Dallas Cowboys reboot IT with blades and 'converged' architecture

The Dallas Cowboys' data center has consolidated 200 physical servers into 16 blade servers to manage concessions and a massive scoreboard at the team's stadium.

Bill Haggard is responsible for keeping the data center for America's Team up and running. As director of enterprise infrastructure for the Dallas Cowboys, Haggard is tasked with managing the technology for the Cowboys and various other businesses run by team owner Jerry Jones. SearchDataCenter.com talked to Haggard about the data center's move from rackmount servers to blade servers, using virtualization to handle the concession stands, and just how many servers it takes to support the new stadium's huge scoreboard.

Maybe we can start just by you telling me what your server and networking infrastructure is like.
Bill Haggard: All our infrastructure is Hewlett-Packard blade technology. We have c7000 blade chasses with about 127 blades. We have another 31 DL380s. We have an EVA 8100 SAN with about 100 terabytes of disk in it, and we have a disk backup system online with about 67 TB.

How do you like blades, in general?
Haggard: We love them. We don't just support the technology for the stadium and the football club. We support the infrastructure for 30-plus companies that the Jones family owns. We had to make sure it was scalable. With blades we were able to scale that technology and support all the outlying companies, not just the football club.

What was your infrastructure like before, and when did you change it?
Haggard:It was all x86-based rack systems [from HP and other vendors]. We changed it when we were building out our infrastructure and deciding on the technology for the new stadium, which was [August 2008]. We actually started implementing that technology in early November of last year.

Several IT vendors have pushed a converged infrastructure or unified computing. What do you think of it?
Haggard: The converged infrastructure gives us the ability to scale our needs for the different businesses and monitor the entire environment from one location. We can do it with fewer staff and have, hopefully, in the end, fewer issues. We have 30-plus other businesses in 96 locations. We need that ability to monitor through a single pane of glass at one location.
What about the flipside? Were you worried about vendor lock-in when you switched to blades?
Haggard: No, because we had talked to HP about their technology roadmap going out five years or so. We looked at what their thought process was and vision was, so we were comfortable with it.
Can you manage and monitor data center facility information as well?
Haggard: We can, but we have building management software that does it. It's separate from the management software for the blades. Right now we don't feel the need to have all of that together.

How has the migration gone?
Haggard: A lot of the stuff that we have, we're in the process of migrating from the physical perspective. We've done a lot of virtualization. For example, the software we chose for our concession stands, each concession stand needs its own back-end server. The software we are using requires that separation for reporting [so we can have] financial reporting for each specific stand.

Well, we have 200 concession stands. We had to virtualize that, or I would have needed 200 separate servers. We were able to take those 200 physical servers and converge them down to 16 blades in the blade chassis.

We are running VMware for the virtualization technology, and we did have assistance with setup from HP and AT&T. We are running Windows Servers in VMware as well as Windows on the physical hardware.

What about that giant new scoreboard? How many servers does it take to support that?
Bill Haggard:

Just a couple.

Mark Fontecchio can be reached at mailto:mfontecchio@techtarget.com.

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