Sochi 2014 Will Showcase Avaya’s Cutting-Edge Networking Technology to Russia — and the World.
Are the Olympic Games the pinnacle of sporting achievements—or of technology deployments? It’s not as absurd a question as it sounds. As the official network supplier for the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games, Avaya is building its most ambitious network ever: one that will be virtualized, multiservice, all-IP, fabric-enabled—and able to support tens of thousands of device-toting Olympic employees, volunteers, athletes, media, and others while providing up to 54 terabits per second (Tbps) of bandwidth. It will be a showcase for Avaya—not only for the fast-growing Russian market, but for the rest of the world as well. Maintaining steady speeds is a notoriously difficult task due to “consumer expectations of always-on Internet and roaming,” wrote Avaya EMEA President Michael Bayer in the Financial Times earlier this summer. But Avaya is up to the challenge. The network in Sochi will authenticate and manage access for all mobile users while ensuring that Wi-Fi speeds remain strong, whether they’re taking “selfie” photos on their smartphones to post on Facebook or downloading real-time streaming HD video on their tablets.
By the time the XXII Olympic Winter Games actually start on February 7 next year in this Black Sea resort town, Avaya will have sent hundreds of experts from Avaya Professional Services and Avaya Consulting Services, as well as trainers from Avaya Learning Services, to teach their local counterparts how to manage and operate the network.
This is the third consecutive Olympic Winter Games for which Avaya or its 2009 acquisition, Nortel Networks, is the official network supplier. Avaya employees working on Sochi say that it is more challenging than Vancouver (2010) and Torino (2006) by far. They also evince total confidence that the Avaya network in Sochi will perform as flawlessly as it has in past Olympics.
Avaya’s network has been tested multiple times over the past six months in a slew of pre-Olympics sporting events, according to Peter Thompson, Managing Director for Avaya Professional Services. Everything has “performed well and in line with expectations.”
“While we’ve found—and rectified—some non-optimal network configurations, any issues that were encountered were swiftly dealt with,” says Rob Morrison, an Avaya Senior Professional Services Consultant who has helped oversee the network’s deployment on the ground.
From Vancouver to Sochi
Avaya entered the bidding for the Sochi Games in the fall of 2011 well prepared. Besides its historical involvement in the Olympics, Avaya (through Nortel) had built the first all-IP converged voice, data, and video network for the 2010 Vancouver Games. (Nortel also won the contract to supply the 2012 London Summer Games, but turned it down due to the timing of its acquisition by Avaya.)
According to Dean Frohwerk, who was Avaya’s Chief Network Architect in Vancouver and has a similar role for Sochi, Vancouver’s network was—to oversimplify things—a single, mammoth virtual campus run at Layer 2. That was sufficient for Vancouver, and indeed performed with no problems, says Frohwerk.
But that architecture wouldn’t be sufficient for Sochi for several reasons. First is the explosion in mobile devices and social media usage. Unlike Vancouver, where wired traffic outnumbered wireless by a factor of 4-to-1, the ratio is expected to be reversed in Sochi, with Wi-Fi traffic dwarfing wired traffic.
“People’s habits have just changed,” says Frohwerk. “At the Vancouver Games, the average attendee only had one mobile device. This time around, it’s going to be more like three.”
The second factor is video. The Vancouver network only supported very limited Internet Protocol TV (IPTV). By contrast, while Avaya’s backbone won’t be supplying video for the 3 billion people expected to tune in to the Sochi Games, it will still broadcast 30 HD IPTV channels to several thousand TVs in places like the media center, the Olympic Village, and other Sochi venues. Moreover, tens of thousands of journalists, coaches, and athletes will be able to log in to the Avaya network and watch the streamed video on their tablets and smartphones. This means a reporter watching figure skating live in the Bolshoy Ice Dome can also watch downhill skiing on HDTV. Press photographers will have instant access to thousands of photos via wireless-enabled cameras at the moment an athlete crosses the finish line.
The third factor is the large physical area across which the Sochi Games will take place. Olympic events will be held in two clusters. In the Caucasus Mountains shadowing Sochi, one cluster will host events such as ski jumping and luge. The other cluster will be along the coast in the sprawling city of Sochi itself, which at 145 kilometers (90 miles) in length claims to be Europe’s longest city. Events there will be held in new stadiums and arenas purpose-built for the Games.
V Is for Virtualization
To accommodate all of this, Avaya has installed a voice and data backbone rooted in its Virtual Enterprise Network Architecture (VENA) Fabric Connect solution. This involves four Virtual Service Platform (VSP) 9000 switches, two in each major data center. Based on Avaya’s shortest-path bridging (SPB) technology, each VSP 9000 provides high-speed Ethernet connectivity capable of scaling to handle up to 54 Tbps of voice and data traffic. (To learn more about SPB read the article here.)
It’s a showcase for Avaya—not only for the fast-growing Russian market, but for the rest of the world as well. Moreover, by working in conjunction with Avaya’s ERS 8800 switches on the edges, the entire network is being virtualized at Layer 3 instead of Layer 2. Mapping the network at the virtual software layer has many advantages. For one, the switches can act more intelligently at a local level, as well as route traffic in a more efficient way. This helps to avoid traffic jams and crashes, boosting performance and uptime.
At Layer 3, the network can also create and manage many more endpoints than was possible in Vancouver. Each and every laptop or mobile device logging on to the network will have its individual Media Access Control (MAC) address registered by a central directory. Working in conjunction with Avaya’s Identity Engines software, this will enable the network to authenticate mobile users quickly and grant them the access rights and bandwidth appropriate for their predetermined access level—making bandwidth use more efficient while also boosting security.
According to Frohwerk, Avaya is also providing voice telephony along with 6,500 voicemail boxes via its Avaya Aura® Communication Manager (CM) and CM Messaging, as well as call center capabilities for a small technical help desk via Avaya Aura Call Center Elite.
All told, this is cutting-edge infrastructure at its finest. With nearly all of the hardware and software already installed, “we’re just fine-tuning it at this point, working in tandem with the employees of the Organizing Committee of the Olympic Games to show them the best methods,” says Morrison.
Morrison, Frohwerk, and Thompson freely admit they’ve encountered more than their share of adventures along the way. For Morrison, a grizzled telecommunications veteran who has been visiting Sochi continuously since September 2012, there was the truck carrying expensive Avaya hardware that was out of radio contact for days while traveling over remote roads in Kazakhstan (it was eventually found, and the equipment arrived safely). Then there was the other Avaya hardware truck that, upon delivery, was discovered to have been bouncing along rough roads for hundreds of miles without any protective strapping or cushioning for the expensive cargo. “That was cause for concern,” says Morrison with wry Scottish understatement, though he emphasizes that the equipment turned out to be undamaged.
For Frohwerk, the biggest difficulties have been posed by the fact that much of Sochi for the past year has been turned into an enormous building site (more than $50 billion is reportedly being spent to construct arenas, hotels, skyscrapers, and more). And Thompson visited a remote, heavily guarded warehouse owned by an Avaya partner that was so surreal he joked that he felt as if he had wandered onto the set of the movie Inception.
Despite these challenges, everything is being done to ensure that the Sochi Games go off without a hitch. Just as 450,000 cubic meters of snow are being stored in the mountains above Sochi in case temperatures hit 66 degrees next February (as they did this past one), the Sochi network has undergone numerous live tests with world-class sporting events including figure skating, ski jumping, speed skating, skiing, snowboarding, luge, ice hockey, and curling. All have passed with flying colors.
Part of that preparation has been the planned transfer of knowledge from Avaya consultants to their Russian counterparts. All told, more than 170 Russians—working with one of 10 local business partners selected by Avaya or with the Organizing Committee itself—are being trained by Avaya Learning Services.
Morrison praises the quality of Avaya’s Russian counterparts. While “it’s pretty new technology for everyone—us included—the Russians, fortunately, are fairly advanced,” he says. “Their engineering academies turn out pretty good graduates.”
Indeed, the Russian-trained staffers will provide all the Tier 1 and Tier 2 support during the Games. Avaya Global Support Services staffers based in the Games’ Technical Operations Center will provide Tier 3 and Tier 4 support when needed.
After the Olympics
This transfer of knowledge to Russian partners is key. “We’re growing the Avaya army in Russia tremendously,” says Amir Yunusov, Territory Account Manager for Olympics, Hospitality, and Development at Avaya. While Avaya was already well-known in the Russian IT market for telephony and contact centers, Sochi 2014 is doing wonders to raise Avaya’s profile as a network infrastructure provider. “The market now understands what we can provide in all verticals,” he says.
Avaya has already won more than 30 Olympic-related commercial contracts that are incremental to its contract with the Organizing Committee. For instance, it is supplying the networking, telephony, and other communications services for the new town being built in the mountains adjacent to where the Olympic skiing, bobsled, biathlon, and other events will be held. Avaya will also supply communications infrastructure and services for developers of the Grand Prix auto races that will take place in Sochi starting in late 2014, says Yunusov, as well as the 2018 World Cup soccer matches that will be held in 11 Russian cities, including Sochi.
As Bayer noted in the Financial Times, “The Russian government is clearly investing in innovation and IT, making it a critical emerging market, a greenfield for emerging technologies, and a country that offers growing opportunities for operation and investment by international business.” When Avaya pulls everything off, as it has done in Olympic Games past, Sochi should end up being the investment that returns dividends for years—possibly decades—to come.
Avaya Products used at Sochi
- Avaya VENA Fabric Connect
- Avaya Ethernet Routing Switches (ERS) 4500, 5600, and 8800
- Avaya Virtual Services Platform (VSP) 9000
- Avaya Wireless LAN 8100 Series
- Avaya Identity Engines
- Avaya Visualization Performance and Fault Manager
- Avaya Configuration and Orchestration Manager
Eric Lai is Editorial Director at Avaya, overseeing the company’s books, magazines, blogs, and social media. A former technology journalist, Lai joined Avaya from SAP, where his writing on enterprise mobility attracted more than 100,000 readers a month and was awarded Top Corporate Blog by BtoB Magazine.