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Case study: Behind the scenes of the IT powering Wimbledon's tennis tournament

Kathleen Hall

As the IT partner at Wimbledon for the last 21 years, IBM has experienced more flying rackets, rain and strawberries than Roger Federer has had grand slams. Computer Weekly took a look behind the scenes at the technology powering Britain's biggest sporting event of the summer.

IBM provides an integrated end-to-end scoring system that delivers live results to the BBC TV graphics, on-court scoreboards, match information displays, official web site and Wimbledon's own iPhone app.

The company's courtside radar gun captures the speed of each serve, immediately transmitting it to the IBM scoring database and displaying the information courtside.

But for more subjective decisions which require a human eye, such as what type of serve the player made, three trained tennis players are on court to do the recording. This information is transmitted in real-time in a few milliseconds to the IBM database. All of this data is made available to officials on the ground and used by coaches to understand opponents' strengths and weaknesses.

Once the information goes into the database, it is cut in various ways to see patterns in the data, says Alan Flack, IBM's Wimbledon client and programme executive. "For example, when looking at the list of players leading on the first serve, it's not until sixth or seventh down that any recognisable names appear - suggesting some of the more successful players are playing a long game," he says.

 

Player-tracking technology

On Court 18, IBM is trialling its player movement software SecondSight, which creates avatars of the players on screen, moving in time to the action on court. The software measures their speed, distance and stamina during a match.

Two cameras are positioned on the side of the court, distinguishing the players from the background and other objects, tracking their movements in real-time during the course of the game.

The tool will aid coaches and trainers in measuring whether players are flagging during the course of the game, says Flak. "It also adds excitement to the fans who can discuss new speed records in the pub. I think it probably will be rolled out across the other courts, it's quite exciting," Alan Flack adds.

Scaling up with the cloud

Last year the official Wimbledon site received 330 million hits, and is on track to exceed this in 2011.

The site now has a PointStream scoreboard, which uses predictive analytics software using more than five years of match information. Prior to the match, this knowledge is applied against an opponent's patterns and style of play to determine the "keys" to the match for each player. The PointStream dashboard displays progress against the keys as the match unfolds, creating a new dimension to following play online, says IBM.

Wimbledon.com is hosted on the company's private cloud, a percentage of which is allocated to hosting the site. Wimbledon.com has reserved a capacity to support 150% of what is expected to be its peak usage. But that will only be reached for a very small moment in the two weeks of the tournament, says IBM consultant Andy Burns.

If the website does need more capacity - in the event of an unprecedented number of people accessing it at once or a power failure - additional infrastructure from IBM's private cloud can be deployed in a few minutes.

"We've had constant experience of tennis grand slams, so we know how they work and the profiles of traffic," says Andy Burns. "It all depends on who gets through. If there are two good matches at the same time, that coincide with the US and UK being at work, with good British and American players, then we could get a lot of hits. We get around 25% of our hits from the US and 20% from the UK," he says.

IBM has been using the same cloud infrastructure for around 10 years, which it has developed over the decade. The servers allocated to Wimbledon.com all go back into the cloud once the tournament is over and redeployed for new events, the next of which will be the US Open, which starts in August.

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