Big Blue's part in the world's most prestigious lawn tennis tournament
A look behind the scenes at the technology that brings the data around the grand slam championship to the eyes and ears of the world
By Julian Goldsmith
1. Love all
This is the 22nd Wimbledon grand slam tennis tournament has participated in. The company collects match data and crunches it into stats for broadcasters, players and punters.
2. Head ball boy
Alan Flack heads up the IBM team at Wimbledon. He's at the ground in South London for all of the two weeks of the tournament and meets with the organisers maybe once a week for the rest of the year. A nice job maybe, but one that carries a great deal of responsibility while the event is being held.
3. Fresh nets
IBM operates five operations rooms at the All-England Lawn Tennis Club's grounds, where a team of technicians collect data about the matches and make it available almost instantly for broadcasters and coaches to use. The data is the property of the club and is free for tournament participants to use.
4. Fast serve
Data is collected by trained tennis players at the matches and keyed into dedicated application devices. Metrics such as aces, points scored off of the first serve and points scored off the second serve are recorded. The match-side operatives have around 70 different metrics to look out for.
5. Data volley
The first use for the match data is to create captions for BBC Wimbledon coverage on the fly. Data is recieved in sub-second time and converted to animated graphics for the show. IBM is allowed to display its logo with the graphics for up to 40 seconds every hour in return for the service.
6. Serious commentary
Data is also displayed to BBC commentators, so if John McEnroe comments on the sixth ace of the match, it's because he has that metric displayed in front of him, courtesy of IBM.
7. Doubles partners
Graphics are integrated into the pictures the BBC puts out by an IBM technician using this piece of equipment. They are seated by the programme director and are able to suggest graphics to them as they come up.
8. Match knowledge
Since 1992, IBM has collected information on a DB2 database called the Wimbledon Information System. It provides a full spectrum of detailed match data for the whole tournament is available to all of the broadcasters at the ground. Metrics, such as Rafael Nadal's average for scoring aces across the tournament, can be easily pulled up (it's around 70 per cent).
9. Game pace
For the latest tournament, IBM worked with the All-England Lawn Tennis Club to digitally track the movements of the players on one of the courts. Called Second Sight, commentators and coaches can use this application to measure how far and fast players have run throughout the match.
10. Bouncing on the net
The data IBM collects about the Wimbledon tournament is also fed through the championship's website to information-hungry fans. This year peak page impressions for any one day have been around 50 million. 20 per cent of hits are now from mobile devices and the tournament's iPhone app has been downloaded over 775,000 times.
11. Match analysis
The website innovation for this year is data being fed through analytics systems to produce a number predictions of how well players should perform against each other based on historical match data. Up to three of these metrics can be displayed at any one time to build up a picture of how the game should go. The more two players have clashed, the more reliable the data.
12. Extra servers
With such a high demand for the site. It made little sense to host it on a dedicated data centre. Three sites in Raliegh, Boulder and St Louis are used in a private cloud configuration. This is a virtualised environment designed to have the capacity to cope with peaks without wasting server space if it's not needed. Extra virtual servers can be brought online, in the time it takes to boot up a desktop PC.
13. No foul
A site as high-profile as the Wimbledon tournament inevitably attracts unwanted attention from hackers. IBM's security systems make sure that no maliceous code or hacker intrusions get through, even though it detected over 80,000 such attempts in the first day of the competition alone. Last year, attacks peaked at 160,000 although 90 per cent of that was normal malware noise that every internet connection is exposed to.
14. Match point
IBM has a similar partnership deal with other major tennis competitions around the world. Now that Wimbledon is over, the IBM staff supporting it and much of the equipment they use, will be shipped off to the next big tennis competition, the US Open in Flushing Meadows, NY.