Fibre Channel powers Major League Baseball

Fibre Channel powers Major League Baseball

Quick access and high-speed digital video streams provide a powerful learning tool for coaches and players.

Zachary Shess

As end users, integrators, and vendors weigh the merits of Fibre Channel, they generally focus on the benefits of enhanced speed, higher device counts, longer connection distances, and storage area network (SAN) connectivity. Few, if any, would hail its ability to help a system administrator hit a curveball or read a pitcher`s pick-off move.

However, major league baseball teams such as the Arizona Diamondbacks and Tampa Bay Devil Rays are leveraging their storage resources, via Fibre Channel, to enhance their teams` performance and efficiency. The players don`t really know or care that it`s Fibre Channel, just as long as it helps them hit the proverbial or literal home run.

Both the Diamondbacks and Devil Rays use a digital video system from Lowell, MA-based Avid Sports that enables users to edit, store, and access game footage through Macintosh-based SportsPro editing stations connected to one or more SportsView viewing stations via a Fibre Channel-Arbitrated Loop (FC-AL) hub. The software allows for situational information to be input for each pitch.

"I edit every play that we have during the season. By taking out all the dead time between pitches, a three-hour game can be watched in about 30 to 35 minutes," says Diamondbacks video coordinator Glenn Goldman. "By using Avid`s software, we`re able to associate all kinds of data with each play."

The clubhouse at Diamondbacks` Banc One Ballpark is equipped with an Avid editing and viewing station, and remote viewing stations are installed in the conference room and general manager`s office. Each viewing station, comprised of a Macintosh PowerPC and a television, is linked to Goldman`s editing station, which includes a Mitsubishi DiamondPro editing machine. Two Fibre Channel hubs (one Gadzoox and one Emulex) help direct streaming video images to the stations. About half of the Diamondbacks` 180GB of video footage capacity (roughly 20 hours) is stored on a series of 9GB Seagate Fibre Channel disk drives configured in a Clariion FC5000 array. The balance is stored on VHS tapes.

Because users often call up situations from different portions of one or more games, having footage stored online in Fibre Channel arrays is key. When combined with a Fibre Channel network, the Avid system provides extremely fast random access to video footage and seamless delivery of different video streams to individual coaching stations.

"If everything is online, you can pull those plays up much faster," says Goldman. "The networking has been key as well because having a bunch of different people simultaneously looking at their own video is really a great benefit."

Likewise, the near-100MBps Fibre Channel Avid system gives the Tampa Bay Devil Rays fast access and, in some cases, immediate feedback during games, says video coordinator Bob Becker. "The beauty of the system is that it`s instantaneous. A player comes in during an inning break and we have maybe two minutes to show him what he needs before he has to get out on the field. Because of Fibre Channel, the footage zooms over to the station for the player to see."

The clubhouse video room at Devil Rays` Tropicana Field holds Becker`s PowerPC-based editing station, two viewing stations, and Clariion FC5000 arrays. Game footage from five cameras in the stadium is piped to an ADC Telecommunications patch panel. A Panasonic WJMX50 4-channel switch is linked between the patch panel and the PowerPC. Becker then uses a particular switch channel linked to the patch panel to get the camera angle he wants. The FC5000 arrays, equipped with a total of 20 9GB Seagate Fibre Channel disk drives, are nearly full. Every 15 to 20 games, Becker offloads older footage onto VHS tapes.

RBIs and SANs?

Arizona and Tampa Bay used Fibre Channel Avid system for the first time in 1998. Both Goldman and Becker say the players enjoy the system, so much so that some players use it exclusively. Budget constraints, however, will realistically prevent either expansion team from expanding into a SAN-type implementation in the near future.

Both Goldman and Becker would also like to increase the amount of online storage capacity. If Goldman could grow his online edited video capacity from 180GB to 500GB, he would be happy to eventually phase out tape. Should disk drive prices remain comparatively high, Goldman has considered offloading game footage to a DVD jukebox where random access speeds are more acceptable than tape.

"Hopefully, the price of storage will come down to the point where we can fit a season`s worth of data onto hard drives," says Goldman. "Right now, we have to archive games onto tape and one day I would like to work off as little tape as possible."

This article was originally published on March 01, 1999