Dallas Cowboys huddle up with Isilon Systems for coaching video storage

By Ken Kerschbaumer

The Dallas Cowboys head into Thanksgiving with plenty to give thanks for. A new QB who minimizes offensive miscues, a solid victory over the previously undefeated Indianapolis Colts and, of course, a chance to celebrate the Holiday in front of a national TV audience.

But they also will have a chance to give thanks for a new storage system from Isilon Systems IQ clustered storage system that is lowering the cost of storing massive amounts of video for coaching purposes while laying an easy road map to expansion.

“The reason I chose Isilon is it offers a lot of storage in a small amount of space,” says Robert Blackwell, Dallas Cowboys director of coaching video of the 19TB system that serves video to 25 workstations using Webb Electronics coaching software. “We transferred two seasons worth of NFL games into the system—not just our games but every game.”

Isilon IQ delivers a single file system that unifies and provides instant access to the stores of digital content and unstructured data. OneFS 4.5 is a unified operating system software layer that powers all of Isilon’s IQ family of clustered storage systems including the Isilon IQ 1920, 3000, 6000, Accelerator, and EX 6000, which are available immediately.

The previous storage system required many 82 GB drives that didn’t open up a roadmap for expansion. “When we wanted to get bigger we had to tear out all the previous systems,” says Blackwell. “But with the IQ storage we just add more storage, even if the model number changes.”

Another big selling point? “Isilon’s office is only three miles from my office so I don’t have to call if there is ever a problem,” he adds.

Every week of game prep begins on Sunday with two cameras (one at the 50-yard line and another located behind the end zone) recording the games on SAT drives. “After the game we download everything to a laptop and cut the games down,” says Blackwell. “When we get back to Dallas we then download two video files into the Isilon system in about 10 minutes.”

Each game generates approximately 20GB of data and the Dallas Cowboys video staff then uses the video and data assets to create more than 120 different filtered categories (“Third down and long”, “First down running plays”, etc.) based on game situation, creating more meaningful insights for the coaches. They are then made available to more than 25 coaching workstations located throughout the Cowboys’ training and practice facility.

By Monday morning the game cut-ups are available to all of the coaches. The staff also gets a videotape for the next week’s opponent which is then digitized into the Isilon system. On Tuesday they do the same with the tapes from the opponents in two and three weeks. By Thursday game data for all the games, like down and distance, ball carrier, run or pass, is in the system and the staff records and downloads practice.

While the Cowboys are blazing a trail with the use of Isilon and SAT drives the impending arrival of MXF will make it possible for all the teams to simply share files or SAT drives instead of videotapes.

“Everybody in the NFL will by using MXF next year,” says Blackwell. “We’re always looking at a way to trade files.”

Brett Goodwin, Isilon VP of marketing, says the move by Isilon with the Cowboys and other NFL teams is only the beginning. “Early next year we’ll have a product designed for the college market that will have a capacity and price points that are attractive for the college market,” he says. “Each school has their own capture technology and then need to begin doing it in HD as well as SD.”

The college market can also take advantage of Internet 2’s bandwidth while the NFL clubs can take advantage of fiber connectivity being laid down by telcos and cable operators.

“The speed and availability of large bandwidth connections is only going up,” he says.

The Cowboys also have a second system for perfect disaster recovery with Isilon’s Sync IQ mirroring the original data.

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