Home Sweet Dome
If you don’t believe that everything is bigger in Texas, then take a look at the new stadium for the Dallas Cowboys.
The $1 billion-plus, 3.2-million-square-foot facility in Arlington, Texas, is the largest domed stadium in the NFL. Two steel arches that soar 320 feet above the playing field support a retractable roof that is the longest single-span roof structure in the world. The new home for the storied football franchise is an architectural marvel that features bleeding-edge technology to give fans the best experience possible, including the world’s largest high-definition video board hanging from the roof above the 50-yard line.
Two video screens facing the sidelines are 70 feet tall and 60 yards in length, spanning the field from one 20-yard line to the other. Two large end-zone video boards are also attached to the roof, giving every fan access to live game footage as well as instant replays and pre- and post-game shows that feature interviews with players and coaches.
“What makes these video boards unique is there’s no bad seat in the house. You get a great view of the game whether you’re looking on the field or at the video boards,” says Scott Purcel, the Cowboys’ broadcasting director.
Since February, Cowboys CIO Pete Walsh and his team of 11 IT staffers have raced to install the IT infrastructure in the new stadium, which includes a new data center with 127 Hewlett-Packard blade servers and a new 100 terabyte storage area network (SAN) using HP’s StorageWorks 8100 Enterprise Virtual Array systems. The team built a high-speed communications network with Cisco Systems equipment that includes Wi-Fi, IP phones and an IP television system that will broadcast content to 2,900 flat-screen Sony televisions throughout the stadium, showing live game footage, advertising and menus at the concession stands. The team also installed 185 IP security cameras to safeguard the facility.
The new data center supports not only the team’s operations but team owner Jerry Jones’ 30-plus companies in more than 90 locations. That’s a total of 400 employees, including real estate developments, two MRI centers, oil and gas companies and 35 pro shops that sell team apparel and other merchandise.
“We support the football club, the cheerleaders, the scouting and medical staff, as well as the concession stands and the merchandise stores,” Walsh says. “But it’s not just football, so you can understand the logistics and challenges we have trying to keep everything running.”
Inside the Data Center
Providing 24x7 uptime is critical for all the businesses, but for the football team, it’s particularly important on game day. To improve reliability and prevent downtime, the IT department equipped each server with two power supplies, each rack of servers with duplicate copper and fiber connections, and each row of servers with backup switches, says Bill Haggard, the team’s director of enterprise infrastructure. The staff also installed two power distribution units in each row of servers; and if there’s a power outage, a diesel generator is available to keep IT operations running.
Dallas Cowboys New Stadium’s field is 50 feet below ground level. The entire Statue of Liberty and its base could fit inside the stadium with the roof closed.
“We designed redundancy into the data center,” Haggard says. “We can’t lose connectivity or have downtime because 2,900 screens could go blank and could result in no advertising, no menus and no concession sales.”
To ensure there’s plenty of bandwidth, the team laid 250 miles of fiber-optic cable throughout the stadium and built 69 wiring closets. The largest closets, such as the one near the ticket office and Hall of Fame area, feature eight Cisco switches and four 10Gbps Fibre Channel connections to the data center. The smaller closets feature three Cisco switches with two 10Gbps Fibre Channel connections. The team doesn’t yet need all the bandwidth or have enough data to fill its 100TB SAN, but it purchased more than it needed to meet future requirements, Walsh says.
“We wanted to future-proof it,” he says. “Our big business partners like HP, Cisco, Sony and several others gave us access to their road maps and their vision of where technology is going, and that helped us make our decisions. We picked technology and infrastructure that will take us to the next 15 to 20 years.”
To improve reliability, the IT staff is building a second 100TB SAN at the team’s headquarters at Valley Ranch in Irving, Texas, so it can mirror data with the stadium SAN. Eventually, the IT staff will use disk-based backups, sending daily backups from one data center to another. But for now, the team will rely on tape backup using HP Data Protector backup software, Walsh says.
Improving Service, Increasing Sales
The IT department implemented new technologies aimed at helping employees work smarter while boosting sales and improving customer service. For example, the team’s new point-of-sale system, running on Microsoft Dynamics AX software, provides executives with real-time sales information. So during a game, if the weather turns cold and sales of fleece pullovers in one end of the stadium skyrocket, employees can evaluate inventory and replenish the supply at a particular store before they are sold out, Walsh says.
The stadium’s 665 point-of-sale terminals will also let fans pay with their credit and debit cards for the first time, which will drive sales, Walsh says. Previously, at Texas Stadium, every sale was a cash transaction.
“We were losing a significant amount of revenue,” he recalls. “[Customers] were standing in line. They couldn’t see the game, and they weren’t buying sodas or hot dogs.”
Dallas Cowboys New Stadium, the working title for the new facility, becomes the third home for the team. The Cowboys, an expansion franchise for the NFL in 1960, spent its first decade playing in the Cotton Bowl.
The team moved to Texas Stadium in 1971, a decade in which the team won its first two Super Bowls. Texas Stadium, which cost $35 million, is a 900,000-square-foot facility with a seating capacity of 64,675. In contrast, the new stadium cost more than $1 billion, takes up 3.2 million square feet, seats 80,000 and can expand to 100,000. Old Texas Stadium is scheduled to be demolished in 2010.
The IT staff also is installing 700 wireless access points. Ticket-takers are equipped with wireless handheld devices to scan tickets, while staffers at bars and clubs will have wireless handheld terminals to take orders, Haggard says.
Locker Room Technology
The Cowboys, a perennial playoff contender and five-time Super Bowl champion, are well-known for relying on technology to give themselves a competitive edge. With custom software and a database full of archived game footage, the team’s coaching and scouting staff can analyze the tendencies of opponents, as well as the performance of their own players, to help develop game plans, Walsh says.
“Scouts who want to see every pass that [quarterback] Tony Romo completed over 20 yards can do a database query, and within seconds it will bring up the video of every completion over 20 yards,” Walsh says. “We can also look at the tendencies of teams inside the 20-yard line or their tendencies on third down. And with that, we can make better game decisions and build a better game plan.”
Like the new stadium, the Cowboys’ new locker room is equipped with projectors and motorized projection screens attached to the ceiling, so coaches and players can review game footage, Walsh says.
While implementing the technology infrastructure, the IT staff spent months this spring migrating Cowboys employees from Texas Stadium to the new stadium. The team is standardized on Microsoft, so they moved applications such as Active Directory and Exchange Server. The IT staff took a phased approach, moving one group of employees at a time, such as food and beverage employees and the ticket office, Haggard says.
During the migration, the IT staff lugged new servers to Texas Stadium, used VMware virtual machines to take snapshots of applications and data, and then brought the servers back to the new stadium. The IT team then mirrored the data between the two locations, and once the equipment in the new stadium was synced with the data, the staff turned off the servers at the old stadium, Haggard says.
The IT department is taking advantage of server virtualization to better utilize its blade servers. The IT staff is using 212 VMware virtual machines to run the point-of-sale terminals in the concession stands. Each concession stand has its own virtual machine because the Radiant point-of-sale software requires that each concession uses its own Windows Server for processing, Haggard says. Another 30 virtual machines are used as file and printer servers for employees’ day-to-day operations, he adds. The team also bought 25 HP ProLiant DL380 rack servers to run the stadium’s video system and IP security cameras.
Overall, the Cowboys’ IT staff has logged some long hours to get the stadium ready, but they are looking forward to unveiling the technology this summer and for years to come. “The new stadium is a showcase for technology,” Haggard says. “All the technology that is going into the stadium is state of the art for any location, for any business, not just football.”
The Dallas Cowboys’ new 80,000-seat stadium, which can expand to 100,000 seats, is chock-full of new amenities for fans, such as two external video boards outside the stadium to entertain tailgaters before the game, spacious concourses, party plazas with views of the field, and retractable glass doors in the end zones that open to circulate air and give fans sweeping panoramic views of the outdoors.
Here are examples of how technology will improve the fan experience:
- Video screens everywhere. The large video board is centered above the field, and there are 2,900 TV screens throughout the stadium. The team will have nine manned cameras to capture live game action and six point-of-view cameras that will provide aerial views from the roof and views of players leaving or entering the locker room, says Scott Purcel, the team’s broadcasting director.
- Strong cell phone service. The Cowboys are installing a distributed antenna system to boost bandwidth for cell phone users who subscribe to the major cellular carriers. The system will include radio channels for public-safety communication. “Everyone has a cell phone or PDA, and people can take a video of themselves and e-mail it electronically to their friends,” says Cowboys CIO Pete Walsh.
- Wi-Fi. The team plans to provide a wireless network to fans in the stadium’s second year.
- RFID bracelets for children. To protect children, the team plans to install a system that allows children to wear radio frequency identification (RFID) bracelets. If kids get lost, parents can use the technology to find them. The team might also use RFID tags to protect team property.
- Driving directions. The team spent several years studying traffic flow in the area, watching traffic patterns before and after Texas Rangers baseball games at the Rangers Ballpark in Arlington next door. The team has turned the research into a web application. Fans can type in their ZIP Codes on the Cowboys’ website, and it will provide the fastest route not only to the stadium, but to their specific parking spots and seats.
When the Dallas Cowboys approached Microsoft and HP to discuss technology for the new stadium, HP's sales representative knew HP couldn't take on the project on its own. Therefore, he got CDW involved, recalls Craig Ross, CDW field account executive.
Ross quickly pulled a team together to work with HP. "We brought in our best talent in the country to get this done," he says.
"It was a great implementation. The companies gave us their 'A' teams and they proved themselves," says Dallas Cowboys' CIO Pete Walsh.
During an 18-month process beginning in fall 2007, HP and CDW sales teams and engineers worked collaboratively to design, deliver and install a server and storage solution for Cowboys Stadium.
Initially, CDW staffers went to team headquarters to learn about the Cowboys' needs and offer data on the latest technologies. Then they architected a solution that included HP blade servers, an HP Storage Area Network (SAN) and HP tape backup technology.
In early 2009, CDW configured the products and shipped the equipment to the team's new stadium facility. Following this, the HP engineers helped install the new data center.
"The entire process went smoothly," Walsh says. "CDW was able to make sure we had just-in-time delivery of all the equipment we needed. And HP's hard-working team migrated a lot of our old data from the old servers to the new servers."
CDW delivered the 500 fully configured HP desktops and notebooks ordered by the Cowboys. The firm also equipped the Cowboys with Liebert Uninterruptible Power Supplies (UPSs) for the data center.
"The CDW program team worked in collaboration with the HP team to manage the risk of the Cowboys and ensure that the project was completed on time and within budget," says Kelley Hullihen, CDW project manager.
For a year, the CDW and HP team met regularly with the Cowboys' IT department, discussing and demonstrating technologies, says CDW Networking Solutions Architect Lance Caserotti.
"Craig Ross and I spent a month's worth of three-, four-, five-hour meetings discussing the best solution and design that would match the Cowboys' current and future needs," he says.
The HP team led the blade-server design. CDW Storage and Server Architect Joe Ewicka designed the SAN solution. And CDW inside Storage Specialist, Eric Gill, provided blade and storage architecture guidance throughout the process and final configurations.
A visit to CDW's Las Vegas configuration center convinced Walsh that CDW was the right technology partner. He toured the large warehouse where CDW configures and customizes solutions for customers.
"It cinched the deal," Walsh says. "If they can configure the hardware and I can use the equipment out of the box, it saves me a lot of time and effort."
When the Cowboys ordered the equipment, CDW Account Manager Steve Lanci was hands-on, talking daily with the configuration center and regularly conversing with the Cowboys. Even with 11th-hour changes, CDW delivered the products on time, exactly one month after the team placed the order.