Sochi 2014: Coping with the Winter Olympics data blizzard

Bobsleigh Bobsleighs at the Sochi 2014 Winter Games will beam speed and acceleration data in real time

As the bobsleigh hurtles down the sinuous Sanki Sliding Center reaching speeds of more than 80mph (130km/h), it will beam real-time data to TV viewers around the world.

Technology of Business

Omega, the official timekeeper for the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics in Russia, has added a unit capable of transmitting speed, acceleration, G-force and vertical track positioning data during their runs.

While this type of technology will be familiar to Formula One motorsport enthusiasts, it is the first time it has been applied to bobsleigh and is indicative of how this Winter Olympics is the most technologically complex, data-intensive Games ever.

Peter Hurzeler, member of Omega's timing board, told the BBC: "We began developing this technology three years ago and one of the more difficult tasks was to make the equipment compact - now the system weighs just 300g."

The unit was tested more than a thousand times in competitions before being cleared for use at the Games, he said.

Technology underpins almost every aspect of the Games: cross-country skiers are tracked by GPS technology, while speed skaters' times are measured to the nearest thousandth of a second using light beams on the surface of the ice at the finish line.

Cross country skiers in front of Olympic rings Cross-country skiers are tracked by GPS so that their relative positions can be ascertained in real time

Omega says it will measure more than 650,000 distances, times and scores during the Games, using 230 tonnes of timekeeping, scoring and data-handling equipment.

Data explosion

Start Quote

If you can secure the Games you can secure pretty much anything else on earth”

End Quote Patrick Adiba Head of Olympic Games and major events, Atos

The rise in the use of such data-transmitting sensors and mobile devices has led to a surge in data collection and usage, with a big knock-on effect for networking and security, IT providers say.

At the Vancouver Winter Olympics in 2010, the ratio of wired to wireless devices was four-to-one, according to Dean Frohwerk, head of networking architecture for Avaya, an official IT Olympic Partner providing services to the 40,000 officials, athletes, journalists and support staff at the Games.

"At Sochi this has reversed," he says. "We made provision for up to 120,000 bandwidth-hungry devices on site per day, equivalent to three gadgets per person."

Now that people can stream video on mobile and tablet devices, networks are having to cope with a tenfold increase in data volumes compared to four years ago, estimates Mr Frohwerk.

Luge competitor Albert Demchenko Commentators can receive results "even before they hear the roar of the crowd", says Atos

This entails building a robust backbone infrastructure - routers, switches and the like - which can power seven virtual networks channelling data securely to the right audiences. It must also be scalable, so that it can cope with sudden unexpected spikes in data traffic, he says.

'Automated'

The firm with the unenviable task of integrating and co-ordinating all this IT and broadcasting technology across 11 venues at the Black Sea resort, is Atos, the European company that also provides services to the BBC.

It began planning for Sochi nearly five years ago.

Competition results recording is "almost fully automated", says Patrick Adiba, Atos' head of Olympic Games and major events.

This is useful when 17 competitions can be running at the same time.

High-speed networks enable TV commentators and news agencies to receive results and contextual background information on the competitors in a split second, "even before they hear the roar of the crowd", he says.

Atos technology centre The Atos technology centre at Sochi co-ordinates IT for the entire Winter Olympics

All this extra data has to be accessible across all operating platforms and securely directed to the right places, via fibre optic cable, wireless networks, and satellite.

Atos is employing 400 computer servers just to store the data and serve applications.

Alan Murphy, European marketing director for networking specialist, Brocade, told the BBC: "This is a massive networking challenge - the scale of the whole event makes it hugely complex.

"But at least knowing how many people are going to be there and for how long makes it easier for IT providers to model the likely data needs."

Security and privacy

Given the threats of a terrorist attack and hacking, data security and reliability is obviously "fundamental", says Mr Adiba.

"All the systems are duplicated up to four times, in case something fails. Even the technology operating centre is duplicated and can be up and running in two hours if the first one falls over."

Planning for the Games involved about 100,000 hours of testing, he says, running through 700 problem scenarios.

During the 2012 London Olympics there were 250 million "security events" detected over the network during the 17 days of the Games, but only 400 were potentially serious, he says.

A security event can be something as innocuous as a journalist mis-typing a password.

Ski jumping practice The growth in wireless devices has seen a surge in the amount of data flying through the air

"We don't care too much about the cause of the security event, we just care about protecting the Games. So if someone does something suspicious or unauthorised, we immediately stop the connection," he says.

"If you can secure the Games you can secure pretty much anything else on earth."

But privacy is another issue.

Russian telecoms provider MegaFon is responsible for providing the local network for spectators, and the US State Department has warned visitors that: "Russian Federal law permits the monitoring, retention and analysis of all data that traverses Russian communication networks, including internet browsing, email messages, telephone calls, and fax transmissions."

The 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics may be the most data-intensive and networked Games ever, but they are unlikely to be the most private.

More Business stories

RSS

BBC Business Live

  1.  
    PUBLIC SECTOR FINANCES Breaking News

    Public sector net borrowing for April to July was £32.4bn compared with £23bn for the same period a year earlier, official figures show.

     
  2.  
    AIR BERLIN PROFIT 09:26:

    Air Berlin, Germany's second-biggest airline, said it returned to profit in the second quarter, up 8.6m euros compared with a loss of 38m euros a year before. It also promised a restructuring programme later this year, which it will describe in September.

     
  3.  
    CHINA MANUFACTURING 09:07:
    Workers in a manufacturing plant in Chengdu

    China's manufacturing growth slowed last month, indicating a recovery in the world's second-largest economy has yet to fully take hold, HSBC said. The Purchasing Managers' Index fell to 50.3 in August from July's 18-month high of 51.7.

     
  4.  
    GIVE PEACE A CHANCE 08:53: World Service

    On the BBC World Service's Newsday, reporter Tony Bonsignore has just interviewed Sir Richard Branson, who along with 15 other global business leaders has written an open letter to governments urging them to find a peaceful solution to the conflict in Ukraine. The conflict has led to bans on everything from French pears to German sausages in Russia in response to Western sanctions. Branson said people in Russia, Ukraine and the West are "incredibly sad that after the fall of the Berlin Wall, when so much hope was taking place, we seemed to be reverting to a cold war situation".

     
  5.  
    MARKET UPDATE 08:38:

    European markets are flat as investors await economic data due out later this morning. They are looking for indicators as to the health of the eurozone with many wondering how much longer it will be before the European Central Bank is pushed into launching quantitative easing. The biggest rise on the FTSE 100 so far today is Schroders which is up 0.86% to 2,350.00p.

     
  6.  
    JACKSON HOLE 08:23: BBC Radio 4

    More from Pippa Malmgrem. She says central banks want to argue over inflation. In the developed world, there isn't enough of it and in emerging markets there's too much. So the debate, she says, will be about whether "we keep our foot on the gas pedal with all the free money or should we start to take it away?" She suggests the data is behind what is really going on in western economies, particularly on wage rises and that inflation is already a problem for emerging markets.

     
  7.  
  8.  
    MOTORING ON 08:07:
    Nissan working on the Qashqai

    Almost 8 out of 10 cars built in the UK is exported to another part of the world - who said we don't export anything these days? That's according to the latest data from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT). It adds 5m cars have been made and shipped out of the UK since 2010, which is the best performance of any decade.

     
  9.  
    CHARITY GIVING 07:53: Radio 5 live

    "People aren't motivated by the tax element," of giving to charity, says Anne-Marie Huby of JustGiving. Charities qualify for a number of tax exemptions and reliefs on income and capital gains, and on profits for some activities.

     
  10.  
    CHARITY GIVING 07:40: Radio 5 live

    Anne-Marie Huby, co-founder of charity donation company JustGiving, is on Wake Up to Money talking about which is the most generous town in Britain. It's Bedford. She's not sure which is the tightest, though.

     
  11.  
    SAGE OF OMAHA FINED 07:26:
    Warren Buffett

    Proof that we are all human comes from the FT this morning, which reports that Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway has been fined nearly $1m (£603,319) by the US Department of Justice for allegedly breaching reporting requirements when building a stake in a construction supplies company. In fairness, it's basically pocket change to a man like Buffett.

     
  12.  
    WH SMITH 07:11:
    A man walks past a WH Smith store

    WH Smith said its high street business delivered a "good performance" for the year to the end of August. It publishes full results on 16 October. It expects earnings to meet analyst forecasts.

     
  13.  
    JACKSON HOLE 07:00: BBC Radio 4

    It's that time of year when central bank policymakers come to together to discuss interest rates, inflation general world economic matters - otherwise known as Jackson Hole. Pippa Malmgrem a former advisor to President Bush on all things economic tells Today this year's meeting could be more interesting than previous years because the private sector - the banks which have been the main beneficiaries of monetary policy in recent years - have been uninvited. That, she says, is because the central banks want to have an argument and want to do it behind closed doors.

     
  14.  
    BANK OF AMERICA FINE 06:45: BBC Radio 4

    Colin McLean of SVM Asset Management tells the Today programme that an expected fine for US bank, Bank of America, will be paid half in cash and half in customer redress. There have been rumours for days that the matter with US regulators is about to be settled, he says. We're awaiting the official announcement today. The fine is expected to be the biggest in corporate history but McLean says: "Nobody wants to put the banks out of business. They really want to draw a line under this, so this does that and will let them move forward."

     
  15.  
    INTEREST RATES 06:29: Radio 5 live

    "It's normal for there to be a slight difference of view," economist Marian Bell, a former Monetary Policy Committee member tells Wake Up to Money following yesterday's minutes on the interest rate decision. Two people wanted to hike the rate from its record low. "I agree wage growth is muted... it's not an argument for not moving interest rates to a more normal setting." She'd increase it by one eighth of a percentage point.

     
  16.  
    BALFOUR MERGER 06:17: Radio 5 live

    Colin McLean of SVM Asset Management is on Wake Up to Money talking about building firms Carillion and Balfour Beatty's will-they-won't-they merger talks. Balfour rejected another offer yesterday. "It may not be the end of it," he says. "It just depends the way people are approached... These things don't ever die".

     
  17.  
    CELEBRITY ENDORSEMENTS 06:05: Radio 5 live

    Andy Milligan, a brand consultant, is on 5 live. How come some celebrity endorsements do well and some fail? "When it goes wrong there's a problem with credibility," he says. "In some cases we've never heard of them." George Foreman and his grill worked well because boxers want to eat healthy protein, he says.

     
  18.  
    06:01: Howard Mustoe Business reporter

    Morning! Get in touch with us via email: bizlivepage@bbc.co.uk or on twitter @BBCBusiness.

     
  19.  
    06:00: Matthew West Business Reporter

    Morning folks. So what's new? Well, the Labour party is pledging this morning to give the energy regulator greater powers, while the US Federal Reserve has warned there is more slack in the labour market than first thought. We have public borrowing figures out later, while interest rates are still being discussed following the release of the Bank of England minutes yesterday. Stay with us - there'll be more.

     

Features

  • Pro Israel activists hold a banner reading 'Against Anti-Semitism and hate of Israel' at a demonstration as part of Quds Day in Berlin, Germany, 25 July 2014'Rising tide'

    Do statistics support claims that anti-Semitism is increasing?


  • Police respond to a shooting in Santa MonicaTrigger decision

    What really happens before a police officer fires his gun?


  • Child injured by what activists say were two air strikes in the north-eastern Damascus suburb of Douma (3 August 2014)'No-one cares'

    Hope fades for Syrians one year after chemical attack


  •  Marina Silva speaks during a press conference in Brasilia on 4 October, 2013. Humble origins

    Marina Silva - from rubber tapper to Brazilian presidential candidate


From BBC Capital

Programmes

  • Traffic lightsClick Watch

    From hacking cars to traffic lights - behind the scenes at a cyber-security conference

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.