Cloud computing underpins Uefa business strategy

Uefa outsourced its IT infrastructure to a supplier-built private cloud to cope with demand and free up in-house resources for contingency action

Uefa has outsourced its IT infrastructure to a supplier-built private cloud to meet the challenges of the digital age.

At a time when digital technology is revolutionising the way people watch sporting events, organisations such as Uefa – which make money selling broadcasting rights – must harness the latest IT if they are to benefit financially. 

The added strain these front-line challenges bring to IT departments means organisations must find ways to reduce the IT department’s workload when it comes to keeping things running smoothly in the background.

Cloud computing has enabled Uefa to do this.

Uefa outsourced its IT infrastructure to telecoms provider Interoute, which built a private cloud for the organisation’s critical systems. 

The Uefa Euro 2012 tournament

Interoute has network assets in 100 European cities, 21 metropolitan area networks, eight datacentres and points of presence in Eastern Europe. June 2012 saw the strategy put to test as 16 teams from across Europe contested the Uefa Euro 2012 tournament.

Uefa’s Euro 2012 IT challenges can be split into two. On the one hand the organisation must provide its customers, the international broadcasting companies, with services to allow them to package their own Euro 2012 broadcasts, for an estimated global TV audience of 4.3 billion.  

Meanwhile Uefa must deal with the substantial logistical challenge of running football events. With 40,000 participants and hundreds of thousands of spectators to coordinate, the critical systems must be fail-proof. One failed delivery of equipment or denied access for an official could be disastrous., the organisation’s main website, demonstrates how digital technology is changing football consumption, with many viewing options as well as other online resources, such as its Fantasy Football management competition available.

For example, Uefa must provide nine different live streams to TV broadcasters across the globe to help them put together their Euro coverage. These include the official Uefa cut of the game as well as other streams, such as images from the crowd and film of teams arriving and preparing. 

Digital technology also enables Uefa to offer broadcasters views of games from different angles.

This is the type of activity enables Uefa to make more money, but none would be possible without a large and complex computer system that provides the backbone to Uefa's multiple football tournaments.

The football administration management environment

The football administration management environment (Fame) is an in-house developed portal which is vital to ensure the 40,000 or so tournament participants, ranging from spectators and taxi drivers to the players, can do what they are accredited to do.

An example of Fame’s role is in accreditation. Each participant has a pass which uses RFID to permit them into the areas they need to access. This pass will link to multiple other systems, such as databases, through Fame. It also runs ticketing systems for spectators.

Fame is so critical to Uefa operations that when the organisation and Interoute wanted to test fail-over, it took six months to find a day they could do it.

Fame now sits in a private cloud environment created and supported by Interoute. Critical systems that underpin Fame – such as Microsoft Active Directory, Microsoft Exchange and SAP – were migrated to the Interoute cloud in August last year. 

In total, Uefa has about 60 applications, ranging from simple intranets to systems to accredit participants. Interoute also hosts, which expected about 400 million visits during the tournament.

Uefa set up a command centre in Warsaw, known as the International Broadcast Centre (IBC). All critical systems are hosted at the IBC and communication between the IBC and different sites is constant. Each night, between 02.00hrs and 08.00hrs, IT staff have an opportunity to carry out maintenance work while there are no events in progress.

Uefa's private cloud infrastructure

The private cloud sits in two datacentres, in Amsterdam and Geneva. It not only frees-up IT staff through the outsourced model, but also provides Uefa with the ability to flex the amount computing resources required easily.

The flexibility provided by the cloud infrastructure was demonstrated during the tournament, when Uefa’s Fantasy Football game experienced a substantial spike in demand. Uefa recognised it needed to increase server capacity and instructed Interoute to give it 50 more virtual servers. In total the IBC used over 500 virtual machines for, Fame and other apps.

Weynand Kuijpers, senior service delivery manager in the Uefa ICT unit, was based at the centre from 20 May to 2 July 2012. It was home to many IT workers from 5 June to 3 July 2012.

Kuijpers said that, as the IT team are working on a live event, complacency is the biggest threat. 

“The main challenge is to keep everybody paying attention to all the little details," said Kuijpers.  

"As it is a live event, it requires the utmost attention, to prepare for the event and to have worked through all possible scenarios, to be ready before they happen.

"The biggest challenge is actually not technical but is complacency. 

"After 15 matches, it is easy to think that everything is under control, but the reality is that another 16 matches have to be played, and therefore there is still the requirement to be at everyone’s very best.”

For the Uefa Euro 2012 event there was about 50 IT staff based in the IBC in Warsaw and about another 30 spread across the different venues. 

Each venue had an ICT operations manager, an ICT coordinator and a helpdesk. All these people were in contact via videoconferencing 24 hours a day. Teams from Uefa, interoute and other suppliers staff the IBC and sit together, to ensure decisions can be made immediately if an issue arises.

What next for Uefa's systems?

That the tournament has ended does not mean a break in activity. The IBC will take less than a week to be dismantled and the equipment will be moved to the next event. Unlike FIFA, which runs a World Cup every four years, Uefa has annual tournaments such as the Champions League and the Europa Cup, as well as the Euro tournament.

Kuijpers said that, over the next couple of weeks, the IT team will review the event to see where improvements can be made. He said there is a returning lesson: “This is to prepare as much as possible as early as possible, and while we have started to consider what and how to do things for 2016, experience tells us we will still run out of time.”

What was learnt this year was that tablets were very useful, said Kuijpers. 

“Daily reporting by a large number of match officials is conducted on the iPad instead of laptops and or paperwork," said Kuijpers.

He added that a high-speed network also had huge benefits, because it enabled staff to direct and edit match streams remotely.

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