Avaya builds Sochi connections

Sochi 2A two-time champion in Olympic bidding, Avaya has won the right to act as official network supplier for the upcoming Sochi Winter Games.  As part of preparations for the global competition, the business communications specialist has successfully negotiated its first test — a technical dress rehearsal for complete network, communications and collaboration solutions to support the connectivity needs of athletes, dignitaries and sponsors, as well as the 75,000 daily visitors to the Olympic Park and the three billion strong global television audience that organizers are expecting to welcome to the event on February 7.

Avaya’s selection by the as Sochi 2014 Organizing Committee follows on its successful management of communication requirements for the Vancouver Olympics. But much has changed since Avaya built the first all IP converged voice, video and data network solution for the Vancouver Games back in 2010. While the pace of mobile revolution has generated new user demand for anywhere access to resources from any device, expectations for the instant access to broadcast media including video and still imagery represent another hurdle for network architects.

In addition, the Sochi site itself has introduced its own challenges: a number of new venues, including the Bolshoy Ice Dome, Fisht Olympic Stadium, Ice Cube Curling Center, Sliding Center Sanki, Laura Cross-country Ski and Biathlon complex have been built to house events in two separate "mountain" and "coastal" clusters. Avaya’s network will have to provide seamless connectivity between these distributed sites as well as support for broadcast stream to live sites that have been built to bring the games to fans in cities across Russia. All told, 30 IPTV channels will cross the Avaya network infrastructure, while photos from wireless enabled cameras are dispatched to games administrators and the media. And while it manages huge data flows — including traffic spikes around popular events — and secure access to network resources from thousands of Game participants, the network will also have to support Sochi’s unique security requirements.  As the Globe and Mail reports, concern over terrorist attacks from Chechen and other rebel groups means that the Sochi Games will be subjected to extreme surveillance by Russia’s Federal Security Bureau. Communications companies (Rostelecom is the primary fixed carrier partner) have been ordered to provide security services with "round-the-clock remote access" to the email and telephone communications of all Sochi participants and spectators.

Dean Frohwerk, Avaya distinguished solution engineer
Dean Frohwerk, Avaya distinguished solution engineer

So how has Avaya tackled these challenges? According to Avaya distinguished solution engineer Dean Frohwerk, in building a set of solutions of this magnitude, experience is key: "the base architecture mirrored that of the Vancouver Olympics, and we were able to apply some exciting new technologies to make it [network implementation] easier." Chief network architect for Avaya’s Vancouver deployment, Frohwerk brought this experience to work with a Canadian-based team on the initial design of the Sochi network back in 2010. Olympic networks, he explained, have two aspects: a Games network for scoring, results and accreditation systems that is built on a familiar model with well known tech requirements, and an "admin network" which entails more pre-planning based on a demand model generated from input provided by the Olympic Committee and different country organizations. Since needs definition is ultimately "best guess," he added that the "network has to be nimble enough to react as things develop because we don’t see our users until just before the Games, and there is a chance needs will change." Frohwerk will head up a team of 30 support engineers for quick response to network operation needs at the Russian event, though in design, the team has erred on the side of caution, over provisioning in WiFi networks in particular, in response to anticipated user population densities.

In implementing the Sochi network, logistics posed a bigger challenge than conceptual design. While the shipment of equipment into Russia was sometimes unpredictable, the Avaya team spent a good deal of its three year prep time in lab testing and simulation in Moscow before "rip and replace" to the Sochi location. A greenfield site, Sochi required new construction of all infrastructures — such as roads, electricity and communications.  As a result, the team began its onsite data centre build later than usual in Olympics projects.

The Avaya implementation covers a range of technologies, including networking technology, unified communications technology and applications like contact centre. The team has built from the bottom up, beginning with a core backbone network based on the Avaya Virtual Enterprise Network Architecture and running on the Avaya Virtual Services Platform 9000. In addition to centralized configuration, orchestration and management, the network core uses Shortest Path Bridging (SPB), a robust link state protocol based on IEEE and IETF standards that simplifies network complexity through automatic provisioning of endpoints where the application meets the network. This allows for the transparent extension of Layer 2 and/or Layer 3 domains across a virtual backbone (without additional configuration of endpoints) to facilitate the provisioning of new services or capacity adjustment during spikes in network demand. Frohwerk described this Fabric Connect technology deployment as follows: "we make the entire Olympic network from all the venues and support locations look like one data centre fabric. We build out that fabric using our VSP 9k and ERS 8800 core switches and then we are quickly able to provision and add endpoints along the edges." This approach is differentiated from a traditional data centre environment, he added, through extension of the fabric out to various Park locations (branch offices).

Virtualized networking also enables the creation of different network zones, including secure zones for voice communications, enterprise or admin applications, IPTV and the Games network which instantaneously tracks all competitions. At Sochi, the Avaya network will support real time delivery of event video created by the Olympic Broadcast Services, which films and distributes footage to onsite participants and event venues and to international broadcast feeds, while providing service for the large commercial channels, such as NBC or CNN. According to Frohwerk, approximately 1,500 screens and set top boxes will run across the core network fabric which features SPB and native IP multicast capability to allow multicast streams to connect directly to the network (rather than through separate router protocols). "It’s basically plug and play," Frohwerk explained: "we put the sources on the network and the receivers just join them. It’s really that simple."

On the collaboration front, the Canadian team has deployed Avaya’s Aura, a common architecture and management platform for voice, video and data communications that at Sochi includes a collaboration solution for the Olympic Committee. Indoor and outdoor WiFi will be provided throughout the Park via the Avaya’s WirelessLAN 8100 Series, a scalable wireless networking solution incorporating the 802.11n wireless standard, and Avaya Identity Engines will be used to assign network access rights and permissions based on a user’s credentials and role. Media, athletes, IOC officials, for example, may all be placed in designated virtualized networks with different service levels for connection. The goal is to better manage bandwidth demand and to protect against security breaches.

From a networking point of view, Avaya expects that the Sochi implementation will showcase a number of "firsts," such as: BYOD support for over 120,000 different devices, unprecedented use of social media for an Olympic event, the first  Olympic use of "fabric-enabled" networking (50,000 Ethernet ports), the largest Olympic wireless network (2,000 WiFi access points), the first use of "IP video" with over 30 HD channels distributed throughout the Olympic village and the largest guest network in the world with critical security and access capabilities. Most enterprises will have more modest requirements; however, performance at the Olympics offers Avaya potential for tremendous marketing opportunity.  While Frohwerk noted some of the benefits of the new networking technologies that may be of interest to the enterprise customer - edge provisioning at ten times the speed and ease of traditional networks and simpler network operation and maintenance — the best advertisement is Sochi network scale and the concentration of global eyes on the Sochi events. And the Russia connection is not without value — as Frohwerk explained, learnings from the Sochi experience have already been helpful as "Russia is a growing area and we are beginning to see a lot of ancillary business out of Sochi."

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