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How The Boston Celtics Modernized Sports Analytics On AWS

Celtics CTO

Executive Summary

Faced with challenges related to on-premises computing, slow data processing and the need for improved operational efficiency, the Boston Celtics needed an AWS partner that would help streamline data collection, analysis and delivery to coaches and basketball operations analysts, and further modernize sports analytics. By migrating to the AWS Cloud and leveraging Mission Cloud's expertise, the Celtics achieved significant improvements in performance, reduced costs, and enhanced operational efficiency. 

The multi-stage approach included a "lift and shift" migration, re-platforming and optimization, automation and modernization. The results were impressive, with data processing time reduced by over 75%, operational expenses significantly reduced, and resiliency and performance improved. Mission Cloud's support enabled the Celtics to focus on their core strengths while benefiting from a robust and scalable cloud infrastructure.

How The Boston Celtics Modernized Sports Analytics On AWS

Background: Evolving Beyond On-Prem Infrastructure

As one of the most beloved teams in the National Basketball Association, success on and off the court for the Boston Celtics requires a combination of strategy, analysis and performance. For decades, the team, along with the NBA, has invested in opportunities to streamline data collection and analysis and improve operational efficiency and performance. This initially involved a group of mathematicians and coders in the basketball analytics group compiling data into a database and manually analyzing it.

As technology advanced, analysis also became more complex and demanding. For example, the number of data sources increased significantly. Optical tracking can be used to monitor the locations and movement of players, referees and the ball simultaneously. Analysis is applied in a variety of different ways, from informing game planning to decisions about trades or the next draft. 

By 2010, the franchise recognized that the growth of its physical on-prem infrastructure was becoming more challenging to efficiently manage, and would require additional in-house personnel and resources to keep pace. At the same time, the Celtics desired an IT ecosystem that could greatly simplify (and speed up) access to data and systems crucial for informing team strategy.

In investigating available cloud options, the Celtics were drawn to AWS’s strong reputation as a powerful, trusted solution that was well-suited to the team’s needs. The franchise selected G2 Tech Group (which, along with Reliam and Stratalux, became Mission Cloud in 2018) as the technology partner to lead the team’s transformation from an on-prem infrastructure to the AWS Cloud.

Challenge: Replacing Legacy Systems with Modern Solutions

The initial challenges the Celtics aimed to solve were related to on-premises computing and slow data processing, which often required over 24 hours to complete. The team used a statistical processing platform that required large and costly servers, despite long periods of idle time. The team wanted a more cost-effective solution since they were paying for memory, bandwidth, and compute cycles that weren’t being used, and wanted to optimize performance to deliver game data to coaches in real time.

In addition to addressing their on-premises computing and data processing challenges, the Boston Celtics recognized the need for a trusted and experienced partner to guide them through the modernization and optimization of their cloud infrastructure. They sought a resource that could not only help them migrate to the cloud but also provide ongoing support and expertise to ensure their IT ecosystem was streamlined, efficient and aligned with their strategic goals.

Solution: Multi-Phase Modernization and Optimization

To address these challenges, Mission Cloud proposed the first phase of a multi-stage approach to develop modernized sports analytics for the Celtics on AWS. Phase One included a “lift and shift” migration to AWS to address three major priorities: improved performance, reduced costs, and operational efficiency. Not only would this remove bandwidth constraints, but also offer powerful computing in an on-demand, utility model, with servers that could be shut down when not in use. The Celtics would also be able to reduce their operational burden with MS SQL Server databases in a scalable, high-performance RDS-managed service.   

Phase Two of the process focused on re-platforming and optimization. The main goals were to improve resiliency, reduce costs, and enhance performance by strategically eliminating legacy resources through modernization. The team wanted to streamline their architecture and free up time for value-adding tasks rather than purely operational ones.

The first step in Phase Two was to migrate all Windows servers to Linux, which was especially important as Microsoft's license fees represented a significant cost to the organization. The team also moved away from using MS SQL for queuing. It adopted a more modern queuing platform, allowing for caching and the adoption of native AWS solutions like Amazon Redshift for data warehousing and AWS Glue for ETL processes. The remainder of Phase Two consisted of implementing infrastructure-as-code for the entire environment, enabling the full environment to be torn down and recreated on demand.

Phase Three of the process focused on improving availability, developer efficiency, security, and performance through automation and modernization as the team aimed to further optimize their infrastructure and enhance their data processing capabilities.

Mission Cloud takes pride in helping customers find the right solution for their specific needs, regardless of whether it is an AWS native tool. For example, the Celtics decommissioned Microsoft SQL and replaced it with a non-AWS, cloud-based data warehousing platform that could offer improved scalability, performance, and flexibility in data storage and analytics.

In terms of modernization, the team undertook a container deployment overhaul. With Mission Cloud’s support, they migrated from EC2 instances to ECS Fargate. This transition, coupled with the adoption of Apache Airflow for orchestration, enabled more efficient and automated deployment of containers, resulting in improved scalability and resource utilization.

Phase Three also included CI/CD (Continuous Integration/Continuous Deployment) automation for Docker images, incorporating vulnerability assessment into the deployment pipeline. This automation was supported by tools like AWS CodeDeploy, AWS CodePipeline and Amazon ECR, streamlining the development and deployment processes. This phase also included implementing AWS Security Hub and Amazon GuardDuty to comply with evolving NBA requirements and additional security and cost optimizations.

Finally, Phase Four will continue to build upon the success of previous phases by focusing on security improvements, organizational best practices, and specific optimizations for the Celtics. For example, the team identified a need for better separation of duties and access domains, leading to the migration of services to two new accounts, a Celtics Digital account for marketing functions and a Celtics IT account for other resources, using Amazon CloudFront as a CDN. 

Results: Reduced Costs, Better Performance and Ease of Mind

For over a decade, the Boston Celtics have relied on Mission Cloud’s experience and expertise to help guide their modernization and optimization efforts. With Mission Cloud leading the team’s cloud transformation and ongoing AWS optimization through Mission Cloud One, the Celtics have avoided more expensive outlays, such as growing its in-house IT department, by calling upon Mission Cloud’s highly capable experts as a readily accessible extension of its internal resources. In this way, Mission Cloud has enabled the Celtics to simply leverage the advantages of the cloud without needing to build or manage that infrastructure themselves – and do so while achieving tremendous operational flexibility.

Boston Celtics Chief Technology Officer Jay Wessland explained that since the beginning of the partnership, Mission Cloud has enabled the team to focus on what they do best. “Mission Cloud fits in perfectly,” he added, “there’s the breadth of knowledge across a wide range of AWS services, and they can deep dive when we need them to so that our people can focus on their core priorities, which are basketball and what data is trying to tell us about basketball. Our main focus is not managing cloud IT infrastructure, and we don’t want it to be.”

Mission Cloud is proud to be a part of the Celtics’ transformation. “Making those big lifts is really difficult if you don’t have a bunch of expertise and a bunch of engineers with you,” Wessland added, “it’s really great to have a team as large and diverse as Mission Cloud to help us do those.” Over the course of the transformation, Mission Cloud delivered impactful results at each stage.

After Phase One, 99% of the basketball analytics platform was running on AWS. Data processing time plummeted by 71%, resulting in happier coaches and analysts. Operational expenses were also significantly reduced during this phase.

Phase Two resulted in significantly lower costs and better performance, including a 25% cost reduction from licensing and optimization and more than an additional 15% improvement in data processing time. During this phase, Mission Cloud also enabled a rapid disaster recovery solution. Phases Three and Four continued to offer further cost reduction, improved performance, and operational efficiency along with offering support for new projects.

While the Celtics typically reserve major initiatives for the offseason, Mission Cloud serves year-round as a crucial extension of their team, offering ongoing guidance and support for any challenges and opportunities. According to Wessland, Mission Cloud’s expertise offers his team the freedom to focus on their work instead of the cloud. “In reality, the fact that they don’t think about it is what makes it so great. Anytime a coach needs to log on and wants to look something up, it’s just there and it’s working. It’s invisible, and it should be invisible.” 

AWS Services Used

Throughout the relationship with Mission Cloud, the Boston Celtics leveraged multiple AWS and Mission Cloud services, including: 
  • Amazon EC2
  • Amazon ECS
  • Amazon S3
  • Amazon RDS
  • Amazon CloudFront
  • AWS Certificate Manager
  • VPN
  • AWS Backup
  • Load balancers
  • Amazon GuardDuty
  • Security Hub
  • Fargate
  • AWS CodeDeploy
  • AWS CodePipeline
  • Amazon Redshift
  • AWS Glue