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Tough network challenges tackled by Fifa

We've come a long way in four years

Fans of the Olympics might argue that the football World Cup is not the single biggest sporting event in the world. Even more contentious is the assertion by experts that the tournament currently taking place in Germany is the home to the world's biggest communications network built for a single event.

More than 15TB (terabytes) of data, the equivalent of more than 100 million printed books, will travel across a converged voice-and-data communications network that links stadia, control centres, management offices, hotels, railway stations and other numerous outlets involved in the championship. Since the games began on 9 June, more than 8TB have already crossed the network.

"The tournament is a unique networking challenge," Peter Meyer, head of IT at the Fifa, which is hosting the games, said on Saturday at a press conference in Munich. "The network had to be built relatively quickly and it must be very reliable."

With more than three billion fans following the games in the stadia, public viewing areas and on TV - the most viewed World Cup ever - "this isn't a good time to make a mistake" Meyer added.

By the time the games are over, more than 200,000 people, including the 15,000 sports reporters, will have connected to the network, built and managed by Avaya.

Avaya has installed an all-IP (internet Protocol) network which, for the first time in the history of the games, includes voice as an integrated and not dedicated service, according to Douglas Gardner, managing director of the Avaya Fifa World Cup program. As part of its VoIP (voice over IP) service, the vendor is providing a centralised, server-based directory service, as well as client software that allows authorised users to make phone calls from their laptops.

Toshiba, like Avaya, an official sponsor of the 2006 World Cup games, has equipped Fifa organisers with more than 3,000 notebook computers for the event. The Japanese manufacturer is also collaborating with Avaya in the area of mobility.

"There are a lot of people moving around at the games - inside the stadiums and between them and to many other locations," said Toshiba spokesman Manuel Linnig. "We've configured the notebooks for quick, easy access to all the LANs (local area networks) and wireless LANs within the Fifa network and have installed several security features, including fingerprint readers."

Although WLAN (wireless LAN) technology is widely deployed at all 12 stadia and numerous other official locations, Fifa has required that systems at all these sites be linked by cable as well. "Wireless is great because it gives us added flexibility," Meyer said. "But since we need to ensure connectivity at all times, we need cable and we have plenty of it - more than 8,000km."

Even though photojournalists can send digital photos to their editors over WLAN hotspots directly from the field sidelines, most are using ethernet cable connections, according to Meyer. "I guess they prefer to play it safe," he said.

Speaking about safety, Avaya has taken numerous steps to ensure that hackers can't interrupt play. "So far, we've had no security issues at all," Gardner said. "And we're proud of that because there were a number of issues at the World Cup in 2002 in Japan and South Korea, and at the Confederations Cup last year in Germany."

Avaya has deployed several security technologies, including telephone encryption and an intrusion-detection system that monitors traffic around the clock. At the Fifa IT control centre in Munich and at other Avaya locations, engineers glued to their monitors can immediately locate and isolate the source of any viruses or network intrusions.

"It's been a very clean process so far but we aren't waving our flags yet," Gardner said. "The threat of an attack isn't over until the games are over."

On its website in July, the company plans to publish a report on its network security operations for the Fifa communications network, Gardner said.


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