2E side of things, but you also have a very big and popular website. Increasingly, I have to imagine, the way that you interact with your fans is as much or more online as it is at the ballpark or on the road, right?

Ramirez: Yes. Our front-end to our fans,, is actually managed through MLBAM, a division of

Gardner: Right, so it's sort of a federated, almost a cloud approach I suppose, right?

Ramirez: Correct.

Gardner: Let's get back to what you're doing with virtualization. How has the VMware suite, the stack, helped you out? What have you been using in order to get to that really impressive 95 percent level?

Ramirez: When we started it, we wanted to go slow and to make sure that everyone throughout the organization had a good feel for it, a good vibe. Once we earned the trust from the different departments and other department heads, we introduced it, we showed them and we trained them. It was a no-brainer. Everyone was on board. Everyone loved the technology. Just loved the fact that while it previously took weeks and months for them to provision anything from our department, it's now hours, at the most, which is great.

It also helps us big time with DR. Our second data center is located in our Port Charlotte Spring Training facility. It's easier for us to move workloads, depending on where we're at in the season and the time of the year. We can move a machine from the production main data center to the backup data center and provide those resources over to our different departments.

Gardner: That’s interesting. For your DR, how long have you been doing that, and what have you been using to manage that. That could be kind of a thorny problem for folks to decide what resources to allocate and what to keep in which data center and so forth?

Ramirez: When we started it, it was a very tough decision, because we wanted to do everything automated, but management did not see the need for it. So we actually started with manual processes. We started building a data center down in Port Charlotte. We did some migrations and that didn’t work out too well. So we came back to the drawing board and said, we need a tool that can help us automate this process. This has to be 100 percent automated.

We came back to the drawing board and said, we need a tool that can help us automate this process. This has to be 100 percent automated.

Our recovery manager had just come out and we wanted to test it. We actually beta tested it and received some eval licenses. We put together a quick product to show administration and management how good the product was and how important it was to us, especially in the location that we are at.

The rest is basically history. We have pretty much 100 percent coverage on everything that is virtualized. We're able to take periodic snaps and move them over to the VR facility, where we do a weekly test of each individual virtual machine (VM).

Gardner: Yes. So that must make you sleep a little better during hurricane season I imagine?

Ramirez: Absolutely. It used to be nightmare from June to the end of September around here, but not anymore.

Gardner: Let's move into this other innovative area you have been experimenting with, and it's the use of VMware View 4.6, the latest version. You've been involved with moving into thin clients, virtualized desktops, and I understand also using mobile apps on tablets. Tell me why that's been important for you and what you've done?

250 remote users

Ramirez: Throughout the year, we've grown tremendously. We now have close to 250 remote users. All those remote users need to be equipped with very expensive laptops. It's very expensive and very hard to manage.

We're a small IT department. It's very hard to track down 250 users throughout the year. It's very hard to keep older machines up-to-date. When something goes wrong, it gets ugly pretty fast. We needed to get an alternative and come up with a plan where it would be easier to manage, where it would be easier for them to conduct their work.

We started very basic by putting the in VMware View client. First of all, we set up a lab here and asked a few of our key guys to test and give us some feedback. The feedback was overwhelming. We started with five or six guys, and now we probably have close to 65 users using it on a daily basis.

Users have come back and handed in their laptops. Now, they're strictly on iPad or Android tablet, which is tremendous for us. It's easier for my department to manage. It's easier for them to go out there on the field and just use a lightweight device to connect and conduct business with it.

So it's big for us right now. It should be a huge hit in the upcoming year. With our development department, everything that we are projecting is basically basing it on VMware View.

Users have come back and handed in their laptops. Now, they're strictly on iPad or Android tablet, which is tremendous for us.

Gardner: In addition to VMware View, you also seem to be using an iPad app, how did that come about? How does that fit into the equation?

Ramirez: That came as we started adding more users and receiving feedback. I started using it for my daily management show, introduced a few key personnel to it, and they liked the idea. Now, everyone is basically using that app to connect and do most of their work.

We decided to introduce other departments and show them the capability and how easy it is to connect and get their business done without turning on their laptop -- waiting for it to boot, the VPN, the password, and all that stuff that sometimes gets in the way.

Gardner: I understand you have scouts, managers, you have lots of folks out in the field. They're at ballparks. They're watching ballplayers. They're in the field, and can they just download an iPad app and then sign into VMware View. How do they actually connect in, and what are the logistics for really linking your resources and apps out to that field?

Everyone wants a tablet

Ramirez: Everyone in the organization, I guess, wants a tablet. They come to us, which helps us big time. Normally we do the procurement for them, or if they go out there and buy it, they will just bring it over to us, and by default our installation and process includes that application. It's the first application that they're introduced to.

My department is able to figure the necessary settings on the application and just leave it ready for them and let them know that right now you can just use your iPad application to connect into your resources and conduct, and use most of the applications that you will be using on a daily basis. It's a big plus for us and for the user. They just love the fact that they have a small application, a small tablet, and one application to deal with. Everything else is handled from our end.

Gardner: So this is productivity for you, because you're supporting more users in the way that they want to work, probably with fewer resources when it all comes down to it, when you can consolidate. And then they're getting that added productivity of access to the data and the apps wherever they are, whenever they want to use it. So it's kind of a win-win.

Ramirez: Absolutely. From a management perspective, it’s great, it's awesome, getting apps for a better application and a better system to have deployed.

We've had nightmares throughout the years, lost laptops with very sensitive information. We have to protect users, and there are so many things that goes on on a daily basis. Now if there's an issue, it just takes seconds to correct, and the users just go back in and continue doing their work.

From a management perspective, it’s great, it's awesome, getting apps for a better application and a better system to have deployed.

Gardner: Let’s look at some of the metrics of success here. We've talked about virtualization in general. We've talked about disaster recovery and also the thin apps and iPad tablet mobile-tier benefit.

Do you have any statistics of what any of these have done for you, maybe in the form of hardware expenses or energy use or even real estate? What’s been the return on investment (ROI) for you moving in these directions?

Ramirez: The ROI has been huge. We used to buy 10-15 servers on a yearly basis. Now, we just procure our servers every three or four years. We get hit from left and right with different departments. They have different needs -- we need 10 servers, we need 15 servers. We no longer have to procure those and spend all that money right away. We have resources allocated for it.

So the ROI has been there. As a matter of fact, we did research two years ago and have discovered that on our initial investment for both data centers the return on investment was 24 months, which was probably more than we thought. We didn’t realize how fast we were able to recoup our investment and how much flexibility we had moving forward.

For DR, we were coming from a situation where we had nothing. Everything was in one data center, and if a storm came by, we would basically be out of business. Having a fully automated system in place is huge for us.

Very important

don’t even know where to start and what number to tag this with, but it is very important to us. It has helped with insurance cost. It has helped with just the ease of everyone knowing that if something happens near our stadium, we have our data and we can still conduct business moving forward.

Gardner: Other than the anecdotal side of the productivity from your end-users, are there any hard numbers that you can apply to the mobile? Are you buying fewer laptops, for example?

Ramirez: Yes, we are buying fewer laptops. We no longer need all the extra services that with 250 laptops can get very costly. Instead of ordering an $1,800 laptop for a user, which normally lives 12-24 months, now we can just buy an iPad or have the users use their own iPad, and connect. That makes a big saving for us going forward.

Gardner: Juan, we're almost out of time. I was curious about what your next steps are. Maybe you're thinking about private cloud. Maybe you're going to take that high virtualization and utilization rate and extend it into more of a fabric for your applications or even hybrid activities. Any thoughts around where you're going to take your goals around productivity and efficiency next?

Ramirez: We have very big plans to move ahead and try to be 99 percent virtualized. Private cloud is very important. It's high for us. We keep growing, and our needs and demands are huge. So we definitely have a lot of plans.

We have very big plans to move ahead and try to be 99 percent virtualized. Private cloud is very important.

Coming down the line, we're counting big on the upcoming vSphere 5 and SRM 5. That’s going to help us tremendously. It has some features there that are must-have for us.

Again, moving forward, application development and everything will hopefully be based on a thin app and ease of use and administration for our users. VMware View is another big component for us.

Gardner: We've been talking about some successful implementations of virtualization in general, advancing into disaster recovery, and then also enjoying thin app and virtualized desktop benefits with a view to the cloud in the future.

We've been talking with Juan Ramirez, Senior Director of Information Technology with the Tampa Bay Rays. Juan, thanks so much for your time.

Ramirez: Thank you very much.

Gardner: And thanks to our audience for joining this special podcast coming to you from the 2011 VMworld Conference in Las Vegas.

I'm Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions, your host throughout this series of VMware-sponsored BriefingsDirect discussions. Thanks again for listening and come back next time.

Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes/iPod. Download the transcript. Sponsor: VMware.

Transcript of a BriefingsDirect podcast from WMworld 2011 Conference in Las Vegas on how a major league baseball team is streamlining operations with virtual technology.Copyright Interarbor Solutions, LLC, 2005-2011. All rights reserved.

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