Networking the games

More than 1,000 network devices will be used to help connect the vast IT systems at the Beijing Olympic Games, now some four months away.

These Olympic network tools, including routers and switches, ensure competition results and other critical event information get relayed out of 70 competition and non-competition venues across seven cities in China (Beijing, Hong Kong, Qingdao, Tianjin, Shanghai, Shenyang, Qinhuangdao).

"There will be a main and backup network connection for each of these venues. We are working very closely with China Netcom who provides this massive network infrastructure," says Jeremy Hore, the chief integrator at the Olympics, who is also from Paris-based IT service provider Atos Origin. The Wi-Fi networks will be provided by China Mobile.

Supporting and implementing the IT infrastructure is handled by Atos Origin. As the Games IT integrator, the company is responsible for designing, building and operating the whole IT infrastructure.

The network will have to support 10,000 computers (twice the number used in the 2002 Salt Lake City Games), 1,000 servers, two separately located, purpose-built and exclusive data centers, and 4,800 special result system terminals.

Massive data flow

"The main purpose of the Games data network is to transmit the competition results in real-time from the venues during the games," says Hore. "During the busiest days of the games there will be more than 20 different sports taking place, so all of the results, statistics, athlete information, etc has to flow through the network. There is nothing that compares to it. The network will also be used for operations support services such as monitoring and technical support."

All the competition data is transmitted instantaneously to different groups such as the official website, broadcasters, press and international sports federations. There are more than 20,000 media in Beijing for the Olympics and more than four billion people are expected to be watching across the globe.

"In Beijing, the amount of data on the network is much greater than four years ago, due to a continued demand for more real-time data for more sports. So obviously we have had to scale the Beijing network to match this," says Hore.

One significant improvement made from the previous Olympics was the way the network equipment has been deployed. Instead of configuring each device manually one at a time, the Atos Origin team developed a system to automatically configure them centrally, then deploy to the venues where a final check is done. According to Hore, this new method improves the network quality and reduces the manpower effort needed.

Test test test

In terms of testing for the Olympics, for more than a year before the actual games the technology team has been supporting test events for each sport. "We are testing it together with China Netcom and the Beijing Organizing Committee for the Olympics Games (BOCOG). This helps to validate the network architecture and identify areas for improvement," says Hore. Around 10,000 test cases would be conducted in the integration lab.

In addition to the Test Events, the team runs extensive performance tests with expected games time load and failover tests to ensure that the backup systems are working. This testing is still in progress, reveals Hore.

For security, the core games network will not be connected to the Internet, nor will it involve wireless facilities. Wi-Fi is not considered to be safe enough by the Atos Origin team. Nevertheless, event results are expected to be available to the media via the wireless information service outside the core network.

"We have worked very closely with BOCOG to prepare the security of the network, but we can't go into details of the design. Then, of course we monitor everything on the network very closely to quickly identify anything that could be suspicious," concludes Hore.

This story, "Networking the games" was originally published by CIO.

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