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AWS bill instance upgrades a slam dunk for Boston Celtics

The Boston Celtics and its AWS partner found one surprisingly simple trick to save the team almost 50% on AWS costs.

One of the NBA's most storied and successful franchises recently reduced its Amazon Web Services bill by half, thanks to a switch from M1 instances to the newer T2 line of burstable instances.

The Boston Celtics use a combination of Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure and on-premises VMware to host applications from ticketing to basketball statistical analysis.

Nightly, basketball statistics are fed to SQL Server databases hosted in AWS, which are then digested by assistant coaches and scouts for the team. The Celtics' players also receive distilled versions of these reports, and before every game, the most important statistics are printed onto posters and hung up in the team's locker room.

Amazon's cloud also holds several interstitial apps for the Celtics that connect the on-premises environment to Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online, such as an Active Directory Federation Server (ADFS) which connects on-premises ticket sales personnel with the Azure-based customer resource management application.

Almost all of this infrastructure had been hosted on the same M1 instances the team started with three years ago, until about three months ago when the Celtics' IT service provider partner, G2 Technology Group in Boston, spotted some underutilization of those servers using the AWS Trusted Advisor tool.

"[Trusted Advisor] doesn't tell you exactly which instance you need, but it makes suggestions on what's being used and you can go from there pretty easily," said Andrew Dawson, a solutions architect at G2. "For most of the services that the Celtics are running, the T instances make sense because they're designed to burst."

Most of the Celtics' servers hosted in AWS -- about eight in all -- are active a handful of times throughout the month and idle the rest of the time. Thus they're a perfect fit for the T2 line of instances that AWS launched last summer, which provide a low baseline of CPU performance but can burst when the workload gets heavier.

"In the middle of the night when all that statistical data comes in, there's a flurry of activity for about an hour or so, and then the other 23 hours of the day there's not much going on with a given box," said the team's CTO, Jay Wessland. "So that burstable performance works out really well for us, and we don't overpay for hardware."

Moving to the T2 instance type was also a much easier process than upgrading instances had been previously, Dawson said.

 "We were expecting a whole process but Amazon lets you do it right in the console -- you just stop the instance in the console, go into the options and change the instance type," Dawson said.

While only a handful of servers were moved, the instance upgrade added up to big savings on the AWS bill for the Celtics.

"The bill was sneaking up to about $2,000 a month and now we're down closer to $1,000 again," Wessland said. 

This cost savings was also the result of moving the T2 instances to partial up-front reserved instances as well, further lowering the monthly AWS bill.

In another case, the team found a larger r3.2xlarge instance, rented on demand, was the most efficient way to integrate an on-premises statistical analysis tool into the cloud.

*"The software was originally designed to work on one really, really big server," said Glenn Grant, CEO of G2. "So at Amazon, we're able to get them a very big server with plenty of memory and plenty of CPU that they can turn on when they want and turn off when they're not using it."

This averted a longer, more arduous process of having to retool the statistical analysis software and work with team statisticians on learning a new platform.

The trickiest part of the Celtics' AWS setup was ADFS, which is most commonly used to connect on-premises Active Directory environments with Microsoft Office 365, rather than to connect an AWS environment with Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online.

*"Getting that set up was quite the accomplishment," Grant said. "The difference between just hitting the Active Directory for a username and password and actually getting single sign-on to work is huge."

Microsoft was also supportive of this effort, which took some consultations with its tech support to get working properly.

"When our CRM admin adds a user to Microsoft CRM, what he sees is the list from Active Directory," Wessland said. "He doesn't have to try and recreate any names or anything -- they're just there in the Microsoft cloud, which is really cool considering it originates here in Boston, goes up through Amazon, out to Microsoft, and yet they all keep in sync with each other."

In our initial publication, Andrew Dawson, Solution Architect of G2 was incorrectly attributed to this comment.

Beth Pariseau is senior news writer for SearchAWS. Write to her at [email protected] or follow @PariseauTT on Twitter.  

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