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Republican National Convention venue gets network makeover

Zamboni storage room now a temporary office space, wired for voice and data

By , Network World
August 13, 2008 12:43 PM ET

Network World - ST. PAUL, MINN. — What does it take to convert a hockey arena into a site that can handle the technology demands of the Republican National Convention? Roughly 25 miles of cabling, for starters.

Slideshow: Go behind the scenes of setting up the RNC's network

Since gaining access to the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, convention organizers have laid miles of cable, removed 3,500 seats, started transforming 30 arena suites into temporary media studios, and begun rigging the trusses that will hold lighting, speakers and other production equipment.

As venues go, the arena's openness and existing infrastructure have kept the IT challenges manageable, says Max Everett, CIO for the committee in charge of the 2008 Republican National Convention.  But with less than a month until the convention kicks off on Sept. 1, there's still plenty to do to ready the Xcel Center, home of the Minnesota Wild professional hockey team, for the 45,000 expected participants.

"The big issue for us is capacity. What we're doing far exceeds normal usage," says Everett, who served as director of IT for the Republican Party's 2004 convention in New York City. Everett moved to the St. Paul area 14 months ago as his involvement in this year's convention intensified.

"There are a lot of people pulling wires everywhere right now," he says. With the main fiber runs laid, most of the ongoing wiring is to extend voice and data coverage to temporary workspaces, which are being located in every conceivable spot. For example, 30 people are working out of the arena's Zamboni storage room. Locker rooms, too, have become temporary office space for convention staff. (See photos of the converted Zamboni room and more in our slide show.)

"We have a lot of people working in odd places," Everett says. "We try to make use of every square foot of the building."

In a walk through the arena with Network World, Everett fielded requests for additional laptops and connectivity from convention staff members. But the requests didn't ruffle him. Changes are all part of the plan, Everett says. Sometimes staff can't anticipate all the gear they'll need until they arrive and have a chance to really see the space, he says. "I just assume we're going to have to run stuff to every nook and cranny."

Live access

Viewers around the world will be able to watch when the Republican Party formalizes its nomination of Sen. John McCain for the upcoming U.S. presidential election. Every major television network (and plenty of minor networks) will be onsite. In addition, 130 radio shows will broadcast from the convention. For Web viewers, Ustream.TV will provide a platform for broadcasting live video streams from the four-day event.

Working with telecom provider Qwest, the television networks are using a mix of fiber, satellite and microwave networks for video traffic, Everett says. "Some will do editing and production here on site, some will use fiber long-hauls and go all the way back to where their normal production sites are, in New York or Atlanta or wherever," he says.

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