Arik Hesseldahl

Recent Posts by Arik Hesseldahl

How IBM Brings the Masters to Golf Fans

masters-ibm-featureThe Masters Golf Tournament got under way today and will run through the weekend. While last year’s tournament was overshadowed by the controversy involving whether or not IBM CEO Ginni Rometty should be granted membership at (then) all-male Augusta National — an honor generally extended to every IBM CEO before her — this year the focus appears to be more on the action on the course.

As it happens, Rometty’s company, IBM, has a pretty close relationship with Augusta National and the tournament. And if you’re into golf but don’t have the time to watch every minute — and who does? — IBM has made it easy to keep track of it all with a pretty immersive experience, on smartphone, iPad or Web.

Naturally there are a lot of HD video highlights across all three. And on the iPad there’s a lot of exclusive coverage from CBS and ESPN. There’s also a live leaderboard that is intended to mirror exactly what you’d see on the course.

But it’s the iPad app with the feature that everyone will remark on. There’s an impressive 360-degree panoramic view of different spots on the course that takes advantage of the device’s gyroscope capability. Turn it around and you can better understand from the point of view of the player you happen to be watching on TV at that moment the degree of difficulty of the shot he’s trying to make.

But there’s a lot more going on behind the scenes. I had a quick chat earlier this week with IBM’s John Kent, a program manager who leads Big Blue’s many sports sponsorship efforts. The Masters serves as a bit of a demo bed to show what IBM can do.

Sporting occasions like the Masters are by nature unpredictable. A sudden event can generate a sudden burst of activity and interest, and quickly overwhelm unprepared infrastructure. Kent said that IBM had been using its own private cloud technology to adapt to that demand as needed. “We can provision new servers within three minutes if we need to or move workloads to realign capacity; we can move it all around uninterrupted and keep things going,” he told me.

Another new feature this year is IBM’s favorite word: Analytics. IBM’s cloud can predict, based on many different factors, when more people may be checking in on the Web, their iPads or phones, and dynamically provision resources. “It used to be we would project for ourselves, using a spreadsheet, when we’d see our peak traffic,” Kent said. “If there’s a lot of drama, and it can shift pretty suddenly, it drives a lot of viewers. We’re ready to respond right away.”

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Another gadget you don’t really need. Will not work once you get it home. New model out in 4 weeks. Battery life is too short to be of any use.

— From the fact sheet for a fake product entitled Useless Plasticbox 1.2 (an actual empty plastic box) placed in L.A.-area Best Buy stores by an artist called Plastic Jesus