Baku 2015: Cloud-Based European Games Can Leave Sustainable IT Legacy For Olympics

Steve McCaskill is editor of TechWeekEurope and ChannelBiz. He joined as a reporter in 2011 and covers all areas of IT, with a particular interest in telecommunications, mobile and networking, along with sports technology.

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Baku 2015 Technology Director Adrian Corcoran talks about the technology needed to power the first European Games and what the Olympics can learn

As the first ever edition of the European Games, a continental multi-sport event modelled on the likes of the Pan-American Games or Asian Games, organisers of Baku 2015 have no previous examples to refer to.

Indeed, given that the Netherlands has pulled out of hosting the 2019 event, it may be the only European Games ever held. But if that’s the case, it could leave a lasting IT legacy as the first major multi-sport event to completely embrace the cloud.

Cloud was completely avoided by the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow because of the perceived risk, but Adrian Corcoran, Technology Director of Baku 2015 and a veteran of the London Olympics, felt he had little choice given the rushed timeline had been given.

Short timeline

Baku_olympic_stadium“Because this is the very first European Games, there is no existing template,” he told TechWeekEurope. “There’s no book on the shelf telling you ‘how do you do this?’, ‘how big is it going to be?’

“For a continental games you usually get six years’ notice. Baku had two and a half years. In technology terms, we’ve had 22 months, which is a third of the time you’d usually get for an event of this scale. It’s very much like building an aeroplane while you’re flying it.”

Baku was awarded the games in December 2012, while Corcoran, who was head of venue technology at London 2012, joined the organising committee in late July 2013. By December he went to market with the key technology contracts and the key suppliers were in place by February 2014. In May that year, the games infrastructure was set up.

“We did in nine months what would take most organisations two to three years to do,” he said.

First cloud games

Baku 2015’s technology team has helped deploy 600km of fibre to the 60 competition and non-competition venues, 250km worth of copper telecoms cable, 5,000 mobile phones, 1,500 desktop phones, 2,800 wireless access points and 1,500 mobile phone antennas.

Working with partners like Tissot and Motorola Solutions, the technology operations will power timing, scoring, results, radio systems and the official website, helping to serve more than 6,000 athletes, 3,000 technical officials, 500-600 members of the media and the host broadcaster.

However it is the use of cloud technology that is novel about the event.

“We’re using Microsoft Azure, Office 365, Lync, SharePoint Online. We’ve developed about 56 applications in-house,” said Corcoran. “We have about as many Adrian Corcoran Baku 2015applications again from a third party, which are hosted as SaaS.”

Corcoran drew on his experience from the Olympics and attempted to draw comparison points with other events. He spoke regualarly with his counterpart at the Toronto 2015 Pan-American Games and Brian Nourse, CIO of Glasgow 2014, conversations which he said were “very helpful”, but decided a more radical approach was needed.

“From the outset we said ‘this is not an Olympic Games’ and this is certainly not a repeat of London,” he said, “But having no template is extremely liberating. You’ve got almost a blank sheet of paper.

“That led us to use almost entirely cloud-based technology for infrastructure and applications. For the first time on this scale for a multi-sport event, we’ve developed a new template. Interestingly, this the model the IOC (International Olympic Committee) are planning to implement after the 2016 Rio Olympics for PyeongChang 2018 and Tokyo 2020. They’re particularly interested to see how we get on here.”

More sustainable games

Corcoran claims the cloud approach will speed up deployment to the venues, save energy and money. Given London 2012’s focus on legacy and the IOC’s emphasis on sustainable games, he thinks Baku can teach the Olympics a thing or two.

“Compared to the London Olympics, we have 90 percent fewer racks in our data centres. So it’s a massive reduction,” he said. “It’s a much more sustainable model. We are 75-80 percent cheaper than the London Olympics. Technology usually accounts for 20-25 percent of the budget for an organising committee.”

But London 2012 attracted 10,768 athletes competing in 26 sports at the world’s biggest sporting event. In contracts, Baku 2015 will greet around 6,000 competitors in 20 sports, with much lower media and spectator interest.

Corcoran argues that the cost of providing the core technology is just the same for the European Games as the Olympics, its just that the latter has more users. For example, Baku 2015 will supply 3,500 laptops whereas London 2012 needed more than 12,000.

Baku_Crystal_Hall“In the Olympics you have more sports and the Paralympics but the technology is the same,” he said, noting that London 2012 had 94 venues to serve. “Many of the components are the same, its just the scale that’s different.”

The cloud is ideally suited for events like the European Games and the Olympics, which require significant resources for an event which lasts just two weeks. But the other advantage of such a short timescale is that Baku avoided many of the technology refreshes that other multi-sport events have to undertake.

“If you have six or seven years to do this, you’re going to do at least two or three technology refreshes,” he explained, noting the first phase provided basic IT for organisers, the second phase scaled it out as preparations became more advanced and the third was a final refresh for the event itself. “We are now running on our games time technology and have jumped at least one of those technology refreshes. That also has cost benefits because you’re not renewing it.”

Azerbaijan legacy

But it’s not just the world of sport that will benefit from the games, according to Corcoran. He says the whole country of Azerbaijan will benefit from a technological legacy.

Baku 2015 is the latest attempt by the Caucasus state to use sport to raise its international profile and diversify its economy away from oil and gas and Corcoran says government has identified technology as a key driver of this transition

He claims the skills learned by the Azerbaijani members of the team will help the country organise future sporting events like Formula 1, the Islamic Solidarity Games in 2017 and the 2020 European football championships, which are being held in Azerbaijan and a number of other European nations.

Finding local members of staff with the right expertise was a bit difficult, Corcoran sayd but by working with local universities to find talented graduates and pairing them with experienced games organisers form other countries.

“Azerbaijan has a population of little more than Greater London, so while it does have some of the skill sets, it doesn’t have them in great numbers,” he explained. “The nature of this event is that it does attract very good people who want to work at a big sport event. People are prepared to give up relatively safe long term jobs to come and work for a limited period of time on something interesting.”

“We’ve managed to attract very good quality local people,” he said, adding that of his 153 direct employees, 65 percent were Azerbaijani.

“Legacy is really important for us. Obviously a legacy of technology for Azerbaijan but also for the people.

“We’re trying to develop a sustainable and transferable models for future games.”

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