An Olympics CIO looks back

Ward Chapin reflects on the 2010 Winter Games and the IT strategy it took to be successful, while Avaya looks ahead to the “BYOD Olympics”

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Olympics 2014 CIO

I’ve always thought of the Olympics as the biggest sporting event on the planet. But until recently, I’d never given much thought to the technology behind such a global spectacle.

Ward Chapin changed all that at the Avaya Evolutions conference in Toronto. In an onstage chat with Jean Turgeon, Avaya’s VP of worldwide solutions engineering, Chapin talked about his time as CIO of the 2010 Vancouver games. It was a bit like Chapin passing the Olympic IT torch, since Avaya is the official supplier of networking equipment for Sochi.

Chapin reflected on what he learned from running the biggest IT project in the world; Turgeon revealed how Avaya is prepping Sochi to be the most connected Olympics ever. Turns out that running IT at the Olympics is more like running IT in the enterprise than you imagined.

Expectations are high: IT at the Olympics is “absolutely expected to be flawless,” Chapin said. The Vancouver games racked up 275 million visits to the official website and 50,000 hours of coverage across TV, mobile and other platforms. An outage? That’d be catastrophic.

Mobile is everything: Avaya CTO Brett Shockley has proclaimed Sochi as “the first BYOD Olympics.” To that end, Avaya has tricked out the games with 50,000 ethernet ports and 2,000 wireless access points.

RELATED VIDEO: Avaya Evolutions brings Toronto together.

Consumerization of IT continues: Remember when we could only consume Olympic coverage carried by official broadcast sponsors? Now spectators take smartphone videos from the stands and share them instantly on social media. Similarly, Turgeon pointed out that businesses today expect their IT services to be deployed as quickly and easily as consumer ones. Why? Because you can sign up for Dropbox at home in two minutes but you have to wait six weeks to get a new email address at work, Turgeon noted.

It’s about need, not just speed: Racing events at the Olympics are now timed down to one millionth of a second. And in enterprise IT, Turgeon said, “every little millisecond counts,” especially for apps relying on real time performance. But speed isn’t the whole picture, he added. Focus on what the business needs, not just what the technology does, he advised: “Don’t think about box speeds. Think about business agility.”

Communication unification: The Sochi Olympics are the first to feature IP video transmission instead of co-axial cable. In a nod to convergence, all video and other Sochi data will be carried over a unified network.

Security is a constant concern: On the eve of London’s 2012 Olympics, hackers made a credible threat to shut down electricity at the opening ceremonies. Just one hour before the show, a contingency plan was worked out to manually restore power if needed. Crikey.

Disaster planning never ends: It just wouldn’t snow at the Vancouver games. So 9,000 cubic meters of machine-made snow were brought in by trucks, helicopters and bulldozers. Chapin’s new worry? That kilometers of ground-laid co-ax cable would be cut, crushed or dislodged by all those bulldozers and trucks. See? It’s always something.

Victory should be celebrated: Take time to savour your IT accomplishments. As Shockley told the crowd at his own Toronto presentation, “I’ve got special seats for the (Sochi) curling final. I can’t wait.”

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