by John Brandon

8 IT Lessons Learned From the 2012 Summer Olympics

Aug 14, 20125 mins
Business IntelligenceConsumer ElectronicsIT Strategy

The 2012 London Olympics weren't just about athletic prowess. This year's games saw more data leave Olympic Park and move around the world than ever before. The applications, infrastructure and technical know-how required to pull this off offers valuable lessons for CIOs as they plan IT projects.

America is still celebrating the Summer Olympics in London, where our athletes dominated in many sports and took home more medals than any other country. For CIOs, a major sporting event that attracted more than 1 billion visitors to its official website and double the number of viewers to the NBC Olympics website provides a good lesson in how to manage your infrastructure, prevent unexpected outages and keep company operations smooth even during massive spike sin network traffic.

The eight IT lessons listed below can help you improve services in your data center or beef up just-in-time network monitoring.

1. Business Intelligence Can Expose Data in New Ways

London 2012

QlikTech revealed some surprising facts during the games when it ran a live QlikView business intelligence app for 30 popular athletes. You can quickly pivot the data to see why Anthony Deighton, the CTO at QlikTech, says this BI app even helped viewers predict who might win the bronze, silver or gold for an event. The lesson is about discovery data that a CIO might not have seen before using quick, visual summaries. He says the convergence of social networking with business intelligence captures the power of crowds to speed decisions.

Slideshow: 10 Mobile Business Intelligence Apps for On-the-Go Analysis

2. Keep an Eye on Networks During Online Broadcasts

Mark Urban, a network security expert at Blue Coat, a company that makes an appliance for network caching, says one employee watching a high-definition stream of the Olympics can consume as much as 30 percent of a T1 line, according to the company’s own network monitoring. Urban says there are direct costs for this video saturation, most of them related to network management for live and recorded events. This year, he says, YouTube channel views alone doubled to 53 million.

Analysis: Linx Fortifies Internet Infrastructure for Olympics

3. Social Networking Can Cripple GPS Services

During one event in London, fans tweeting about a bicycle race interfered with network operations. The interruption meant broadcasters could not provide GPS-enabled information about the speed and location of the riders. Brian Jacobs, a senior product manager at Ipswitch Network Management, says the problem could have been prevented using network management software that puts a specific limit to activity on a particular website (including Twitter). For CIOs, the lesson is in making sure there is a contingency plan to keep a network up and running.

4. Stress-test Your Website With the Cloud

Simulations can help prevent disasters. For the official site, the London Organizing Committee (LOC) used SOASTA cloud testing software to simulate up to 1 billion people accessing the site from every country across the globe. CloudTest software uses 17 servers to pummel a Web site and find out if it will survive intense usage during one particular event. Paul Bunnell, a lead architect for the LOC, says the committee used SOASTA to stress test for specific popular events, such as the 100-meter final.

Column: Olympics Website Leans on Open Source Akamai for Winning Results

5. Plan for Mass Deployments and Training

One interesting lesson from the Games is about managing a mass roll-out. Acer was tapped to provide most of the IT infrastructure with servers, laptops and mobile devices. To prepare for the games, the company deployed 420 people to London to install, test and manage the IT equipment. Todd Olson, the Acer program manager at the London Olympics, says his team first deployed in 2009 and trained the LOC before the first events. He says the biggest challenge was making sure the LOC could retain its training for the hectic two-week period.

6. Protect Lost or Stolen Devices

Venafi, an enterprise security company, conducted a phone research study and found there was a potential that 67,000 phones could be lost during the two-week period. Interestingly, Venafi spokesman Gregory Webb says the concept of a security perimeter for mobile devices just won’t work at a widespread event like the Olympics. It’s impossible to contain smartphones in a physical sense. Since many of the lost phones will be business-related, the only solution is to encrypt the data itself. Webb says the lesson is in protecting not just the network endpoints (the company servers), but the data itself and how the data is accessed.

How-To: 7 Precautions to Take Before Your Mobile Phone is Lost or Stolen

7. Avoid Potential High-Profile Scams

Major events breed major scamming efforts, and the Olympics are no exception. During the Games, attendees are often caught in the thrill of the competition and can fall prey to sudden fake news announcements, such as tweets about a major criminal being captured with a link to find out more information.

Ondrej Krehel, the information security officer with IDentity Theft 911, says social engineering attacks will spike during major events. The lesson for any enterprise is that employees might be more susceptible to new hacking techniques if they are distracted.

8. Beef Up Data Center Capacity

Before any high-profile event, especially in the magnitude of an Olympic Games, be sure your data center can handle the onslaught. Neil Cresswell, managing director for infrastructure management company Savvis, says the company planned for the Olympics for 18 months. It added a fourth data center in London, increasing the megawatt capacity to 1.1 megawatts in the West London area. In addition, fuel generators were topped off as a secondary precaution, he says, in case there were any fuel transport problems. Finally, Savvis limited noncritical maintenance during the Games.

Tips: 3 Steps for Better Data Center Capacity Planning

John Brandon is a former IT manager at a Fortune 100 company who now writes about technology. He has written more than 2,500 articles in the past 10 years. You can follow him on Twitter @jmbrandonbb. Follow everything from on Twitter @CIOonline, on Facebook, and on Google +.