ESPN's Architecture at Scale - Operating at 100,000 Duh Nuh Nuhs Per Second
Monday, November 4, 2013 at 8:52AM
Todd Hoff in Example

ESPN went on air in 1978. In those 30+ years think of the wonders we’ve seen! When I think of ESPN I think of a world wide brand that is the very definition of prime time. And it shows in their stats. peaks at 100,000 requests per second. Their peak event is, not surprisingly, the World Cup. But would you be surprised to learn ESPN is powered by only a few hundred servers and a couple of dozen engineers? I was.

And would you be surprised to learn ESPN is undergoing a fundamental transition from an Enterprise architecture to one capable of handling web scale loads driven by increasing mobile usage, personalization, and a service orientation? Again, thinking ESPN was just about watching sports on TV, I was surprised. ESPN is becoming much more than that. ESPN is becoming a sports platform. 

How does ESPN handle all of this complexity, responsibility, change, and load? Unlike most every other profile on HighScalability. The fascinating story of ESPN’s architecture is told by Manny Pelarinos, Senior Director, Engineering at ESPN in the InfoQ presentation Architecture at Scale at ESPN. Information from Max Protect: Scalability and Caching at has also been folded in. 

Starting in a pre-personal computer era ESPN developed an innovative cable and satellite TV sports empire. From an initial 30 minute program reviewing the day’s sports, they went on to make deals with the NBA, USFL, NHL, and what would become the big fish of all sports in the US, the National Football League.

Sport by sport deals were made to bring sports data in from all possible sources so ESPN could report scores, play film clips, and generally become one stop shopping for all things sports on TV and later the web.

It’s a complex system to understand. They have a lot going on with Television & Broadcasting, live scoring, editing and publishing, Digital Media, giving sports scores, web and mobile, personalization, fantasy games, and they also want to expand API access to 3rd party developers. Unlike most every profile on HighScalability ESPN has an enterprise heritage. It’s a Java Enterprise stack, so you’ll see Oracle databases, JMS brokers, Java Beans, and Hibernate.

Some of the most important lessons we’ll learn about: 




Architecture is Organized Around Applications and Databases

Where do Stats Come From? (Data Ingest)

Application Services

Application Level Caching 

Page Cache Framework 

Common Object Model 


Content Management System

Live Scores (


Fantasy Games 


Special Effects

From ESPN Emerging Technology’s use of  NVIDIA'S GPU Solutions for High Resolution Imagery. Not a lot of details, so these are basically just bullet points from the slides, but it’s cool stuff and looks like magic on the screen.

The Future 

Lesson Learned 


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