PGA on Par to Roll Out TOURCast
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By the time the Nissan Open kicks off on Thursday in Los Angeles, the PGA Tour is hoping that Linux will be able to bring gold fans closer to the action than ever before.
By then, PGATour.com is expecting to roll out TOURCast, a downloadable application first previewed last month at the LinuxWorld Expo in New York, and powered by IBM's Linux Virtual Services. That means that anyone who wants to keep on eye on the leaderboard will no longer be tethered to TV. TOURCast will offer golf fans the ability to track real-time play (as well as replays) of over 100 players on the tour.
While the PGA Tour bills itself as a not-for-profit organization, you would never guess it from the level of ecommerce activity that it has developed over the last few weeks. Earlier this year, the PGA Tour struck a deal with RealNetworks to offer exclusive access to pro golf highlights, audio coverage and player interviews via subscription services through RealNetworks' RealOne SuperPass service. It has also partnered with eBay Sports to sell memorabilia.
For TOURCast, the PGA will offer a two-tiered pricing structure: $9.95 per month, or $59.95 for a full-year pass. Subscribers can check out the application for free under a 14-day trial. PGA officials said the pricing is "in line with other products currently in the market place."
The PGA's initiative underscores the growing importance of on-demand computing, not only for enterprises but for IBM itself. On-demand computing is expected to be one of the central themes that IBM will focus on at its annual PartnerWorld convention in New Orleans.
What makes the PGA's application unique compared with those offered by other sports, however, is the nature of golf itself. While coverage of other professional sports may also involve tracking ball movement or player stats throughout the game, golf coverage is considerably more taxing on servers. That's because Web coverage (like on TV) doesn't only follow one ball. TOURCast has to keep track of over 100 players taking an estimated 25,000 swings per tournament, using balls anywhere on (and sometimes off) the fairway. That load makes data replication as challenging as stability. But load balancing and fault tolerance weren't the primary reasons the PGA chose IBM and Linux, PGA officials told internetnews.com.
"We had to come up with a solution that was cost-effective from a price standpoint," said Steve Evans, vice president of Information Systems at the PGA Tour.
The reason Linux Virtual Services allows for such cost savings is because the PGA can harness the computer power on-demand by the service unit, a measure that equates to the processing power being utilized. But instead of per-unit billing, the on-demand service is averaged out throughout the entire 24-hour period, which means the peak times of the final round of the match costs the same as a replay of first-round action that a user might view at 2 a.m.
Evans said that PGA Tour's internal benchmarks have shown that TOURCast is capable of serving 100,000 users simultaneously. The application will be hosted by IBM's Linux Virtual Services division on zSeries mainframes and IBM Enterprise Storage Servers running SuSE Linux. The PGA started working on TOURCast with IBM in June 2002. It also had the help of a sports marketing and design shop called SportVision on the user interface.
Data is fed in from a database, called ShotLink, developed internally by the PGA. The ShotLink system, which also feeds sites like ESPN.com, actually relies on volunteers to follow players on the course and track every swing with keystrokes on PDAs. That data, in turn, is fed wirelessly on the course in real-time into ShotLink.
In fact, the original goal of the TOURCast project was to leverage the already existing ShotLink database, Evans explained. As a result, TOURCast brings golf fans one step beyond TV coverage. Using TOURCast, fans can follow the leaderboard or even follow a favorite player just as one would in real-life.