Q&A: Neil Crockett, MD London 2012 at Cisco Systems

By Derek du Preez
27 Jun 2011 View Comments
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The London Olympics is fast approaching and, with the surge in mobile data since the Beijing games in 2008, there has never been so much attention and pressure on the technology infrastructure.

Central to this is, of course, the network, and to provide an insight into what has been required of the chosen network infrastructure supporter, Cisco, Neil Crockett, managing director for London 2012, spoke to Computing about the upcoming games.

Further reading

How has Cisco approached networking for the London Olympics?

As the official network infrastructure partner, we have provided the routers, the switches, and all of the support services for those products. Once the equipment is delivered, it is up to BT, our official partner to integrate it.

We have also provided wireless access points, and we are currently working with BT to figure out the best way to ensure Wi-Fi will be available at the games. We are getting closer to a solution for this.

This network is going to have a capacity that is 30 times greater than that of the Beijing Olympics.

There are some real firsts here too. It is going to be the first Olympic Games to use  Ethernet end to end; all the feeds will be high definition; and this is the first time the network has had integrated voice, video and data.

The network needs to be different this time, and not just with regard to performance, but it needs to be a lot more intelligent in terms of managing application traffic.

This is because of the amount of video we are expecting in 2012. No only will we have the commercial broadcasters, but there are also the personal broadcasters.

The estimates are that in Beijing 20 per cent of the traffic on the network was video and 80 per cent was data, but for London this is going to flip around.

You need huge performance for this, but you also need intelligence to manage it effectively.

Additionally, everyone at the event will be using cloud-based IP telephony, a service provided by Cisco and BT service, and there are several other cloud-based products used by LOCOG to be announced later this year.

We had no concerns at all about using the cloud for the Olympics, and it will be interesting to see how much of the next Olympics architecture will be hosted in the cloud. It will be awesome.

How rigorous has the testing process been?

Tests will be carried out at sporting events this summer, then in the autumn, and then in spring next year.

Following those, 60 days before the games start we will have a week simulation testing, which will be interesting. We aren't sure how this will work yet, but our network, support, services and resources will be rigorously tested. This isn't just for Cisco – the whole technology community will undergo a lot of testing.

From what we understand, there will be more than 20,000 hours of testing on the network before the games. This is a big network – there are 100 locations, 34 competition venues, it's wireless, wired and end to end.

However, we have done work like this before, and a lot of our big customers would do this sort of networking.

It has got a deadline, which is interesting, and you have to make sure that everything is really razor sharp; your response time has to be very quick and obviously it's very public, but we are going to make sure we get it right.

Will Cisco and other sponsors suffer penalties if there are problems?

It's a contract and clearly there are stringent requirements from all parties. But it's no different to any other mission-critical network contract. And it is important to remember that the network is defined as mission critical.

Not many things are defined as mission critical to the games, but the network is one of them.

How are you going to ensure that the network provides a legacy beyond 2012?

We are contractually obliged to leave 20 per cent of the network behind for the London 2012 Get Set programme [an online education programme to get young people thinking about the Olympics].

We are looking, however, to leave more than this behind, but what for hasn't been established yet.

We have developed an initiative called the British Innovation Gateway, which is part of a whole series of sustainable legacy programmes that will not stop when the games are over, but will run for five years after.

We are putting a lot of work into science, engineering, technology and maths, and we are aiming to double the number of network academies in East London to 50.

We are trying to get kids involved in developing interesting skills for our business; this is important, considering we are 60,000 short in our industry of people with the right skills.

The other thing we are doing is trying to focus on finding the next generation of innovative high-tech SMEs.

We are going to run an annual British Innovation Gateway I-Prize, a competition that will bring in contestants who are high-tech innovators, and who will compete for both financing and mentoring.

We are going to focus on urban solutions, where ideas surrounding energy, transport, health, education and emergency services will be considered.

Then we'll to put two innovation centres into East London – one in Shoreditch and one in the Olympic Park – and link ten to 15 other world-class innovation centres in the UK and give them collaboration capabilities, such as video-conferencing.

This will mean the people we find in the I-Prize are provided with proper innovation centres to go to where they can be developed.

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