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San Francisco 49ers add pace to the team with NVMe flash from Datrium

US NFL football team plans high-performance NVMe flash to power in-game statistics and video decision-making, plus access for scouts to player databases during draft

US gridiron football team the San Francisco 49ers has opted to deploy NVMe-based flash storage from Datrium to provide the performance needed to support in-game coaching and scouting decision-making.

The move was driven by the expansion of the organisation following a move to a new stadium, along with increased use of technology to support statistics and video-driven decision-making.

Video is used during a game by coaches to review, for example, the opposition’s defensive setup and to counter it.

Meanwhile, statistical data – of college players, for example – is used during games, but is also vital to the 49ers scouting operations during the draft, where clubs get to pick new players.

Here, decisions about individuals need to be made by coaches very quickly, with five minutes per draft pick allowed by league regulations.

In all these cases, information in video or data form has to be delivered very rapidly and reliably to team staff.

“These are multimillion-dollar decisions,” said 49ers corporate partnerships vice-president Brent Schoeb.

Datrium will replace a legacy storage estate comprising four different suppliers’ products that “didn’t speak to each other as well as they could”, according to Schoeb, and which had begun to lag in terms of performance and were nearing capacity.

“We needed to make a decision. We were bursting at the seams in terms of performance. We were at full capacity for the entire organisation,” he said.

“We’ll be leaning on technology to get competitive advantage. It’s all about making the right decision on draft day. If you don’t draft well, you’re not a good NFL team”
Brent Schoeb, SF 49ers

“It was either add more to the storage we had, or scrap the old system and consolidate on something new,” said Schoeb.

So, the 49ers decided to opt for NVMe-based flash storage from Silicon Valley neighbour Datrium. The team will deploy two DVX systems, each comprising four data nodes and four compute nodes.

Each compute node comprises server hardware with NVMe flash and Datrium software, while data nodes each have 12 drives of 4TB capacity to make a total of just under 400TB.

Schoeb said all critical data would be migrated to Datrium.

Datrium is one of a set of emerging flash storage makers focused on NVMe. NVMe is a subset of PCIe. It comes in card form factor and offers hugely increased I/O performance and lower latency than existing flash products that use the SCSI protocol, a spinning disk-era connectivity method.

NVMe boosts flash performance exponentially by doing away with SCSI. That can be done by slotting it into servers, but a key stumbling block to achieving NVMe’s potential in a shared storage environment is the ability to handle controller functionality at speeds that don’t bottleneck I/O.

Datrium’s answer to this is to put NVMe cards and controller functionality in host servers, with a claimed performance premium of two to four times over SCSI-connected flash.

“We’ll be leaning on technology to get competitive advantage. There are constraints such as the salary cap, so we have to use technology and statistics to get the advantage,” said Schoeb.

“It’s all about making the right decision on draft day. If you don’t draft well, you’re not a good NFL team,” he said. “And on the coaching side it’s all about the use of video to call the right play.” 

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