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Let the games begin!

This is a mammoth undertaking. The cable is moving up and down mountains and across broad swaths of geography that could range in temperature from +20


November 1, 2009  


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Excitement is building for the Vancouver 2010 Winter Games, which will start on Feb. 12, but it is, perhaps, one of the most challenging terrains to wire in the world and there is no room for error. Everything must be working perfectly from that moment, with zero downtime.

Vancouver will play host to 100,000 visitors from 80 countries and will be watched by 3 billion viewers around the world. Timing and scoring must be accurate down to onehundredths of a second, and there must be instantaneous communication of results in order to broadcast events to the world.

This is also the first time the Games will run on an allIP converged network, which will span 130 venues in Vancouver and Whistler Blackcomb, including competitive venues, media centres, athlete villages and the Vancouver Organizing Committee (VANOC) headquarters.

Bell, the official telecommunications partner of Vancouver 2010, designed a 285 kilometre fiber optic cable network in which it took three networks and made them one, reducing the copper footprint by a factor of twothirds. The cable is moving up and down mountains and across broad swaths of geography that could range in temperature from +20° to 20°C in the space of a few kilometres.

The topography of the Olympic venues defines the challenge for VANOC and Bell as the overall provider. “This is not a compact region with relatively flat topography that would support a relatively straightforward cabling deployment,” said Carmi Levy, senior vice president of strategic consulting with AR Communications. “This is about as challenging as it gets.”

The Games include venues in and around Vancouver that are at sea level, all the way up into the mountains across one of the world’s most breathtaking highways. VANOC has to be able to deliver voice, data and Internet services over that infrastructure as seamlessly as it would over a conventional network.

“The fact it’s so geographically challenging cannot be used as an excuse,” says Levy. “This has to work the first time, and it has to work every time.” Bell’s entire reputation is riding on its ability to deliver communications to an unprecedented level. If Bell fails, it could permanently tarnish its reputation. Unlike Beijing, which is a fairly homogeneous region, Vancouver and Whistler cover a range of temperatures, of rain and snow. “The meteorology is highly variable, and that kind of reality plays havoc with network implementation on any scale, let alone one this large,” says Levy. “In the village it can be warm and lovely, but up on the mountain you could have a raging blizzard.”

The network has to account for that. “The way a company like Bell mitigates risk in a project of this scale and scope is by throwing every last resource it possibly can at the project. They’re not skimping on people, on equipment, on related resources.”

From sea to sky

Bell made a $200 million contribution; of that, $60 million is dedicated to services. Technology partners include Atos Origin (which is the integrator for the project), as well as Samsung, Lenovo, Omega, Panasonic and General Electric.

Equipment will include 5,200 PCs and laptops, 560 servers, 1,000 printers, 635 network switches, 25,000 network ports, 7,000 twoway radios, 6,000 TV monitors, 15,000 voice/fax lines, 7,000 mobile phones, 500 WiFi access points and more than 5,000 kilometres of temporary cabling.

“Our goal was to build seamless coverage, and one of the most challenging areas is the route between Vancouver and Whistler,” says Norm Silins, general manager of Olympic services in Vancouver with Bell Canada. “We knew that was a requirement going in and we knew it would be a challenging area.”

Bell installed the fiber optic cable network in the Sea to Sky corridor between Vancouver and Whistler, which consists of a 144strand fiber optic cable, with a redundant path along a different route. The primary path has enough capacity to carry all of the data traffic for all of Canada. While a highspeed fiber ring and copper wire currently services the area, all traffic will be funneled down a fiber ring with significant multiplexing of signals.

“It had to be highcapacity because all of the broadcasting is in highdefinition,” says Silins. There are three competition venues in Whistler, with anywhere between 15 to 30 camera positions, and each of those camera positions requires one strand of dedicated fiber to carry back to the main broadcast centre in Vancouver.

The problem; however, was that they would have to lay the timing and scoring cabling and remove it again, because in the spring when the snow melted it would become a safety hazard for mountain bikers. At the same time, they were not keen on grooming carts chopping up the fiber either.

During the construction phase, Whistler was building trenches for snow generation equipment, so Bell got in on the action and buried cable throughout the courses. “We have what we believe is the best wired mountain in the world to ski and as far as we know it is the only one with a redundant fiber loop that goes up both courses and down the other side,” says Andrew Platten, vice president of technical infrastructure with VANOC.

Platten, a former IT specialist for the banking industry, is responsible for implementing the communications network for the Games.

VANOC also had a requirement to support the photographers on the hill, so the team designed what is referred to as The Sled, which is essentially a sled with a switch and battery backup that is pulled up the hill by a snowmobile. Photographers can plug into the sled and get 10 Mbps Ethernet services (or connect with WiFi access) and that means they can snap a photo and immediately send it to their photo editor at the bottom of the hill, who can then forward that along to an anchor desk located anywhere in the world.

“The photographers love it because the first one to get a picture up on the air gets the business,” said Platten. “We can actually get photographs from the top of the hill onto the editor’s desk before the athletes cross the finish line.” Underpinning that is the legacy cabling, which can be used for future ski and bike competitions.

Aside from sleds and snowmobiles, VANOC is also using solar panel technology. Along the coastline, there was one particular area in the shadow of a number of mountains, and the only way to provide connectivity was to put a cell site on an island offshore and repeat the signal from one of the other sites into that area.

The island does not have any power, so the team came up with a solarpowered design that allows them to power it sevenby24by365, even in the low light times of winter.

Dealing with legacy venues

One of the other challenges is that, unlike the Beijing Games with its brand new facilities, Vancouver is using legacy venues that are still in use. The Canucks, for example, have a hockey game at GM Place two weeks before the Opening Ceremonies. “We get it two weeks beforehand and have to do all of our overlay cabling for all those services,” says Platten. “The build is timed and orchestrated in that instance literally down to the 15minute block.”

While VANOC has installed a significant amount of buried permanent infrastructure, by far the biggest part of the cabling job is temporary cabling. As VANOC gets exclusive use of the venues, the team can put in pathways that are visible, above ground and in unusual places.

VANOC has a team of 10 cable designers who are directing seven or eight primary contractors in a massive effort.

It is always harder to retrofit an existing facility than build networking capabilities into a new facility, which is part of the reason why renovations are so expensive, says Levy. “You often don’t know what you’re going to run into until you actually get into the building and start ripping out wall,” he adds.

Some of the existing buildings chosen as venues were built long before IPbased comm
unications existed, so to bring these facilities up to 21st century networking standards is a significant process. Since many of these facilities have been operating throughout the renovation process, the needs of the project needed to be balanced with the daytoday operational needs of the venues, says Levy. And that makes it difficult to predict budgets, timelines and resource requirements.

Dave Del Fava, senior director of North American services for wireless coverage solutions with ADC , is working with Bell, Rogers and Telus to reinforce existing coverage with additional capacity primarily for data applications.

“We are ensuring people get consistent throughput for those data sessions,” he says. “We do a large amount of cabling and that cabling is the infrastructure that allows us to put small amplifiers throughout these major stadiums. What those amplifiers deliver is a very small site that covers a very confined area within a stadium, so we’re taking the same sort of capacity of several city blocks in downtown Vancouver and trying to control it in such a way that only a couple of seating sections will have access to that capacity. We’re using that cabling infrastructure to bring wireless capacity into targeted areas of the stadium.”

The Nortel factor

Nortel Networks Corp. originally signed on as the official converged network equipment supplier to build the first allIP converged network for the Games. Now Bell is being questioned about Nortel’s ability to continue to serve as a trusted supplier, in light of its bankruptcy.

“As Nortel started to look at restructuring, we bought everything we needed for the Games immediately,” says Justin Webb, vice president of Olympic services and operations for Bell Canada in Toronto. “We have everything we need from Nortel deployed or in a warehouse.” In addition, Nortel is providing levelthree experts as part of VANOC’s technical support team during the Games. Even if that were not the case, Bell has “deep, deep Nortel experience,” adds Webb.

The message from Bell is that the equipment was procured before the bankruptcy was announced and that Nortel is continuing to deliver on its end of the deal. “Worries will always persist, but the fact Bell hasn’t had to go with alternative suppliers suggests very strongly they haven’t been significantly affected by Nortel’s troubles and they have managed to insulate the project from that,” says Levy. “This is not Nortel’s only network customer they continue to support their existing customers in the field, so Bell is just another largescale customer.”

But there is a lesson here for the next Games in that overreliance on any one vendor for an entire subelement of a project could be seen as a risk factor.

This may motivate future technology sponsors to consider spreading the work so if one supplier runs into trouble, they have other suppliers to fill in the void. The situation could have been worse if Nortel’s assets had simply been sold for scrap, but as it is they’ve continued to operate throughout the bankruptcy process and they are being sold off one by one, so they are not disappearing. “Bell dodged a bullet here but the lesson of its experience with Nortel will need to be heeded in future Olympics,” says Levy.

Ultimately, what it boils down to is that viewers want to be wowed, and the network behind the Games has to be able to wow them.

“There cannot be any hiccups even though this is probably one of the most networkhostile places on the planet. This is about as intense a project in technology you will ever have. What Bell learns from this project it will then be able to leverage in its own service delivery over the next few years and if Olympic viewers have high expectations, customers do as well.” CNS

Vawn Himmelsbach is a Torontobased freelance writer. She can be reached at vawn_h@yahoo.ca.


Securing the Games

As the Games become more dependent on technology, they become a more valuable target from a terrorist attack to a community group who feels the money should be going to social housing instead. If you are sitting in Bell’s shoes, you have to assume a wide net of potential threats, even if none ever come to fruition.

“It is an unfortunate comment on the realities of building networks in the modern age, but Bell clearly has to have some significant redundancies built into its infrastructure to address these security needs because the Olympics can’t go dark under any circumstance,” says Levy. “That infrastructure has to stay up even under the worst case scenario.”

That means the connection between the venues in Vancouver and those in and around Whistler routed through the Sea to Sky corridor must have redundancies away from the main route. For obvious reasons, Bell will not say where those are, but that adds a significant amount of cost and complexity to the project. “But it’s the cost of doing business if you want to do so securely,” says Levy.

The reality is that there is much greater potential for a nonterroristrelated outage than a terrorist one. Whistler has been plagued by rock falls in the past, which have caused outages, and that could easily affect the technology infrastructure if there are not redundancies to cabling sufficiently laid a good distance from the main road. “Bell and its related service providers are lucky in that redundancy is redundancy,” says Levy. “As long as you’re planning for all possible redundancies, the planning process is consistent.”

The Technical LineUp

Each of the venues in Whistler and Vancouver is equipped with multiple ERS 5520 Access Switches and pairs of L2 ERS 8600 switches running split multilink trunking (SMLT) technology, which provides both nodal and cardbased redundancy. In the VANOC Admin L3 network, routed SMLT (RSMLT) is used for added resiliency. Within greater Vancouver, the network is delivered across diverse 10 Gigabit Ethernet (GE) dark fiber paths. The core network between Whistler and Vancouver is built on a Nortel OME 6500 common photonic layer (CPL) dense wavelength division multiplexing (DWDM) system. It delivers multiple wavelengths for multiple 10GE LAN PHY ERS 8600 connections, as well as an OC192 backbone SONET ring (the Sea to Sky photonic core) to pick up traditional TDM services.