PGA on Par to Roll Out TOURCast


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.

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