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How Major League Baseball’s streaming provider knocks it out of the park

The CTO of the world’s leading Internet sports content service explains his home-run network strategy


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Back in 1987 when he was just a teenager, Joe Inzerillo got his first job in baseball, working part-time for the Chicago White Sox. Part of his gig involved recording games onto VHS tapes.

Today, Inzerillo is CTO and senior VP at Major League Baseball Advanced Media. Based in New York, MLBAM was founded in 2000 to manage Internet rights for all 30 Major League Baseball teams. Now it specializes in developing and delivering digital content and applications for sports entertainment clients like ESPN and World Wrestling Entertainment.

Joe Inzerillo, MLBAM

Joe Inzerillo,
MLBAM

With 10 million streams per day, MLBAM is the world’s top live video streaming service for sports content. Its At Bat mobile app is also the highest grossing sports app of all time.

Picking the right equipment is a big deal for any sports team. For MLBAM’s tech team, Inzerillo has chosen to outfit his players with Cisco’s Unified Computing System (UCS). It packs virtualization, network access, storage access and computing power into a centralized architecture for data centres.

Here’s where Cisco can rattle off impressive stats like Jonah Hill’s character in Moneyball; it says UCS cuts provisioning times (by 84 per cent), cabling (77 per cent), management costs (61 per cent) and power and cooling costs (54 per cent).

Inzerillo talked up UCS at a Cisco-sponsored media event in Toronto recently.

“We’re definitely two to three times more efficient when it comes to building data centres with UCS,” he said, adding he likes the “elasticity” of UCS.

Although Inzerillo deals with cutting edge technology, he’s a 27-year veteran of the baseball business. He told me he’s also a lifelong fan of the game. So baseball fans like him – his end users – are top-of-mind in everything he does at MLBAM. No wonder he makes building IT networks and applications sound kind of like building a baseball team:

It all has to mesh: Superstar players can’t win games alone; they have to play well as a team. Like interoperability and integration in IT. “(UCS) is about having a management architecture that actually supports playing that stuff well,” said Inzerillo. “It’s not just a bunch of pizza boxes that are now in one physical container.”

Build it and they will come: MLBAM has embraced emerging technology from day one, launching its first mobile app and live video stream way before mass markets existed for either. Risky, but it positioned them ahead of the curve. Building a network that’s in front of the curve allows you to innovate, too. (Bonus trivia: The line from Field of Dreams line is actually “Build it and he will come.”)

It’s about end users: It doesn’t matter how cool a technology is if it’s not relevant to your users, Inzerillo said. In his case, that means baseball fans. “Context is everything with mobile if you use it in the right way,” he said. “There’s a lot of stuff we can do that’s really cool. But is it really stuff (fans) are gonna do everyday?”

In technology, as in baseball, strategy matters as much as (if not more than) equipment. As Yogi Berra so eloquently put it, “Baseball is 90 per cent mental. The other half is physical.”

MLBAM unified communications Cisco UCS

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