Why cloud computing won't make its Olympic debut – yet

Using cloud computing ought to make sense for an event like the Olympics, but the technology isn’t ready, according to the CIO of the London 2012 Games
Written by Steve Ranger, Global News Director

As an event that happens only once every four years, in a different location every time, which needs a huge computing infrastructure and generates a huge peaks of data, the Olympic Games would seem to be a perfect fit for cloud computing. And in future it might be — just not yet.

While cloud computing will not be used as part of the IT infrastructure in London, the CIO of the London Games expects it will in the future.

Olympic Park
Using cloud computing ought to make sense for an event like the Olympics, but the technology isn’t ready, according to the CIO of the London 2012 Games. Image credit: Charles McLellan/ZDNet
"Economically it could make a lot of sense for the Olympics to be done on the cloud, because it's a very 'peaky' operation," Gerry Pennell, CIO for the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games (LOCOG), told a roundtable event organised by BT in London on Tuesday.

"The trouble is the infrastructure of the cloud is not sufficiently mature to support the Olympics," Pennell added. "But that's the direction it will go."

With only 17 days to go until the opening of the London 2012 Olympics, most of the tech work is now complete. Nearly a quarter of the budget of the organising committee is spent on technology, Pennell said, with 110,000 pieces of equipment deployed and a team of 5,500 technical staff.

Technical push

He divided the technical push for the Games into three parts: systems integration, deployment, and operations. Taking the technology from the various suppliers to build the information systems that underpin the Games is a big systems-infrastructure challenge, he said, as is deploying hardware to venues (such as Wimbledon and Horse Guards Parade) that may be handed over to the Olympic organisers only at the last minute.

The third part of the project is the next stage — running the systems during the Games, which as Pennell points out, has its own challenges. "The model where you ring up the helpdesk and several days later you get the fix won't really work," he said.

In terms of the progress to date, he said: "With 17 days to go we are in a pretty good place, but it's not over until it's over. Right now our focus is on making sure that everything is in the right place for when the Games start."

Smartphone challenge

Pennell said one of the challenges is the rise of the smartphone and the tablet. "The expectations have grown, and people expect to get Olympic information in the palm of their hand on these devices," he noted.

In response, London 2012 has built an Olympic information app available for Android and iOS, with BlackBerry and Windows Phone apps to follow, and has been working with mobile networks since 2009 to raise the level of voice network capacity across the Olympic park. BT will also be providing Wi-Fi across the site. "That should provide the users with a pretty good experience," said Pennell.

TOC Olympics
On Thursday, the 180-seat Technical Operations Centre (TOC) switches over to 24-hour running. Image credit: LOCOG
On Thursday, the Olympic IT systems hit their next milestone, when then the 180-seat Technical Operations Centre (TOC) — which oversees all technology deployed across the Olympic sites — switches over to 24-hour running.

In the TOC, 36 seats are filled by communications provider BT. Tim Boden, technical director for the BT's delivery programme, explained the aim of the TOC is to bring the various tech providers together to ensure "that we can fix anything".

Boden said the mean-time between equipment failures means that BT could have 10 failures during Games time — although this is unlikely to affect the service delivered. "Everything we put in is completely resilient but we treat loss of resilience as a major fault," he said.

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