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11/30/2012
02:41 PM
Eric  Lundquist
Eric Lundquist
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Celtics, Nets Score With Unified Communications

NBA teams' IT executives explain how and why they decided among on-premises, hybrid and hosted technology services.



While the basketball players from the Boston Celtics and the Brooklyn Nets were getting ready to mix it up on the courts Nov. 28, their senior technology managers, Jay Wessel and Mireille Viau Verna, respectively, were showing different approaches to off-court technology. Their choices illustrate the crux IT finds itself in as 2013 approaches.

Wessel, VP of technology for the Boston Celtics, is a self-described "hardware guy" who is willing to use hosted unified communications services as a backup and expansion supplement, but prefers to be able to walk into his server room on Boston's Causeway Street, next to the TD Garden where the Celtics play, and make sure the system lights are blinking green. Verna, senior director of IT for the Brooklyn Nets, opted for hosted services to build out the technology capabilities for the Nets, in its first season in Brooklyn after moving from its previous New Jersey location.

At a press event hosted by unified communications vendor ShoreTel (both the Celtics and the Nets make extensive use of ShoreTel's products), Wessel and Verna outlined why they selected their particular approaches to technology. Wessel favors the hybrid technology approach, which mixes physical devices with hosted services. Verna went all hosted.

[ Check out the tech behind the NFL's biggest game. See 9 Security Technologies For Super Bowl And Beyond . ]

Wessel's and Verna's decisions reflect what I've heard from a wide range of CIOs and technology executives choosing from a continually unfolding set of products and services offered in on-premises, on-premises/hosted hybrids, and pure-hosted configurations. Recently the hosted options have received significant boosts as infrastructure-as-a-service vendors Amazon and Google have significantly increased services and cut prices. Amazon CTO Werner Vogels recently said the role of IT is to create controllable, resilient, adaptive and data-driven infrastructures.

"I'm a big redundancy guy," says Wessel, adding he may eventually move to all-hosted services, but in the interim he wants the visible assurance of system uptime in concert with game-day high-capacity requirements. The unified communications servers are located only a few feet away from the Ticketmaster servers that handle seating and ticketing.

For Verna, the speed of installation, new Web-based mobile capabilities and ability to quickly add new users and remotely manage system performance were selling points. The opening of the new Nets facility in Brooklyn was a "greenfield" opportunity that required rapid system deployment, but also provided a chance to rethink systems selections, notes Verna.

"We hit the ground running, we opened the new arena and now we can go back and look at some of the features we might want to add," Verna says. The system's continued performance during the Superstorm Sandy hurricane that hit New York in October bolstered Verna's confidence in hosted systems.

Greenfield opportunities are rare for most senior IT execs. The hybrid approach, where systems are more slowly transferred from all on-premises to a mix of on- and off-premises and on to hosted solutions, appears to be far more common. ShoreTel -- which hosted the discussion by the Nets' and Celtics' IT executives -- is taking the tack offered by many technology vendors with both on-premises and hosted solutions.

Eighty percent of ShoreTel's customers are using on-premises unified communications deployments, according to ShoreTel CEO Peter Blackmore. The company purchased cloud services provider M5 Networks last February to prepare for a continuing shift to hosted solutions.

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