It's probably a bit of a stretch to give the storage industry credit for helping end the Curse of the Bambino, but data storage technology did provide a critical boost at the right moment.
In game four of the 2004 American League Championship Series, with the Boston Red Sox trailing the archrival New York Yankees three games to none, Red Sox pinch runner Dave Roberts sat in the clubhouse, studying videos of Yankees closer Mariano Rivera pitching from the stretch with a man on first.
Two innings later, in the bottom of the ninth with the Red Sox trailing by a run, Roberts stole second off Rivera and went on to score the tying run. The Red Sox eventually won the game in the 12th inning on a home run by David Ortiz.
It was the first of four straight wins against the Yankees that marked the greatest comeback in baseball history, and was followed by four more in the World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals, ending an 86-year drought for the Red Sox.
The video Roberts studied was stored on a server-based storage array that was on its last leg. It crashed twice in the World Series against the Cardinals, forcing the Red Sox to search for an array that could withstand the rigors of clubhouse conditions and a Major League Baseball travel schedule.
After a lengthy search, the Red Sox settled on an EMC Clariion SAN, which has become something of a 10th man for the stats-crazy Red Sox.
Steve Conley, director of IT for the Boston Red Sox, said that when he first came to work at Fenway Park in 2001, the team traveled with four VCRs and nine videotapes, constantly switching tapes and VCRs to record at-bats. The team initially moved to a video feed and server, and then the EMC SAN. The team was the first to travel with a server and a SAN, he said.
Since then, the team's data has grown from 800MB to more than 5TB. This year, the Clariion is hanging up its spikes and an EMC Celerra NS20 will take its place in the lineup.
The Clariion proved to be up to the challenge. Packed in a padded cabinet, it was once dropped 14 feet onto the tarmac at Baltimore Washington International airport. After an HBA was replaced, the SAN was back in service.
"Those are the moments when you know you made the right decision," said Conley.
Despite dust, temperatures and power supplies that would make a data center manager cringe, only three of 32 disks failed during the SAN's three years of service. There was so much dust on the drives that the name of the drive makers was illegible, said Conley.
"Everything that you're not supposed to do to a system, we do," said Conley. "It's built right."
The NS20 weighs 50 pounds less than the Clariion and has twice the capacity. The 200-pound NAS box and its 100-pound cabinet will soon get a big test when it travels all the way to Japan later this month for the Red Sox' season opener against the Oakland A's in Tokyo.
Traveling with all that equipment isn't easy, but after watching the Red Sox win two World Series titles in four years, other teams may be forced to begin penciling SANs into their lineups.
"If it brings you the ability to get one extra hit or out, there's always that one moment in a game where it could make a big difference," said Conley.
The Red Sox use BATS software from Sydex Sports to deliver videos to a laptop in a runway near the dugout, where players can use the easy-to-use program themselves.
Conley is quick to point out that "It's the players on the field who get the job done," but the Red Sox' front office has also made a name for itself with its data-crunching abilities. "Any bit of information they can get to make a better decision, they want it, and it's our job to get it to them," he said.
For a lifelong Red Sox fan like Conley, it just might be the best job in IT. "To be a part of something historical, two World Series, to get a ring, I can't find the words to describe it," he said. "It's just so cool."