Can the cloud compete at London 2012?

2012's Olympic Games in London seem the perfect showcase for the cloud, but with this year's outages it's not clear whether the technology is stable enough, says Lori MacVittie
Written by Lori MacVittie, Contributor

Vast demands will be put on IT infrastructures by online viewers keen to see every event and every replay at the London 2012 Olympics. The cloud seems to be an obvious choice to help deliver that content, but will it be up to the task, asks Lori MacVittie.

London 2012 — the thrill of victory, the agony of defeat. I'm not talking about events on the track, or at the velodrome or pool, but those behind the scenes in the bowels of IT organisations across the globe. Those organisations will be responsible for ensuring millions of online viewers see every glorious moment of their favourite Olympic competitions.

It may seem early to start worrying about the overwhelming volume of internet traffic sure to swamp datacentres and networks next year, but past experience of major events has taught us to begin our preparations early.

London Olympics site

Cloud computing will almost certainly play a major role in delivering content from the 2012 London Olympic Games. Photo credit: ODA

This requirement applies particularly to service providers and media-focused organisations for which an outage during the Olympics could prove embarrassing and damaging.

Will the cloud be picked for the 2012 Games?

It seems obvious that the cloud has a role to play in the coverage of the forthcoming Olympics. If ever a situation were designed to showcase the benefits of a technology, the 2012 Games is it. It is a keenly anticipated, scheduled event, with potentially billions of viewers across the world.

It's an event that occurs infrequently enough to make it unviable to invest in the infrastructure necessary to meet demand, yet failure to do so is potentially devastating financially and reputationally.

However, the significant lead times for the Olympics reduce the challenges often associated with a cloud-bursting strategy required to meet sudden demand. The advanced warning makes it possible to plan to ensure the infrastructure is in place to take advantage of cloud computing before it's needed.

There's no doubt that a cloud computing-deployed Olympic Games delivery system is also possible given the time we have to prepare.

But the big question concerns the stability of cloud computing. It's been plagued by monthly outages through most of 2011, so can it withstand...

...the barrage of demand coming from consumers around the world nearly 24 hours a day?

No cloud-computing environment has probably ever been stressed to the degree it might be during the Olympics. No one has even tested the limits of cloud resources available under those sort of loads. It is a Herculean challenge, and one that's likely either to prove or disprove the capabilities of providers seeking to deliver content on demand to billions of viewers.

Cloud is for applications, not networks

Yet Olympic coverage may experience issues even if cloud computing passes the test. Cloud computing provides scalability on demand for applications, not networks.

Service providers are certainly considering their options as they prepare their networks to handle the vast, expected levels of mobile traffic. Service providers may not be responsible for the content — the videos and other media devoured by consumers — but they are accountable for the networks over which that content is delivered to the increasing number of consumers who rely on their phones for video as well as voice.

Morgan Stanley estimates the number of mobile device users accessing the internet will be about 1.3 billion by 2012, nearing the number of desktop users accessing the internet, predicted to be 1.5 billion in the same time frame.

No cloud-computing environment has probably ever been stressed to the degree it might be during the Olympics.

If even a fraction of those mobile device users increase their usage significantly during the Olympics, it will have a significant impact on service providers. That potential impact cannot easily be addressed by shifting processing into the cloud.

Service providers must themselves be ready, perhaps enabled by a private cloud-computing strategy that lets them take advantage of more dynamic networking strategies, which in turn will allow supply to meet demand during particularly heavy Olympic viewing on mobile devices.

Service providers will be unable to shift the burden from their own datacentres to the cloud. But they may bring the cloud to their own organisations in the quest to ensure they have the capacity to meet the onslaught of traffic.

An IT Olympics event

One thing is certain. An event such as the Olympics, with its broad interest from a significant percentage of the world's inhabitants, will force epic stress conditions on those organisations tasked with delivering Olympic content to viewers.

Cloud computing will almost certainly be a significant part of these organisations' strategy, whether their primary concern is the scale and availability of public, content-delivering applications or private, mobile networks.

Lori MacVittie is responsible for application services education and evangelism at application delivery firm F5 Networks. Her role includes producing technical materials and participating in community-based forums and industry standards organisations. MacVittie has extensive programming experience as an application architect, as well as in network and systems development and administration.

Get the latest technology news and analysis, blogs and reviews delivered directly to your inbox with ZDNet UK's newsletters.
Editorial standards