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Service delivery

Mat Pemble, information and communications technology manager of the International Tennis Federation, explains how the organisation is going from strength to strength online

The way the world consumes sports is changing. The internet is set to become as pervasive as radio or TV and the hunger for online content is growing. In the UK alone sports video accounted for 46 per cent of all online TV consumed in 2007, with this set to treble to a total of 1.3billion streams in 2012. The potential for rapid growth is huge, which is why the industry has to act now to put the managed hosting infrastructure in place to avoid missing out on this opportunity or failing to meet this new demand.

The internet offers a significant opportunity for the International Tennis Federation (ITF). Not only can it deliver audiences and potential revenues that might otherwise have been unreachable, but it can help promote and expand the interest in tennis. Since 2005 the ITF has partnered with NTT Europe Online to deliver Davis Cup over the internet with live point-by-point scoring and statistics at all 23 World Group ties, together with a full news and results service.

With opportunity, however, always comes challenge and risk. The challenge for the ITF was to equip the team with the technical know-how to put the right infrastructure in place. The risk was that if it wasn’t done properly, then the customer experience would be poor, interest could wane and potential revenues would be lost. Consumers expect available and responsive sites, along with seamless access to rich media such as video and live streaming. If the site fails to deliver these, then tennis fans will find what they need elsewhere in a matter of clicks. For the Davis Cup, this might mean both other tennis portals and also sports news sites.

When it comes to sporting events online, live delivery events leave no room for error. As a developing medium, the frustration of losing a live feed due to a technical glitch could be enough to shatter fans’ confidence in online sports broadcasting. The Davis Cup website is part of the ITF’s aim of promoting tennis across the world and is its biggest property in terms of traffic volumes. If it is unavailable, that not only damages that day’s visitor figures, but also the Davis Cup brand and the ITF’s goal of delivering tennis to more people.

Keeping the Davis Cup site available was paramount, so we started by ensuring our managed hosting provider ticked all the boxes when it came to service level agreements. To host the site and online activities the ITF works with NTT Europe Online, a managed hosting provider with a track record in delivering online events of all sizes and is ISO27001 compliant. This means that it has its own business continuity plan in place; we know our data is completely secure and it acts as added reassurance that our service level agreements will be met.

Scalability was a key consideration when it came to coping with potentially huge spikes in web traffic. Technology that could respond to the fluctuating level of demand and ensure availability was crucial. One solution was a content delivery network (CDN), which involves a network of cache servers placed strategically across the globe. If there is a surge in demand the traffic is automatically diverted and balanced out over the supporting cache servers – meaning no one server is overloaded and the optimum performance of the site is maintained.

This also works when there are multiple spikes in traffic from different locations. For instance, when Spain faced the USA in the semi-finals of the World Group this year spikes were registered in two separate continents. Having a global server network allowed the load to be spread across a number of different cache servers, maintaining availability for those fans watching in both the US and Spain.

Using a CDN also meant that we could use as much or as little server capacity as needed on a pay-as-you-go basis. The result was the peace of mind that comes with knowing we had the technological support needed without the huge upfront expenditure.

There is no denying the potential that the internet can offer sports and media companies and the most successful companies are already investing in the right infrastructure to fully exploit this. For the ITF the opportunity is huge, not just to promote one of the world’s most recognisable sporting brands in the Davis Cup, but also to push the boundaries of tennis. Those that invest in the right technology and infrastructure and initiate the right partner relationships today can capitalise on the amazing opportunities that this represents to the sports industry tomorrow.

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