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A Network of Olympic Proportions

February 11, 2014

The Olympics, as do practically all sports, worships data. Just look it up.

The London 2012 Olympics laid claim to being the first social media games … more a fortunate coincidence of time and place than brilliant pre-planning. So, it’s no wonder that 18 months later – an eternity in social media terms – that Sochi is picking up the digital data torch.

The games themselves are the least of it. People ski, skate and skeleton really fast. Hockey and curling scores get totaled. And skaters… well, that’s up to the judges, and results get recorded. The 2014 Games is an anniversary of sorts. It will have been 50 years since the Olympic results database moved from paper to computer.

Would the games themselves go on without all this digification? It would be hard, given that 1/1,000 of a second can garner a record-setting performance. Simple battery back may suffice to power finish-line electronics. Everything else would be an enormous mess, though, from results reporting to traffic management to smart climate control inside the Bolshoy Ice Dome.

In this, the most digitally enabled games of all time, it’s all about the network — a mostly wireless network at that. This Olympics network will handle 54Tbps of data traffic, ten times more than the Vancouver Winter Games four years earlier. In Vancouver, they sized the network for one portable device per person; Sochi is ramped for four. In the days leading up to the 2012 London Games, pre-testing of that network produced more than 200,000 hours of Big Data, the equivalent of 8,333 days … pre-testing! With improved tools and smarter software, we can only imagine at this point what Big Data analyses will tell us about the people and events after Sochi concludes.

First, there are the 30,000 athletes, administrators, staff, IOC officials and volunteers, all with their own voice/data network and sign-on credentials. Then there’s 2,000 accredited international and Russian media, plus 6,000 television and radio broadcasters. Organizers expect 75,000 visitors per day, and over 3 billion TV viewers. Sochi will operate 30 IPTV channels for tablets and smart phones. Essentially, every aspect of the Games is available online in real time. Behind the scenes are 400 servers, 5,600 PCs and 3,000 business technologists making sure availability is never an issue.

Just a few years ago, Sochi was largely a green-field opportunity. There was a dearth of sporting venues, tourist accommodations, highways and telecom systems. This enabled network designers to architect a relatively simple technology infrastructure, which was fortunate given that controlling the types of devices that used on this enormous “guest” network is next to impossible; it just has to intuitively work for everyone on it.

Today in Sochi, we have a snapshot into the future of smart cities, advanced telecomm, social interaction and the continuing evolution of the Internet of Everything. Then again, the future is not as distant as it once seemed. What wonders are in store four years from now when South Korea, a hot bed of advanced technology development, steps into the Winter Olympics limelight? It will be exciting to see.

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