Boston ballers tap the cloud

When the Celtics couldn't stand their aging e-mail infrastructure anymore, they looked to the cloud to score a new solution

What has 27 divisional titles plus 20 conference titles plus 17 league championships plus 31 hall-of-famers? Two words: Boston Celtics. With more banners in the rafters than any other franchise in NBA history, they're more an institution than a basketball team.

They're also a business enterprise. Ever thought about the team behind the team? Turns out they're a pretty large enterprise, with enterprise-class revenues and IT expectations, although they don't have an enterprise-size IT department. In fact, the Celtics operate with a relatively small front office that communicates primarily via e-mail.

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Jay Wessel is vice president of technology for the Boston Celtics. Since 2003 he and his team have deployed a classic set of point solutions designed to solve individual problems within their e-mail infrastructure. They started at the firewall, placing initial spam and virus checks in the DMZ. E-mail was then routed into a LAN-based spam and virus appliance before being delivered to an internal filtering server. After about a dozen different checks and processes, e-mail was finally delivered to the Microsoft Exchange server.

Eventually this complexity took its toll on the vital system. "As our overall traffic increased and our infrastructure got more complex, we began to experience problems," recalls Wessel. "Sometimes our main mail filter and quarantine server would hang, and we'd need to restart the service."

Now this wouldn't be so bad for me at home, but when the Celtics front office goes down, sometimes for up to two hours, things can get pretty ugly. “Most communication takes place via e-mail,” says Wessel. “It’s even central to our ticketing system; the vast majority of our ticket sales are online, and confirmations take place via e-mail. So if e-mail goes down, it’s more than an inconvenience -- it can seriously impact our revenue.”

At one point Wessel's team was proactively restarting services to prevent outages. As Wessel puts it, “IT administrators really shouldn’t have to touch that stuff these days.”

Weary of manual intervention in an aging infrastructure, the organization looked to the cloud. What they found was Mimecast, a 24/7/365 unified e-mail management solution that hit the Celtics' sweet spot. Since deploying Mimecast, Wessel’s infrastructure has shrunk to a firewall and the Microsoft Exchange server. Every single peripheral service was exchanged for the same or better functionality in the cloud.  Want to know the best part?

In addition to a five-fold reduction in administration time, Wessel estimates the cost of cloud hosting is 25 percent less than the annual maintenance he was paying, not including his hardware savings. “In today’s world, it’s really not acceptable for an IT pro to say, ‘E-mail is down’ or ‘The server is down.’” Wessel concludes. Not only will he not have to say those choice phrases, but he and his team gained archiving, discovery, and disaster recovery capabilities they didn't have before.

Can you imagine the uproar in Beantown if tickets weren't confirmed because the team's e-mail system went down? Riots in the streets. “We backed up to tape before,” recalls Wessel. “It was not an ideal solution -- it was very difficult to retrieve data. With Mimecast, I can do it in a matter of minutes.”

All this, and it's green to boot. Using Mimecast supports the organization's green IT initiative. The reduction in hardware power and cooling requirements help reduce the team's carbon footprint.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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