Avaya hopes for gold in running the Olympic network

10G IP network handles voice, data and video


When the winter Olympic Games open this weekend, the events will be tied together by a converged 10G Ethernet network backbone.

When the winter Olympic Games open this weekend, the events will be tied together by a converged 10G Ethernet network backbone carved up at Layer 2 to serve five major functions.

Podcast: Avaya goes for gold with Olympic network

The divisions ensure proper quality of service for the five areas: voice; administration; scoring/timing/games; Internet access; and rate card, a network where users can order up phones, Internet bandwidth and other IT services, says Dave Johnson, director of Olympic programs for Avaya, which inherited responsibility for the network when it bought Nortel.  

The Technology behind the Vancouver Olympic Games

A few statistics about the all-IP network give some sense of its complexity: 50 core Ethernet switches (ERS 8600, formerly Nortel, now Avaya), 1,500 edge switches (ERS 4134s), 25,000 MAC addresses, 50,000 Ethernet ports, between 500 and 1,000 wireless access points, and 800 virtual LANs (VLAN). All this serves 5,500 athletes, 25,000 volunteers, 10,000 media and 1.6 million spectators. There are 6,500 tech support people, and users are able to request services and gear online.

The core of the network connects nine competition venues and 43 other sites that provide a range of support to the games such as press facilities, housing and food.

Challenges the designers accounted for include the transient nature of demand, venue to venue. For instance, after a major event at, say, the hockey rink, hundreds of still and video photographers will try to upload images all at the same time, creating an enormous demand for bandwidth that will disappear as quickly as it came, Johnson says.

Use of Layer 2 VLANs to handle this episodic demand will insure that the bandwidth required is available, Johnson says. "We use the VLANs to maintain different priorities on the network," he says.

To smooth ordering, the network supports automatic provisioning of services. So if a news agency needs a wireless access point to connect its handhelds to the network, it can enter its request online. Middleware either connects a user-owned device or gear itself ordered and provisioned by the Olympics group, Johnson says. Users are authenticated using Nortel Secure Network Access (NSNA), network access control, authentication and security gear.

This authentication enables what Johnson calls "anywhere, anytime architecture." Rather than provisioning individual circuits for different uses, this year's network supplies individual Ethernet ports that can carry virtually all the services users might need, he says. Scores of T-1s needed for the last Olympics to meet demand are replaced by the IP network, which has links to the outside world via Bell Canada. This reduces operating costs because there is no need to engineer the network to provision individual services.

Avaya is running the core network, but other vendors include Bell Canada, Atos Origin (IT services), Ricoh (copiers and printers), Omega (timing), Panasonic (monitors) and Samsung (mobile devices), Johnson says.

He says he can't detail what security measures are like, but noted that U.S. and Canadian security agencies are involved for all aspects of security -- hostile events, social disruptions and natural disasters. Security-specific provisioning is something he can't talk about. "But they're not that far departed from what [Avaya does] for Fortune 500 companies," he says.

Johnson says he's been working on the project for three and a half years (six months after the last winter games ended), moving from design, to setting up operating units to deploying operations and technical support teams.

"Reliability is the number-one concern," he says. "We're hoping for 100% flawless games."

Once the Olympics are over, the team stays in town to support the Paralympics before breaking down the network, redistributing the gear and heading home.

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