Olympics Website Leans on Open Source, Akamai for Winning Results

Like the athletes themselves, the official website of the London 2012 Olympics gets only one chance to reach peak performance under intense pressure. To meet that demand, the site has been load tested to handle a million unique visitors per hour. Read what else CIO.com columnist Bernard Golden learned from his conversation with the operations consultant behind the site.

By Bernard Golden
Tue, June 26, 2012

CIO — It's often the chance conversations you have at a conference that prove to be the most interesting. So it was when I attended the Cloud Computing World Forum two weeks ago in London.

You may be aware that a little event is about to be unleashed on the world from London—the 2012 Olympics. My chance encounter was with Russ Ede, who is responsible for the London 2012 Olympics website. He shared some amazing information about what it takes to create a website that can stand up to the most widely watched sports event in the world.

Open Source, Outside CDN Help Reduce Site's Footprint

First, you have to remember that there's no do-over with these kind of events. Everything simply has to work when the games go off—delays or postponements are unthinkable. So what goes into creating a website capable of supporting the Olympics?

Perhaps most surprising, there's no massive server farm. The actual processing taking place on the website is relatively small. However, there is massive use of the Akamai CDN to distribute content around the world. The Olympics website has been using live video to transmit the progress of the Olympic torch and has contracted with Akamai to distribute it.

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This increasing use of live video may account for what Akamai CEO and President Paul Sagan said last week at the GigaOM Structure conference. Over the next five years, Akamai will have to increase its capacity 100-fold due to the growing popularity of streaming live video. While there's redundancy built into every bit of the website, there is no massive hardware infrastructure in place.

Another surprising thing about the London 2012 Olympics website is that it leverages open source extensively, using LAMP as the primary software foundation. Despite the demands placed on the site, there's an apparent ethos of running "cheap and cheerful," which precludes use of expensive proprietary software packages.

While the Olympics website did stream the torch relay, it won't transmit video footage of the events themselves. Another entity takes care of that. However, the website is responsible for distributing the stats of the events, receiving feeds from every event and venue and making the data available to organizations that can make use of them, including the event video distribution organization. When you see information crawling across the bottom of your television screen during the broadcast, know that it came through the website.

Performance Testing Easier Than Incorporating Cutting-Edge Tech

Ede told me about several other interesting challenges associated with running the London 2012 Olympic website.

Forecasting usage and ensuring performance at the forecast levels. Apparently, there were many, many meetings about total use. It would have be easy to predict a very large number, but in a "cheap and cheerful" environment, over-provisioning "just in case" is a non-starter.

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