World Cup 2002 kicks up networking storm

You think trying to win soccer’s World Cup is tough? Try laying down 8,100 kilometres of networking cable and 40,000 connections across two countries in an effort to make the sporting extravaganza available to half the world’s population.

That was the task facing the tournament’s IT team last September. Taking place for the first time in two nations, South Korea and Japan, the 2002 version of soccer’s quadrennial showcase is the biggest instalment yet. From its humble beginnings in 1930, the World Cup has grown into a sporting event so big it is rivalled only by the Olympics. A network of equally huge proportions was required to make sure communications within the tournament locations, and outside to the rest of the world, would move as seamlessly as possible.

The project presented a number of daunting challenges to Gerard Gouillou, Head of IT for the World Cup for the Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), and his team. First and foremost was the time factor. Gouillou said that unlike normal projects, where some slippage of delivery dates can be afforded, there was no such luxury for the World Cup network.

“We [had] to be ready for…May 19, when the International Media Centre [was set to] open in Seoul….And the first game was going to be played on May 31, whether the network [was] ready or not….You have to really plan and have people who are not only good technicians, but who are ready to do whatever it takes to get the thing done. It’s a special spirit.”

Coordinating that group of people is itself as dangerous a prospect as facing a Zinedine Zidane penalty kick. In total, there are about 500 people involved on the IT side. That includes teams of remote managers from Avaya Inc. at three off-site stations in Singapore, Denver and St. Petersburg, Fla. Avaya is supplying much of the network technology for the tournament.

“There are 200 Avaya people in Japan and Korea, but also the people (on the remote sites) to monitor the network 24 hours a day,” said Gouillou. Add to that administrators from two carriers, Japan’s NTT and Korea’s Korea Telecom (KT), as well as contractors working with the Avaya people, and you have one whopping staff.

Perhaps the biggest challenge, not surprisingly, was a technological one. A series of virtual private networks (VPNs) were put in place and linked together to form one huge VPN running over the IP protocol. They were linked using Avaya Enterprise Class IP Solutions, or ECLIPS, and multi-service networking products. If that wasn’t challenging enough, planners had to work around the fact that the Japanese part of the network was running on an ATM backbone, while the Korean end of things was entirely based on Frame Relay.

“How do we integrate those in a seamless manner where when a phone call is placed on IP telephony that’s going from Japan to Korea? It speaks to the strengths of the services teams and integration teams,” commented Alex Lopez, IT evangelist at Avaya who worked closely on the World Cup project.

Once things were in place, it was time to test what had been built. Fortunately for the tech team, there was a batch of data similar to that which would be running over the network just sitting on a storage server or two: all the games from the last World Cup, held in France in 1998.

“We’ve simulated all the games from France 98 on our infrastructure to see how that would’ve reacted, and corrected any issues that need to be corrected. It all came off with no problems,” said Lopez.

Other Avaya equipment deployed at the World Cup includes security servers and firewalls, wireless LANs and voice over IP technology. Many of those offerings have been deployed on smaller scales in more commonplace IT environments, such as at many schools in the Calgary Board of Education. The Board is deploying wireless LAN technology through 221 primary and secondary schools in its system, allowing students to move from room to room without losing their network connection.

“[The students] start to see new possibilities of how they can use [technology], because it now goes to where they are learning, rather than them having to go to where the technology is,” said Mike Bester, ICT curriculum specialist at the Board.

Avaya hopes for more inroads into such environments. The former enterprise arm of Lucent, it competes with Alcatel, Cisco, Nortel, Extreme, Foundry and 3Com in the enterprise datacom and IP voice markets. The firm let go eight per cent of its workforce in March to help cut costs.

Also to be let go will be most of the World Cup network once the tourney ends later this month. Much of the infrastructure will be dismantled, according to Gouillou.

“I compare the World Cup to a circus: you build the tents, you put on the show, and during the night, you dismantle everything and you go to the next one.”