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Miami Dolphins add Dell VxRail to digital transformation project

Looking to enrich the experience of fans, the Miami Dolphins have embarked on an aggressive digital transformation project involving new Dell HCI and storage infrastructure systems.

When the Miami Dolphins organization kicked off plans to host Super Bowl LIV at Hard Rock Stadium in 2020, they realized the existing IT infrastructure needed significant upgrades.

The stadium's IT infrastructure had grown too complex to manage and lacked the necessary flexibility and storage capacity. If the team was to not only protect but further build its reputation as having one of the best branded content video views in the NFL, its existing infrastructure would need more than just a tune-up.

"When I arrived [in 2018], we were out of storage capacity," said Kim Rometo, vice president and CIO for the Miami Dolphins and Hard Rock Stadium. "Like all stadiums, we handle a high volume of video ingestion and output on our property."

Kim RometoKim Rometo

The Miami Dolphins added Dell Technologies' data storage and hyper-converged infrastructure systems to better support videos for fan engagement and to improve security at Hard Rock Stadium.

The new infrastructure allows the team to share content across multiple social media platforms and extend the lifespan of its data storage systems from three to five years. The new infrastructure also reduces the number of servers the IT organization must support, which stretch across multiple sites, including the team's stadium and training camp.

Choosing the right players

Rometo played a major role in choosing the technologies and outside support to partner with. Her first move before starting the multiyear digital transformation project was to consult with a wide range of technical and business managers inside the Dolphins organization.

"I spent my first 120 days listening to my peers and employees to understand where the pain points were, evaluating our existing technology stack and architecture, and reviewing proposals from vendors like [Integrated Media Technologies, Inc.] on possible solutions," Rometo said.

Rometo used the feedback from those conversations to build a three-year roadmap that had nine workstreams. The resulting plan was then shared among all senior leaders to keep them up to speed.

"I have tried to employ a collaboration framework, which provides an opportunity for natural feedback throughout a project," Rometo explained.

The new infrastructure includes Dell EMC VxRail hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI), Isilon SyncIQ for replication, Data Domain for data backup and the VMware Site Recovery Manager. The three-petabyte infrastructure not only runs the stadium and training camp data centers in Florida, but also a new colocation disaster recovery facility in Texas, which offers further disaster recovery protection for the hurricane-prone state of Florida.

The Dolphins had been using Cisco UCS servers and considered Cisco HyperFlex and Nutanix HCI but went with Dell because of the advantages they felt VxRail offered, such as allowing them to more easily tie their two core data centers together, along with how much better it worked with their existing investments in VMware's virtualization offerings.

We see the new infrastructure delivering more dynamic game-day and social media experience, improving stadium security and speeding up the retail purchasing process, which shortens lines and assists with crowd control.
Kim RometoVice president and CIO, Miami Dolphins and Hard Rock Stadium

"The key for us and the Dolphins was the hyper-converged [infrastructure] product," said Jason Kranitz, president of systems integration at IMT. "Once we looked at VxRail, it was an easy decision. So, we hyper-converged both core environments and then all IT infrastructure went to VxRail."

In evaluating outside partners, Rometo said she considered two other vendors, but chose IMT because of their expertise on media workflows and project management.

ROI on IT upgrades

With the new infrastructure in place, the Dolphins' IT team can improve its existing safety and security systems. IT personnel will gain more understanding of pedestrian modeling by being able to better visualize traffic flow and management, Dell said.

"We see the new infrastructure delivering more dynamic game-day and social media experience, improving stadium security and speeding up the retail purchasing process, which shortens lines and assists with crowd control," Rometo said.

The Dolphins estimate that the new data storage and HCI systems cut $1.2 million in costs. The organization has funneled those savings to fund the new disaster recovery site.

Before and during the changeover to the new storage and HCI systems, the Dolphins relied on IMT's "train-the-trainer" approach to bring its internal IT staff up to speed on the new technologies.

"Our senior director of IT and systems administrator learned while IMT was standing up the new [systems] and were able to assume day-to-day responsibility shortly after we went live," Rometo said. "We still retain IMT professional services for escalation, but that is infrequent at this point."

Despite all the significant changes to its infrastructure, the Dolphins organization didn't feel the need to adjust its existing hybrid cloud strategy, which remains anchored by AWS and Microsoft Azure.

"I don't see changing anything cloud-related in the near term," Rometo said. "We have both AWS and Azure instances, and the use case determines if we utilize those instances or the on-site environments."

Asked if her team is developing web applications or services to generate new revenue streams, Rometo said "they are working on a few things" that will arrive sometime in 2022.

As editor at large with TechTarget's news group, Ed Scannell is responsible for writing and reporting breaking news, news analysis and features focused on technology issues and trends affecting corporate IT professionals.

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