Storage refreshes to handle the New Orleans Saints’ escalating data volumes were coming around all too often, each one consuming months worth of research, decision making, sign off and implementation.
In phase one of the Saints’ pre-season cloud move, terabytes of user data were moved from their local data center to Google Cloud with Panzura, immediately seeing savings within their data center.
In 2013, a cloud technology project changed the game of football forever, and the New Orleans Saints were front and center.
When Jill Stelfox (now Panzura CEO) and her team at Zebra invented the technology that would become the NFL’s NextGen Stats, she needed a leading team with superstar players to test it out.
Jill called on Mickey Loomis and Sean Payton, and the New Orleans Saints became the first ever players to be fitted with the tracking devices that would measure their speed, acceleration, and location throughout every second of the game.
It was the largest, and most audacious cloud project of its time. To make player tracking a gripping and vital part of the game, the data needed to be available in real time. To display player acceleration on the big screen, as it happened.
That meant moving data to the cloud at the speed of light, in ways that had never been done before. Several patents for Stelfox later, the rest is history, and player tracking has revolutionized football, and game day video.
Fast-forward to 2020, when Stelfox was appointed CEO of Panzura, and she realized Panzura’s technology could solve a series of data challenges facing professional sports teams.
Her first call was to her old friends and collaborators Mickey Loomis and Sean Payton, and the Saints’ journey to the cloud began.
In part one of this case study, the Saints move their hardest data – the files people work with every moment of the day – to the cloud, without missing a beat.
Heading to the Cloud
For the Saints, video is as essential as breathing.
There’s training video, captured during practice, critiqued and used to gain micro-improvements in plays.
Then there’s game day video, where the opposing team’s every move is scrutinized, and strategies formed for the next time they meet.
There’s video taken by the team and for the fans, to make them feel like they’re there. Part of the action. Right next to the athletes. You’ll see that on the Saints’ website, and all the socials.
Coaches rely on it. Fans lap it up. Players spend hours watching it – all in 4K high definition.
Championships are won and lost on the basis of video, so the Saints capture – and store – thousands of hours of footage every season.
Then, there’s surveillance video footage, from dozens of cameras. Most of this has to be kept for at least 6 months, just in case it needs to be reviewed, and high definition cameras generate enormous files.
If you’ve ever tried to compress high resolution video, you’ll know it doesn’t respond well. And, there’s little to no deduplication, so every single file needs to be kept, at full size.
This all takes storage space – a lot of storage space.
Breaking the Legacy Storage Cycle
Team files are closely guarded secrets, so the Saints have always kept them very close to home.
The Saints’ IT team, led by Director of IT Operations Jody Barbier, runs and maintains a top quality private data center, complete with all security, temperature control, flood and fire prevention you’d expect of a world-class organization storing valuable and confidential data.
Like every organization dealing with legacy network-attached storage, the Saints have relied on copies to ensure their data is resilient enough.
That means constant backups, and further data replication for offsite storage, so data can be recovered in the event of a local disaster.
Overall, the investment in the storage infrastructure that supports the Saints franchise is substantial, and continues to grow as data volume expands. Hundreds of terabytes of data get turned over every year, with enormous spikes during the season.
Outdated Equipment Was Keeping Jody Barbier Up at Night
The endless cycle of replacing legacy storage every 3 to 5 years was just part of IT life, in the Saints organization.
Every time a refresh rolled around, the team would spend weeks moving vast volumes of data from the old storage unit to the new kit. It’s the sort of “keeping the wheels turning” operational activity that bogs IT teams down for countless hours every year, and makes them wonder if cloud storage could be the answer.
The servers that housed the Saints’ user shares were aging fast.
They held a typical mix of files for the Saints – all the digital team’s video footage, documents, spreadsheets, graphics and design files.
Crucially though, these are files the whole organization works with on a daily basis. They’re the files that keep the Saints franchise running, and they have to be available to view and edit whenever and wherever anyone in the organization needs them.
The IT team couldn’t let those servers reach the end of their supported life. Knowing the procurement process could take up to 6 months, from researching options to getting finance sign off, Barbier had gotten an early start, and was aiming to move to the cloud.
Could Cloud Storage Perform the Way the Fastest Players on the Field Need it to?
The Saints have never used cloud storage before, and from their President on down, the organization had concerns around security that dated back to the earliest days of the cloud.
This time though, the economic, operational and security benefits of a cloud move were so compelling – and the prospect of not having to go through another storage refresh was so attractive – that cloud storage got very serious consideration.
What’s more, the organization now had a cloud data management ally. One who knew the exact data challenges facing professional sports teams, understood the cloud, and had a simple, elegant hybrid cloud solution to make data feel like it’s still stored locally, even when it’s stored thousands of miles away in the cloud.
That ally was Panzura – the unstructured data company. Panzura already had a long track record of making it easy for organizations to move their most important data to the cloud, and making that data “feel” like it was still local to the people working with it.
If they were going to make cloud storage work for anything other than archive data they would probably never need to access, the Saints knew a smart data management overlay like Panzura’s global file system CloudFS would be critical.
The New Orleans Saints selected Panzura as their official Hybrid Cloud Partner, and chose Google Cloud Platform as their cloud object storage provider.
Google was an easy choice. With low latency, high performance and high availability at a very affordable cost, the Saints knew their data would be well taken care of. And, with Google’s pricing based on the length of time data is stored for, the cost structure makes sense. A substantial amount of the heaviest data burden for the Saints comes from surveillance cameras, and that footage needs to be kept for the length of time mandated by the NFL.
All the elements were now in place to let them solve an immediate storage challenge before the season kicked off, as well as chart a course towards a much greater cloud migration.
Moving to the Cloud - Phase One
Transferring all of the data took Barbier the expected couple of weeks. Exactly the same amount of time as moving data onto a new piece of hardware. This time though, would be the last time.
Once the transfer was complete, he switched users to the new file share overnight. They logged in the following day and began working with files stored in Google Cloud, instead of their own private data center.
The migration went just the way every IT manager wants it to. “Nobody realized their files had moved. In fact, the whole shift to the cloud was invisible to everyone except my IT team.” said Barbier.
That's When the Temperature Dropped
Following the Saints’ initial data migration, the NFL season is about to kick off, and Barbier notes their next big data move is planned as the season draws to a close.
“Video surveillance data consumes a huge amount of storage space, so that’s next on the migration list,” says Barbier. “The flexibility of cloud storage means we don’t have to move data until we’re completely ready, and some of our newer storage has years of supported life left.
That means we’ll move what makes sense, and take the cost savings along the way, while still getting the most out of the kit we’ve already paid for.”
As for direct costs, the cloud move is proving to be a very sound decision. Pre-season, the Saints monthly cloud storage bill totals under $250, including storage and egress charges.