Coping with network traffic during the Olympics
With millions of visitors due to descend on London in less than a year, the impact of the 2012 Games on businesses will extend far beyond the 2.5sq km of the Olympic Park in east London.
Experts from Geo Networks (Geo), a leading provider of dedicated fibre networks, provide insight on how organisations can ensure they are Olympic-ready.
As the Olympics draw closer, data network users are increasingly questioning the impact the Games will have on their networks. Heavy content users, particularly the media and content industry, will require significant capacity increases in order to send both uncompressed and compressed coverage of the Games to viewers around the world. The key challenge will be to deploy the upgrades needed for the first major global event to utilise uncompressed HD and Ultra_HD (UHDTV).
"The media sector will require access to unprecedented amounts of bandwidth for the distribution of uncompressed content in SD, HD or UHDTV, in order to provide exceptional viewing quality," said Mike Ainger, COO at Geo. "We are anticipating that this move to native HD will increase traffic tenfold from previous major sporting events over the last few years."
But the media sector isn't the only industry anticipating a significant strain on its networks, mobile and wireless networks will also be under pressure. Nick Ballard, Head of Mobile at Geo, explains: "During the Olympics, mobile operators will be looking for ways to offload increased traffic from their mobile networks to fixed backhaul networks. Smart devices and video streaming will be the cause of the majority of traffic."
Dedicated fibre-based networks make it much easier for major data users to scale up their capacity as these networks can be designed to the precise requirements of the customer without dependence on intermediate shared infrastructure with its inherent capacity compromises and uncertain upgrade paths.
Ballard continues: "Our mobile customers are among the most technically-savvy and understand explicitly how the event will impact their networks. They are ready and planning, in order to cater for many viewers watching the Games on smart devices and tablets, as well as the increased traffic to RSS feeds, news sites and even eGaming sites."
Scaling up an existing network or deploying a new network, however, will need careful project management. Access to key routes will be heavily restricted, for both the Olympics and Paralympics, from 27th June until 14th September, 2012. Although these restrictions don't apply to operators needing to carry out repair work on existing fibre, access will not be granted for maintenance or new network deployments.
So, how can an organisation ensure that its network infrastructure is Olympic-ready? Firstly, it needs to select a provider that has a proven track record, an Olympic delivery strategy in place and the internal structure to cope with the pressure of such a high profile challenge.
"The impact on mainstream, product-based telcos could be extremely uncomfortable," says Ainger. "Scaling up their operations may not be sufficient; they may require a complete organisational overhaul to deal with such exceptional circumstances."
Similarly, the physical location of an operator's network should also be a key consideration, as should a strong network availability record. Typical surface level networks tend to suffer from more interruptions than networks deep below street level, and even with vehicular traffic management strategies in place, congestion is likely to affect response times.
Geo, which has just five percent of its London network at street level with the remaining buried deep in the sewers, has its Olympic strategy firmly underway. Planned inspection works are to be rescheduled over the Olympic period and any plant affected by access restrictions is being proactively assessed with contingency plans put in place. This could include measures such as pre-provisioning capacity to a different part of the network unaffected by the Olympic route.
Organisations should also consider the impact that the Games will have on working patterns and productivity. At the Sydney Olympics, 27 percent of employees took leave from work, 24 percent changed the number of hours they worked and 22 percent worked remotely. It is predicted that London will continue this trend and it is expected that the resultant impact on corporate IT infrastructure, particularly remote access, could be considerable.
Gordon McCulloch, Geo's Head of Customer Network Engineering asks: "How many businesses have planned to dimension the capacity they will need for significant increases in the number of remote access sessions, or considered the impact of allowing employees to stream coverage to their desks? Both could be valuable tools for maintaining productivity during the Games".
So, when considering network strategy around the Olympics, Geo has clear recommendations.
• Plan early. Operators will be dealing with increased demand around the Olympics, so schedule work to go live before the access restrictions are enforced.
• Consider the operator's pre-Olympics preparations – have they surveyed the routes and pre-provisioned fibre capacity where required?
• Select an operator that has an accessible network. Networks laid at street level will be prone to the most disruption.
• Look at an operator's historic network availability. Despite a Traffic Management Order allowing operators to access networks for emergency work, there may still be significant congestion, so avoid providers with availability levels under 99.9999%.
• Consider a network provider's organisational culture. It will be under significant strain if it has had to reorganise its resources and workforce to deal with the upheaval of the Games.
• Ensure that you have the correct business model to deal with capacity requirements. A dedicated fibre network is an astute investment for the future and has the ability to rapidly scale up capacity unlike many shared products.
• Consider your supplier's track record in delivery, to ensure that even if you provision fibre capacity in advance, it will be capable of providing this to you on time.