News Analysis

Building an Olympics network

Kathleen Hall

Preparation is clearly the key to Olympic success, as players on 27 July 2012 will see years of finely honed practice condensed into one gruelling fortnight of muscular display - and that's just the network providers behind the event.

According to Gerry Pennell, CIO for the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG), network technology comes in a close second when it comes to measuring the performance of the Olympics. The mission-critical role for London 2012 is "the measurement of athletic performance, as well as the transmission of those results to a wide range of different audiences", he said.

LOCOG is preparing to make data accurately and readily available for a range of channels, such as live scoreboards, results for media, Olympic venue information systems, TV graphics for broadcasters, affiliated websites and international federations.

There will be 100 locations to coordinate and about 90 other task-specific applications required to support the event.

A range of technology partners are working with LOCOG to make the games a success, including equipment suppliers Acer and Panasonic; official timekeeper Omega; and wireless provider Samsung.

But along with BT, the games' communications service provider and worldwide IT partner Atos Origin, the network will be delivered by Cisco. This will include IT, telecommunications, audio-visual, timing and scoring technology required to stage the games.

"The actual network is huge. It's 35 times more capable than the Beijing network," said Neil Crockett, managing director London 2012 at Cisco.

Cisco is supplying the routing, switching, firewall and IP telephony to almost 100 venues across its "borderless network". This will include: 34 competition venues across the UK from Manchester to Weymouth; 20 other venues such as the Olympic Village and network operations centre; and 40-50 spectator and athlete sites, including transport hubs, training grounds and ticketing booths.

But the big difference is a complete change in traffic since the previous Olympics, with 80% of data now mostly video and user generated, said Crockett. "We've got to think of it as a completely different generation.

"Every year it's exponentially going up. About 80% of traffic in Beijing was voice, which shows a massive change."

Security testing

Not surprisingly, security is crucial to the network delivery. Cisco will test the distribution layer, core layer, access points, firewalls, load balancers and proxy servers and ensure that all are logged properly. The company has also deployed a second administration and services network to support LOCOG's business operations.

Pennell said, "The games network needs to be rock solid, resilient and secure, able to resist cyber attacks and any other dangers, and that is why it was built as a separate network. The administration and services network also requires high security, low latency and resilience, so both are treated the same. Both have to work to their optimum at all times. Logically the networks are separate, but physically they are the same."

The network will enable LOCOG to manage the upscaling of the network quickly as the games approach, said Crockett.

Testing is scheduled to take place in three stages, beginning this summer, with one in the autumn and again in 2012 around the Olympic Park, along with more than a year's work of fairly heavyweight operational testing in all.

Between 50 and 60 days before the games, LOCOG will conduct a week-long test event, simulating live sports and real problem scenarios to test both the networks' resilience and how they will handle the sports operations. "In all testing we will throw many more scenarios at ourselves than we would hope to meet at the games themselves," said Pennell.

Integration testing for the process started in November 2010, and will occupy more than 200,000 hours of testing well into 2011.

But for Crockett, the defining characteristic is about leaving a legacy, with the company having pledged to invest about $500m (£310m) in a British Innovation Gateway (BIG) to help SMEs in the East End of the capital. "The big announcement with John Chambers [Cisco's CEO] and the prime minister is that we will set up a framework to help SMEs."

BIG will include two networked innovation centres: an open innovation centre in Shoreditch developed in partnership with the local SME community, and another at the Olympic Park, with special focus on developing and demonstrating a new wave of solutions for London and other cities. These centres will be underpinned by networked collaboration technologies linking innovation and technology centres across the UK and other global hubs of innovation.

"We will also leave behind 20% of our network for the Get Set programme for schools, and we have various other plans for other parts. The rest [of the equipment] will be reused.

"The Olympics is an opportunity in terms of demonstrating ways of being connected, through the games and as cities," Crockett said.


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