That theme is reflected in the numerous technologies making their debut at this year's Open, for which IBM has provided technical support in conjunction with Tennis Australia since 1993. The event has become an annual technology showpiece for IBM, whose systems run everything from the underlying scoring and player information systems to every aspect of the event's Web site.
Previous Opens have highlighted IBM back-end technologies including its Java application server, 'push' content delivery engine, and on-demand computing power. This year's additions, however, have focused on using mobility to enhance online fans' experience of the Open.
For example, the new Pocket AusOpen service, delivered through Optus' mobile network, provides a mobile-friendly content service with match details, player statistics and histories, and other relevant information. A live Internet radio feed has been added to the Web site, and a RSS (Really Simple Syndication) feed pushes Open updates out to interested subscribers.
Most visually striking, IBM's new PointTracker service -- refined at last year's French Open, US Open and Wimbledon tournaments and introduced this year at Melbourne Park -- provides online fans with a detailed view of the path the ball takes through each volley. The data is generated using an array of ten cameras spread around Rod Laver Arena; the feeds from these cameras are used to track ball movement in three dimensions and deliver this data to PointTracker users.
Another new mobility technology this year is GPS, which has been fitted to seven of the 84 vehicles used to move players and officials around Melbourne during the event. Collectively, these vehicles clocked up more than 345,000 km last year, at significant expense; Open officials hope that GPS-based vehicle tracking, which overlays vehicle location on a map of Melbourne, will slash costs by minimising CityLink tolls and reducing the number of empty trips.
Investments in such technologies may seem to have a questionable business return, but Chris Simpfendorfer, IT/new media operations manager with the Australian Open, says the event's organisers see Web site enhancements as critical to improving the event's profile -- and its ability to generate revenue to support Tennis Australia's annual operations. Nearly 544,000 people attended the Open last year, but its Web site received 17 million visits from 2.9 million unique users.
"We're trying to get the Web site to the point where it is a genuine asset to us," Simpfendorfer explains. "Online revenue has so far been restricted to our online shop, but we've only got two weeks in the year to raise all the revenue we need for the entire year, so our challenge is to leverage [the site]. It's now pretty useful to users, and we're now figuring out how to make that happen."
Despite the enhancements to the fan-facing Web site, Tennis Australia has also continued to take advantage of IBM's new back-end technologies in order to reduce the cost profile for its back-end infrastructure. Since the organisation's bandwidth and server requirements are quite modest during the rest of the year, it shifts the Web site -- run for most of the year on a single server -- to an IBM-run data centre in the United States, where large banks of servers are committed to maintaining performance despite traffic spikes that reach 88 times normal levels.
This year, IBM reduced the cost of that on-demand service by using server virtualisation technologies to consolidate the 60 servers used last year, onto just nine new p5 550 Express servers. These servers, running multiple virtual machines based on the Linux and IBM AIX operating systems, are created and destroyed to match changing Web site demand that can run up to 113,000 concurrent users.
Although visitor numbers are up by 130 percent, the virtual infrastructure has decreased the site's cost per visit by 70 percent, and cut overall annual costs by 35 percent. That's the kind of savings any company would appreciate -- particularly given the challenges that Tennis Australia faces.
"For eleven months of the year, we're a small business, but for one month a year we're a medium to large business," says Rob Dassie, general manager - commercial with the Australian Open.
"We just can't afford to carry all that infrastructure for 11 months of the year when we only need it for one. That's why we don't mind looking to new technologies: we're trying to make the Web site a better experience for viewers, and with this approach we can grow in real time without any downtime at all. That means our total cost of ownership is very low compared with what it could be."