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.  
    EUROZONE MANUFACTURING 10:10:
    Flags

    News from the Eurozone is no better, alas. Manufacturing growth slowed to a 13-month low in August, as the PMI reading dipped to 50.7 - down from 51.8 in July. New orders dwindled and factories suffered amid rising tensions between the EU and Russia over Ukraine.

     
  2.  
    HEADLINES
    • UK manufacturing growth slows
    • Fund manager abandons HSBC over fines
    • Mortgage approvals fall in UK
     
  3.  
    UK MANUFACTURING 09:56:

    The UK's manufacturing industry grew at the slowest rate in 14 months in August, following a drop in new orders. The Manufacturing Purchasing Managers' Index, or PMI, fell to 52.5, the lowest since June last year. A reading above 50 indicates growth.

     
  4.  
    WOODFORD ABANDONS HSBC 09:39:
    HSBC

    Neil Woodford, one of the UK's most well-known fund managers, has sold his stake in HSBC. "I am worried that the ongoing investigation into the historic manipulation of Libor and foreign exchange markets could expose HSBC to significant financial penalties," he said on his website. Mr Woodford had 2.68% of his fund's assets invested in HSBC, a package worth £64m at the time of sale.

     
  5.  
    UK MORTGAGES 09:33:

    The Bank of England says British mortgage approvals fell slightly in July compared with the previous month, to 66,569. In January, the measure reached 76,000, but has been wavering as the housing market shows some signs of cooling.

     
  6.  
    MARKET REPORT 09:26:

    The major European stock markets have had a muted start this morning.

    • The FTSE 100 is down 0.12% at 6811.88
    • The Dax is up 0.02% at 9472.17
    • The Cac 40 is down 0.12% at 4375.75

    BAE Systems is the biggest winner in London, up almost 3%, while Morrison Supermarkets has dropped 2.25%.

     
  7.  
    ISLAND FLING 09:11:
    Apia

    Some conferences are more appealing than others. The third UN Conference on Small Island Developing States begins in Apia, Samoa today. Some 50 countries are invited, and the agenda covers a wide-range of topics, including sustainable energy, water and sanitation, and biodiversity.

     
  8.  
    Via Twitter Jamie McGeever, chief markets correspondent for Europe, Reuters

    tweets: "Italian manufacturing sector contracts for first time in over a year. PMI falls to 49.8 in Aug from 51.9 in July, expected 50.8."

     
  9.  
    PERFORM BUYOUT 08:50:

    Perform Group, which owns the Omnisport sport news agency, rose 26% to 256.7 pence in London after Access Industries Group said it would buy the company. It already owns 42.5%.

     
  10.  
    SAMSUNG EXPANDS 08:35:
    Samsung

    South Korean giant Samsung Group is to become even bigger, Bloomberg reports, after merging its shipbuilding and engineering units. Shares in both firms rose as a result of the announcement.

     
  11.  
    ECUADOR'S BITCOIN 08:19:

    Ecuador says its new digital currency will begin circulating in December. The electronic money will be the first backed by a central bank, and will work alongside the country's current currency - the US dollar. The president says it will help poorer people gain access to banking.

     
  12.  
    MICROSOFT ULTIMATUM 08:06:
    Microsoft China

    The clock is ticking for Microsoft in China. Competition authorities have given the firm 20 days to reply to questions over the compatibility of some of its software, Reuters reports. Microsoft is one of several foreign companies that have come under scrutiny in the country in recent weeks.

     
  13.  
    PUTIN SEEKS PARTITION 07:51:
    Putin

    The Financial Times leads with Vladimir Putin's call for talks on "statehood" for south-east Ukraine. The paper calls it a provocative comment, which will heighten fears that Moscow is seeking partition for Ukraine. The Daily Telegraph says David Cameron and Barack Obama are to respond to the Russian president by urging NATO allies to increase defence spending. In a leader article the paper also recommends fresh sanctions.

     
  14.  
    BERKELEY PERFORMANCE 07:37:

    Berkeley Group, the home builder, is having its annual meeting today. The firm is "well positioned to continue to invest in the business and deliver returns to shareholders. Earnings this year are anticipated to be in line with current market expectations," chairman Tony Pidgley will say.

     
  15.  
    KIER CONTRACT 07:23:

    Kier Group, the builder, says it is the preferred bidder to design and build a new £50m residential tower in London. The company says it will "design and construct 224 luxury apartments arranged in four blocks".

     
  16.  
    GOING SOUTH 07:11:
    St Andrews

    The Guardian reports that Scotland's top universities are bracing themselves for a "brain drain" of their most talented scientists if there's a "yes" vote for independence. The paper says senior figures believe Scotland's best known universities would lose access to billions of pounds of funding - the subjects most at risk are said to include advanced computing and genetic research. However a source close to the Scottish government says the concerns are misplaced and research funding will be maintained.

     
  17.  
    CUBAN IMPORTS 06:57:

    New rules are coming into force in Cuba, limiting the amount of goods people can take into the country in their luggage. For example, Cubans will be allowed only 10 kilos of detergent rather than 40, 24 bras rather than 48, and just two flat screen televisions. Many Cubans see the new restrictions as throttling one of the few sources of high-quality consumer goods.

     
  18.  
    RAC LISTING 06:47: Radio 5 live
    RAC rescue vehicle

    Holly Cook, of Morningstar, was on 5 live too, talking about the car breakdown specialists RAC, who are said to be considering a stock market flotation. How come? It shows "more confidence in the market" and may be seen as a good investment as its business is easily understood, she says.

     
  19.  
    FINANCE LITERACY 06:41: Radio 5 live

    Tracey Bleakley adds that the first rule of money management is "knowing the difference between something you need and something you want." Think about that in the lunch queue.

     
  20.  
    FINANCE LITERACY 06:35: Radio 5 live
    Classroom

    Tracey Bleakley, chief executive of the Personal Finance Education Group is talking about the government's new plan to provide education on financial planning. "We've all got to talk about it," she says, adding that children could educate their parents. That way people can see through "the marketing" that lots of debt is a good idea.

     
  21.  
    TESCO PERFORMANCE 06:30: Radio 5 live

    Tesco is struggling to compete with the likes of Aldi and Lidl because the smaller supermarkets stock fewer lines and focus on keeping prices low. "Tesco are giving people far too many reasons to go elsewhere," Steve Dresser, retail analyst, tells Wake up to Money.

     
  22.  
    TESCO'S NEXT MOVE 06:27: BBC Radio 4

    Tesco's new boss, Dave Lewis, starts work today at the beleaguered supermarket chain, and Holly Cook, of the investment site Morningstar, tells Today that his first move may be to slash prices. Tesco, she says, "used to be a value proposition," but is now "not that much cheaper" than its rivals.

     
  23.  
    EU REVOLT 06:20:
    Cameron

    In its main front page story, the Independent says David Cameron is facing a damaging new revolt over Europe. It says up to 100 Conservative MPs are planning to defy him by declaring that they'll vote to leave the EU - regardless of what concessions he wins for Britain.

     
  24.  
    NETWORK RAIL 06:17: Radio 5 live

    Philip Haigh, railway writer, is still on Wake up to Money. Why is Network Rail in £33bn of debt? It's been spending lots of late, he says. Railway stations, for example, have never looked better. "You just have to look at King's Cross and see what they've done there," he says.

     
  25.  
    BORIS TAKES OFF 06:14:

    Boris's comments come as we await news on whether the Airports Commission will put his favoured plan for a Thames estuary airport back onto its shortlist of options. Incidentally, Mr Johnson is seeking nomination as the Conservative parliamentary candidate in Uxbridge and South Ruislip - where Heathrow expansion is widely opposed.

     
  26.  
    BORIS TAKES OFF 06:07:
    Plane over Heathrow

    The Telegraph carries a piece by the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, in which he warns that expanding Heathrow, and ditching his plan for a new airport in the Thames estuary, would be a "disaster". But Mr Johnson, who has previously called for the closure of Heathrow, now suggests it could remain open as a secondary airport.

     
  27.  
    NETWORK RAIL 06:03: Radio 5 live

    Philip Haigh, railway writer, is on Wake up to Money, talking about Network Rail's move to the government's balance sheet. On the one hand, he says, it means the state-owned company can borrow more cheaply from the government, but the government will also be able to appoint directors and intervene in things like executive pay.

     
  28.  
    06:01: Howard Mustoe Business reporter

    Morning! Get in touch via email bizlivepage@bbc.co.uk or via Twitter @BBCBusiness

     
  29.  
    06:00: Joe Miller Business Reporter

    Good morning. It's a good day for current account holders - particularly those who have experienced the maddening misfortune of being charged for going overdrawn by a few pennies. Banks will now have to give customers until 2pm to cover funds before slapping on a levy. Stay tuned for reaction to that news, and the rest of the business headlines.

     

Features

  • Polish and British flags alongside British roadsideWar debt

    Does the UK still feel a sense of obligation towards Poles?


  • Alana Saarinen at pianoMum Dad and Mum

    The girl who has three biological parents


  • Islamic State fighters parade in Raqqa, Syria (30 June 2014)Who backs IS?

    Where Islamic State finds support to become a formidable force


  • Spanish volunteer Rafa Munoz Perez practising with a rifle in Donetsk, 7 August Motley crew

    The Europeans who pitch up in Ukraine to join the fight


From BBC Capital

Programmes

  • Volcanic eruptionThe Travel Show Watch

    Uncovering the secrets of the Icelandic island buried by a volcanic eruption

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.