As the Olympics get underway in Sochi, millions of people are ascending into the Russian city, and with all of those connected devices, it’s the ultimate test for IT teams and their infrastructure.
Lessons learned after the Olympics are over later this month might provide some lessons to IT network managers on how to get an Olympic-strength network at their own company.
“There is a lot to be learned”, said John Weidenhammer, president of Weidenhammer Systems Corp., an IT solutions company based in Reading, Penn.
“The Olympic committee has made a significant investment in infrastructure and have brought in the right talent and applied some interesting technology,” he said. “Their goal is to amp up bandwidth and provide it in a relatively secure environment.”
California-based Avaya Inc., a global leader in business communications, was tapped to create Sochi’s network infrastructure. Its network marketing team answered a few questions about the experience. The following are excerpts from an emailed response.
Recovery Zone: I understand that Sochi didn’t have much in way of wireless networks, so what were you doing to prepare for the massive amounts of devices that will be utilizing the networks during the Olympics? Did you have to start from scratch in building up the network first, or what was the process?
Avaya: What’s unique about Sochi – especially in comparison to our experiences in previous Winter Games such as Vancouver – is the fact that it was a complete greenfield environment from a sporting, infrastructure and communications perspective.
Building the network infrastructure required massive coordination between venue and infrastructure constructions crews. We had to lay fiber at the same time venues and infrastructure like water systems were being put in.
To handle the wireless capacity expected for the Olympic family (up to 120,000 devices), we had to install 2,500 wireless access points across the various competition /non-competition sites and ensure that we had the capacity on the backbone of the network to handle voice, imaging and video traffic expected from these devices.
RZ: What are you anticipating in the way of network usage or challenges?
Avaya: The single biggest challenge of an event with outdoor venues, such as the Olympic Winter Games, is the risk of a fiber cut. This is especially challenging in years where there may not be enough snow at the competition venues (as was the case in Vancouver). This can lead to exposed fiber optic cables that are vulnerable to cuts /damage.
To mitigate this risk, Avaya is building a network that offers full redundancy with redundant links from each venue that takes diverse paths. The traffic is load shared between the links and in the result of one of the links not being available, the traffic will reroute to the alternative path in ~50 milliseconds, which essentially makes any re-routing invisible to users. In the case that a rock slide or other event takes out both fiber links, each venue is self-sustaining, meaning that the network will keep operating and the competition events will go on!
The other challenge is that there is expected to be an unprecedented number of devices connecting to the network. Although we are providing network access for the Olympic family only, that entails 40,000 media, athletes and coaches, organizers and volunteers. In today’s hyper-connected world, we expect that can be up to 120,000 devices or more.
Furthermore, all of these devices will essentially be connecting to the network simultaneously when the torch is lit the day of the Opening Ceremonies. It is a unique environment where you go from 0 to 40,000 users in a single day without any advance knowledge of what devices are connecting to the network (smart phones, tablets from all over the world) and without any ability to train your users.
RZ: Are some of the techniques and processes that you used to get Sochi connected the same things companies can do have a strong network?
Avaya: Absolutely. The technologies we’re using at Sochi are the same as those that are being used in enterprises around the world. They have the same requirements for resiliency, simplicity and agility that we’re bringing to the table in Sochi.
We have heard from Olympic organizers who have worked in IT for many years before supporting the Games that the network deployed to support the Winter Games is roughly the same size and complexity of that of a large bank. The only difference is with the Games it’s like all opening all the branching on the same day with all the systems working flawlessly from the beginning.
Weidenhammer said other parallels to what can be done in the business world in planning an infrastructure upgrade is to have good partners, an adequate budget and to plan for the kinds of uses your network is going to be operating under.
“Expect that not everything is going to go as planned,” he added. “We also see all the time, with bandwidth consumption, unless it is controlled tightly, it is going to be more than you think.”