Dubbed the first social-media or “Twitter Olympics,” the 2012 Summer Olympic Games are well under way, and while over two-thirds of the world’s population is expected to focus its attention on the athletes, for the IT cognoscenti, it is the network that is drawing a lot of attention. A network of approximately 900 servers, 1,000 network and security devices and 9,500 PCs help power a website designed to handle over 30 million concurrent sessions, with traffic demand estimated at more than 1 pettabyte per day and a potential peak traffic of around 2 to 3 Gbps. According to BT Communications, responsible for the network, up to one billion smart devices are expected to connect during the games either via 3G or Wi-Fi.
The British telco added 200,000 Wi-Fi hotspots across London during the last three months, bringing the total number of local hotspots up to 500,000 for the games. BT also installed a public Wi-Fi network in the Olympic Park, consisting of 1,000 access points across nine venues.
As of the halfway mark (August 5), over 5 million spectators have visited the Olympic venues, and the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games (LOCOG) website has become the world’s most visited sports website with 25 million visits alone yesterday. The event’s combined social media following also climbed over 4 million people across Facebook, Twitter and Google +. BT says the first week saw a 13% jump in data volume.while social media traffic, including Twitter, has grown two orders of magnitude during the event. Twitter peaked at 137% of typical use during the opening ceremony and grew to 413% by day three. Instant Messaging increased 182%, on average, during the opening ceremony.
Social media has proven so popular, it caused problems for at least one Olympic event as “overuse of Twitter and text messages” meant broadcasters were unable to determine the distance between cyclists in Saturday’s road races because GPS and communications systems had failed. “We don’t want to stop people engaging in this by social media,” said a spokesman for the International Olympic Committee, “but perhaps they might consider only sending urgent updates.”
Traffic volumes and the appropriateness of “urgent” tweets weren’t the only network concern, according to another report. “The Olympics represent a golden opportunity for spammers,” and are expected to draw “a plethora of Olympic-related scams.”
Once the user takes the bait, the scam begins in earnest, typically leading to a site laden with malware packaged up in easy-to-use exploit kits such as the easy-to-get and easy-to-use Blackhole exploit kit that seems to be going for the gold this summer. “The instant you get to that site, it’s going to drop 10 to 15 distinct exploits on you sequentially until one of them actually succeeds,” said Alex Kirk, researcher with the Sourcefire Vulnerability Research Team.
The most intriguing network aspect of the 2012 Olympics, however, is that despite the huge increase in traffic volumes and spamming, there have been very few issues, and nothing of real significance. The networks just work, and that’s very good news indeed, because with the ongoing data explosion – Internet traffic will surge 400% by 2016 – networks that just work sound pretty good to me.