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Denver Broncos score with NetApp filers for primary storage

By purchasing two FAS2240s from NetApp, the Denver Broncos' small IT staff was able to improve manageability, performance and scalability.

When the Denver Broncos play at home, more than 76,000 fans can watch Peyton Manning and his teammates from their seats in Sports Authority Field at Mile High. What they might not realize is that their National Football League experience is more virtual, digitized and cutting-edge than ever.

Entertainment video for the scoreboard, playbooks accessed field-side by iPads and video for post-game film study are among the IT requests that need to be available at a moment's notice.

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"We're a small shop and almost everything we do is being digitized -- whether it's a server becoming virtualized, entertainment video for the scoreboard, player video or pictures. We have a lot of pictures from the history of the franchise, [and] they're all getting digitized," said Russ Trainor, vice president of IT for the Broncos. "So from a storage standpoint, it's really exploded for us."

The Broncos' IT department is responsible for two data centers: one at the stadium and the other at the team's practice site in Dove Valley, Colo. The department has 320 people responsible for handling 100 TB of data across the two sites. Two entry-level NetApp Inc. FAS2240 filers, one for each site, were purchased in July 2012. Chris Newman, an IT architect for the team, explained that having identical storage was essential to making everything easier to manage. The two arrays back up data to each other.

NetApp filers are star players for Broncos

The Broncos began using NetApp filers in 2004 when they bought four FAS270s to store 1.4 TB of data. But because of budget constraints, the two environments evolved to have different NetApp filers: a FAS2040 at Sports Authority Field at Mile High, and a midrange FAS3140 at Dove Valley.

"We used to have a 3140 at the valley site, which actually was kind of an overkill for us," Newman said. "[The] 2040 we had here at the stadium was working fine, but we really wanted to get into that 64-bit platform and have it at both sites so we could eventually take advantage of clustering."

The Broncos' servers are 95% virtualized with VMware vSphere, and connect the two FAS2240s via Cisco Fibre Channel switches. They run Microsoft SQL Server 2008 and one Exchange 2010 server (with plans to add another in a couple months), and handle 46 virtual machines. The environment is managed through NetApp's OnCommand Unified Manager.

Trainor said the team sought a new system that could be clustered and support 10 Gigabit Ethernet to keep up with expanding virtualization. He said the Broncos bought the NetApp filers without testing any other products. "It's been steady, reliable and the 2240 gives us that performance bump as well," he said. "The 10 Gigabit backbone provides us with a nice growth path."

The Broncos also use the NetApp filers for disaster recovery. Backups are performed nightly using NetApp's Snapshot and SnapRestore technology, so there are full data copies of everything at both sites. Additionally, the team is saving as much as 25% of its capacity using NetApp's primary data deduplication feature.

Trainor and Newman both said they are looking forward to getting another FAS2240 for the 2013 season, which will be provided by a recent independent deal between the NFL and NetApp. It will give them an additional 120 TB of capacity that Trainor said will be used at the Dove Valley site primarily to store coaching video.

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