How UEFA changed the rules on cloud

By Graeme Burton
20 Mar 2014 View Comments

It would be a mistake to think that the European footballing body UEFA does little more than arrange the fixtures of European club competitions, oversee the rules of the game across Europe and manage the European Championship every four years.

Far from it. It is also responsible for filming and beaming the matches across the world and managing a database of tens of thousands of footballers playing in leagues across Europe to handle their registrations and to facilitate transfers. Yet UEFA supports all its various compute-intensive activities with an infrastructure that it is largely outsourced.

Further reading

And the fact that its chosen partner is Interoute, a company originally founded to connect the major business hubs of Europe with a fast, fibre-optic network, indicates where UEFA's everyday, bread-and-butter needs lie. "If we look at how to source content from the different venues around Europe, especially the Champions' League, bringing content from the stadia back to base isn't easy to do out-of-the-box if you have to deal with different operators and telcos," says Daniel Marion, head of ICT in UEFA's services division.

Indeed, the core of the project was very much about how UEFA could transmit content from venues without paying for an entire year of high-bandwidth connectivity with every stadium in Europe competing in one of the organisation's tournaments. "If we have a match for three hours at the Emirates Stadium, we didn't want to buy connectivity, full-time 365 days a year to Arsenal," he says.

It therefore has two models to handle the video and other data that streams from venues during tournaments. For the European Championships, it uses networks of, typically, local major telcos. In Euro 2012, for example, it partnered with Orange Poland and Ukraine Telecom to stream videos from matches over a 60Gbit/s fibre network to its international broadcasting centre.

For the Champions' League and other club tournaments, it typically uses satellite technology, bouncing the signals off of the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) satellite network to broadcasters across Europe and the world. In both cases, graphics are added in-ground.

Outlook cloudy
At the same time, UEFA moved to a private cloud model for its internal applications, consolidating five data centres down to two, in Amsterdam and Geneva, managed by Interoute, and shifting from about a 30 per cent virtualised application environment to 80 per cent virtualised in the process.

The aim, says Marion, was to enable the applications it runs - particularly the front-facing, web-based applications - to be quickly scaled up in capacity to handle major tournaments.

UEFA's main bespoke application is Fame, the Football Administration and Management Environment database, which was originally launched in 2004 and covers some 15 different areas of event management, including accreditation, media services, ticketing, volunteer information, transportation, as well as stats and information on all teams and players.

Indeed, it encompasses around 100 business processes (or modules) in total, down to commentary positions, broadcast sponsorships, branding, anti-doping, squad lists and referee appointments and even their fitness tests.

Unconnected with the shift into the cloud, UEFA also implemented SAP to streamline its back-office functions, primarily financials and human resources, says Marion. Hence, while Interoute manages the data centres, hardware, back-up and failover and other infrastructural elements, UEFA is responsible for the software, either directly or via contractors.

Hence, projects such as the organisation's tablet computer rollout were handled in-house, so that today staff in-venue have direct access to Fame via Apple iPad tablet computers.

As one of the checks and balances, UEFA takes the lead in running regular security audits, including penetration testing against its own outsourced infrastructure. "We do this to keep an external eye on them to make sure that they are doing a good job. And as threats evolve, ethical hacking gives us insights into what to do next," says Marion.

UEFA signed with Interoute on a three-year contract in 2011, and was tested in 2012 with the European Championship that was played in both Poland and Ukraine - with the final in the Ukrainian capital Kiev.

However, it passed that test with no hitches and will re-sign with Interoute when the transfer window opens again in summer.

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