World Cup network stays on its feet

While much of the world was watching soccer during the month of June, Gerard Gouillou was monitoring data.

Gouillou, CIO at the Zurich-based Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), which runs the World Cup soccer tournament, spent last month making sure the rest of the world could follow the games without a hitch. Between May 31 and June 30, when Brazil beat Germany 2-0 to win the quadrennial championship, 12.03TB of data moved across the network that was set up for the World Cup.

The converged voice and data network performed without major problems, according to Gouillou. But the popularity of the World Cup games meant that he and FIFA’s IT staffers had to keep a close watch on the network, which was built and maintained by Basking Ridge, N.J.-based Avaya Inc.

For example, massive numbers of European fans followed the games in Japan and South Korea on the Internet, flooding the FIFA Web site. As of June 21, FIFA had logged 1.45 billion page views, with a one-day high-water mark of 127.9 million. “We didn’t expect anywhere near that kind of Internet traffic,” Gouillou said.

Meanwhile, the main media centers in Japan and South Korea generated far less network traffic than anticipated, he said. But the individual stadiums where the games took place generated much more traffic than FIFA expected.

“The one thing we had to change often was the way we were monitoring,” said Gouillou. “You develop a model, but you cannot predict the way you have to monitor once everything starts.”

Tools developed by Concord Communications Inc. in Marlboro, Mass., were chosen for the monitoring job, and Gouillou said much of his duties revolved around the information that was being provided by the software, especially by its predictive capabilities. “You want to know what will happen in the next minute, the next 15 minutes,” he said. “The more reliant you get on that, the more addicted you get to it.”

David Simpson, Avaya’s vice-president of international services, noted that the network was built to run far in excess of its expected peak capacity. That allowed the monitoring tools to be used more to anticipate network congestion than to troubleshoot crises. In fact, nearly 98 percent of the problems that FIFA’s Web site encountered were resolved without any technicians having to be dispatched, Simpson said.

Avaya reported that the network’s packet-delivery rate for the tournament as a whole was 99.999 per cent the “five nines” reliability rate that’s common in the telecommunications industry. Voice over IP phone traffic averaged about 100,000 calls per day, Simpson said.

The FIFA network was even able to withstand a one-day barrage of 400,000 e-mails that were sent by angry Italian fans after their team lost to South Korea in a controversial second-round game. “It turns out that the extra bandwidth we built in was our saving grace,” Simpson said.

Gouillou said what made him happiest was how little attention was paid to IT. “My goal for the World Cup was that IT should go unnoticed,” he said. “People should be paying attention to football, not our network performance.”