NHL passes to Sun to lighten IT load

TORONTO — Though hockey fans will be looking out for top prospects at the NHL Entry Draft here this weekend, they will find themselves staring more at Sun Microsystems Inc. technology than at Rick Nash, Ryan Whitney and other

predicted first-round selections.

A Sun Ray appliance — what Sun calls an intelligent thin-client terminal — will be at the centre of each of 30 team draft tables, and will also populate press tables behind the draft floor. General managers and other team representatives will use the terminals to submit their picks to league officials sitting beside the podium where draftees will appear to don their new team colours.

The Sun Ray implementation, one result of a January agreement that made Sun the official technology provider of the National Hockey League and the NHL Players’ Association, is a logistical relief, according to the NHL’s director of Web operations, Grant Nodine.

“”Frankly, the amount of labour in this way, versus PCs, is significantly less,”” Nodine said.

At previous drafts, including last year’s in Miami, team tables and press tables were each fitted with their own personal computers, meaning significant hardware costs as well as labour expenses. In contrast, the Sun solution offers centralized configuration, and an administration-lite environment that Brian Foley, technologist with Sun’s Global Sales Organization, was able to set up by himself in three days.

“”Literally, the Sun Ray is so easy that if they said, ‘We need three more Sun Rays,’ we’d just un-box them and plug them in,”” Foley said. “”There’s zero admin.””

The Sun Solution consists of a Solaris OE server, a StoreEdge D1000 storage array, Sun Rays, SunPCi II PC processor cards for Microsoft Windows support and third-party software from Tarantella Inc. that affords the display of Windows applications in the Solaris environment.

The NHL draft application that Sun inherited with the January agreement is based on Lotus Notes Client and Lotus Domino Server. Though Solaris OE Systems support Domino Server, there is no Lotus Notes Client supported by Solaris, requiring the use of Windows and software from Tarantella.

Due to the short time between the January agreement and this weekend’s draft, Sun did not have the time to port the Lotus-based application to another environment. And because the application is used only once a year, at the Entry Draft, Nodine said the league has no plans to change the application for the foreseeable future.

That means Sun had to make the Notes client available in a Solaris environment and in a familiar form to team officials, many of whom have little or no IT experience.

“”Other than the Stanley Cup, teams consider this to be the most important two days of the year,”” said Kenneth Chin, NHL senior director of events and entertainment. “”For these 30 teams, this is a business meeting.””

The Sun architecture ensures the reliability of team data through redundant hardware, but also through smart cards that track screen data, so in the event a Sun Ray crashes, the card can be inserted into a replacement Sun Ray and retrieve the data from the server.

The draft implementation does not make use of the Sun Ray’s ability to either kill screen information upon the removal of a smart card or require authentication once a card is installed on a new machine. This leaves open the remote possibility that one team could swipe the card from another team’s computer and view its sensitive scouting information.

Foley said the features weren’t activated because the intention was to make the technology as easy to use as possible for team officials. In general, he said, the implementation is not so much about forward thinking as about creating a user-friendly environment under both time and technology constraints.

“”It’s a practical application,”” Foley said. “”This is really a story about interoperability, not how I’d architect it for the future.””

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