The NFL thrives on big, except in IT

For Nancy Galietti, keeping the NFL's IT department cost flat sets the groundwork for an expanding role

NEW YORK - The NFL may have big stadiums, big players and big games, but when it comes to its IT operation, Nancy Galietti, the NFL's vice president of IT, does not use the word big.

The NFL runs three data centers of about 2,000 square feet each or server rooms as Galietti refers to them. The IT operation supports business functions, a growing film collection, statistics on players, and a looming foray into Big Data.

Galietti is modest about the scope of the NFL's IT operation, but not about the job.

"It's a privilege to work for them -- we have such a fun product," Galietti said.

It turns out that many other people want to work for the NFL's IT department as well. The department has about 50 employees and when openings are advertised piles of resumes will pour in.

Galietti has to readjust expectations of some applicants who believe they'll be doing more than IT.

"You have to love being an engineer, because that's what you're going to be doing. Everybody thinks they are going to suit up and play," she said with a chuckle.

The NFL corporate offices are based in New York, and Galietti was at a small get-together recently with some IBM executives to talk about projects to improve the efficiency of her IT operations.

Although the NFL itself is a large enterprise, the teams have their owners and their independent IT operations, although IT staffs from NFL corporate spend a lot of time on the road helping out with events.

The IT goal, Galietti said, is to keep operational cost flat to meet demand for new services. To accomplish that, the NFL has virtualized 95% of it servers and is using virtualization to expand capacity without having to expand hardware usage.

"We're going to try to stay at the level of virtualization because it gives you maximum flexibility," she said.

IBM was hired to help improve the efficiency of its operations through virtualization, standardization, and use of a private cloud. The move to private cloud services also set the foundation for using public cloud resources as they mature, Galietti said.

Most of the cost savings will come through cost avoidance, by getting more out of the NFL's existing infrastructure, she said.

Steve Sams, IBM vice president of site and facilities, said a study the company did of more than 300 customers found that only about one in five were operating at the highest level of efficiency, spending less than 50% of their IT budgets on keeping the data center operational.

The data center efficiency numbers were compared against the company's balance sheet, Sams said. The companies that also ran the most efficient data centers, also had "significantly higher profits," he said.

The most efficient data centers had virtualized their servers and storage. The leaders, according to IBM's study, managed 8.2 virtual machines per server versus 4.5 virtual machines for "basic data centers."

The study also found, for instance, that 92% of the most efficient data centers were using deduplication technologies, and were automating almost anything they could.

For Galietti, improving the NFL's IT department sets the groundwork for an expanding role.

The NFL is developing what Galietti referred to as a statistics initiative, or what might be called Big Data. What types of data it may collect is uncertain, but the NFL has ample opportunity to collect more data, and has tested, for instance, a biometric shirt that measures heart and breathing rates. The NFL has also considered RFID tags in footballs, and processors in helmets.

"My role in the organization is to provide an efficient, cost-effective infrastructure services," Galietti said. And by keeping cost flat, her IT department is earning the right to bring more value to the organization.

Patrick Thibodeau covers cloud computing and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld. Follow Patrick on Twitter at @DCgov or subscribe to Patrick's RSS feed. His e-mail address is pthibodeau@computerworld.com.

See more by Patrick Thibodeau on Computerworld.com.

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This story, "The NFL thrives on big, except in IT" was originally published by Computerworld.

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