Road to Rio

Atos Shifts to Cloud Infrastructure to Manage IT at the Olympic Games

The forthcoming Olympic Games in Rio promise to be most digitally connected yet. Like the event itself, which has changed considerably over the years, so has the infrastructure. I got a sense of this when I spent a day with Atos at its Olympics technical operations centre in Barcelona.

Atos has been the IT services partner for the Olympics since 1992 and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has extended its contract with Atos until 2024.

For the forthcoming and future games, the IOC is pushing the boundaries, with the aim of making all systems and processes underpinned by cloud processing. Therefore, Atos has approached these games as a transformation project, with the cloud acting as a central delivery model for all partners and locations. Previously, Atos would build a new data centre in each host country of the Olympics, as was the case in London 2012. But from now on, most if not all hosting will be on a private cloud infrastructure, dubbed Canopy, developed in strategic partnership with EMC and based in the Benelux region. This approach to virtualise operations brings plenty of benefits, including the need for less hardware and reduced costs.

All of this sounds positive, but Atos also had to bring together various IT systems. This was no easy feat as it included the games management and information distribution systems, which cover recruitment, accreditations for athletes and media, timing and scoring, distribution of results and much more.

Let’s not forget that security and testing are major features of any new IT system. To put this into context, Atos said that there were a staggering 255 million IT security alerts during the London 2012 games, but zero impact. The system will need thorough testing to ensure that the games can be delivered efficiently to a global audience. Overall, Atos expects to do over 200,000 hours of testing for the Rio games.

The Technical Technology Operations Centre in Spain will support the games’ IT infrastructure in Brazil. Ultimately the goal of this Spanish centre is to manage all IT systems for all competition and non-competition venues, wherever the host city is in the world. This is the single biggest infrastructure project Atos has developed, with many aspects lasting for years to come. It’s a great showcase for the company and the IOC alike and I was impressed with the sheer scale of it all. Especially as it has to deliver a range of information and broadcasts in real-time to the more than 8 billion devices that are predicted to access data for the Rio 2016 games.

Atos’ move into digital transformation comes at an interesting time as the TV industry faces widespread disruption and change. Changes in the way broadcast content is produced, created and distributed are opening up opportunities for new parties to move into video and TV. At IBC 2015, I noted a considerable presence by IT companies, including Amazon, IBM, Microsoft and Oracle. They reflected the growing opportunity for such firms as the TV industry shifts to virtualised operations.

Moves toward software-defined business models will allow operators as well as content and media providers to launch video services in new markets more quickly. I believe that the pace of change in 2017 will be far greater than in the past five years. IT technologies are having a profound effect on the way the broadcasting industry operates — in particular, the ability of broadcasters to embrace change as new business models become possible.

Content will prove to be more valuable than ever before. Content and media owners must use new IT technologies to be more flexible, respond to changing consumer behaviour and to ensure that audiences are interacting with programmes. We’re already seeing this with a plethora of online video services emerging on both sides of the Atlantic.

I’d like to thank Atos for the kind invitation to witness the sheer scale of organising one of the most-watched sporting events globally. Each Olympic Games takes years of planning and requires collaboration with a vast group of companies; for the upcoming event, it’s the equivalent to managing a business of 200,000 employees serving 4 billion viewers, operating 24/7.