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Inside the network powering the Sochi Olympics

The Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, requires an innovative network.

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Credit: REUTERS/Brian Snyder

The Winter Olympics kicked off late last week in Sochi, Russia. Personally, I’m looking forward to my home country, Canada, bringing home the gold in ice hockey.

However, the sporting events aren’t the only thing to get excited about in Sochi. The network at the games is also worth paying attention to. This year marked a number of firsts for the network architecture, including the first time network fabrics, virtual networks, and IPTV were deployed. Additionally, this will be the first games to offer free Wi-Fi to the Olympic members, and will have one of the largest BYOD environments ever implemented.

The supplier of the Olympic network, Avaya, was also the vendor for the Vancouver winter games four years ago. The company was able to gain from the Vancouver experience of building the first all-IP network to support the games, as well as having a virtual campus design, application-specific routers and a flat layer 2 network.

The Sochi network is a good example of the power and scale of a network fabric, and it’s a good platform for Avaya to show off its networking capabilities. The scale of the network was about three-times that of the recent Super Bowl, except the network needs to run for 17 consecutive days instead of one. Below are some of the attributes of the Sochi network:

  • 54 Terabit backbone
  • 2,000 Ethernet switches
  • 50,000 Ethernet ports
  • 2,500 wireless access points
  • 36 HD channels
  • 1,500 IPTV screens
  • 6,500 VoIP phones

The network needs to support the following venues and individuals:

  • 11 competition venues
  • 2 data centers
  • 2 operation centers
  • 3 Olympic villages
  • 2 media centers
  • 2 celebration centers 
  • Approximately 50,000 network users not including fans in attendance including 5,500 athletes, 14,000 media and 25,000 volunteers

The network at Sochi foreshadows how networks will be built in the future. I understand that the path to this type of network for most companies may be slow, as migrating to a fabric and network virtualization is more difficult than building it in a Greenfield situation, but the Sochi network is worth looking at to get an understanding of what’s possible.

The design of the network is based on Avaya’s VENA architecture, which actually promoted the concept of virtual services before SDNs became all the rage. The hub of the network is a dynamic data center which actually consists of two geographically redundant physical data centers that leverage a high-performance core and a distributed, low-latency top-of-rack layer for a flat network design.

Connecting to the data center is the virtual services fabric that leverages Avaya’s Fabric Connect technology based on the IEEE standard Shortest Path Bridging (SPB) protocol, instead of the aging spanning tree protocol. This part of the network is effectively a cloud infrastructure that has 20ms recovery rates for minimal downtime.

Lastly, an intelligent edge was created to connect the various venues. The Fabric Connect technology was extended to each location, enabling any service to be delivered to every point in the network for scalable, secure access over the wireless network.

Over top of the physical network, the following seven virtual service layers were created:

  • Secure management
  • Media transparent LAN services
  • Wi-Fi services
  • Organizing committee service
  • Unified communication service (based on Avaya Aura virtualized UC platform)
  • Games network
  • IPTV service

Of those seven layers, the one that I found most interesting was the IPTV service layer. When it comes to networking, IPTV is a beast and it requires a highly resilient, low-latency, and above all, fast network to perform. The primary challenge for the network is to distribute 36 HD video channels to 1,500 IPTV screens in each venue. Fabric Connect enables scalable and efficient multicast distribution for high-quality video with fast channel change.

I also found the BYOD and guest access implications interesting. Most organizations struggle with on boarding a few thousand devices. The Olympic network had to scale up from zero users to more than 40,000 in a single day. The other challenge is that the network had to be built with no knowledge of device types, nor is there the ability to train users. Fabric Connect extends all network services to all points in the network, including security services, to ensure users have a high-quality, secure experience.

Overall, I think the Sochi network is a great venue for Avaya and the whole SDN industry to showcase the power of fabrics and virtual services. So as you’re watching the Olympics over the next couple of weeks, think of the software defined network that’s powering the games.

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