Ottawa man heading up team building Olympic networks in Sochi

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Ottawa’s Dean Frohwerk has been preparing for the Sochi Olympics for three years. He’s done dry runs and spent a lot of time thinking about the lessons he learned in Vancouver.

Dean Frohwerk is a solutions leader with Avaya.

By Jacob Serebrin

But Mr. Frohwerk isn’t an athlete. He’s the chief network architect for the games, responsible for keeping the “Olympic family” – press, athletes, coaches, officials and volunteers – online during the event.

As the distinguished solutions engineering leader for Avaya, the official supplier of network equipment for the games, he’s responsible for overseeing the building of a network that can support between 120,000 and 155,000 connected devices.

“It’s the largest guest network in the world,” said Mr. Frohwerk.

While Mr. Frohwerk held the same role at the Vancouver Olympics, he said a lot has changed over the past four years.

One of the big challenges has been accounting for they rise of “bring your own device” (BYOD).

“In Vancouver, I was worried about browsers on PCs,” he said. “BYOD wasn’t an issue in Vancouver.”

Most of those devices will be wireless. In Vancouver, wired devices outnumbered wireless devices by a four to one ratio.

In Sochi, Mr. Frohwerk expects that ratio to be reversed.

The team has been testing the network extensively to ensure that members of the press can connect their devices when they arrive the day before the games start.

And when it comes to the networks powering the scoring and timing systems, everything has to run flawlessly. An event can’t be restarted if one of those systems breaks mid-way through, he said.

“The Olympics is exciting,” said Mr. Frohwerk. But it’s “fraught with risk, there are billions of people watching.”

While Vancouver was set up as a “virtual campus,” Mr. Frohwerk said Sochi is being set up as a “virtual data centre.”

And with a huge number of press and volunteers descending on Sochi for a short time, ease of use is particularly important.

The team also has to deal with creating different virtual networks for each group in the “Olympic family,” with systems to automatically authenticate users and connect their device to the right network.

The team has also had to build the networks from the ground up.

“It’s a huge green field,” he said. Mr. Frohwerk said his approach has been to “build networks as soon as possible,” but this has been a “challenge in Sochi.”

“Building out networks in parallel with stadiums,” has forced his team to deal with things like construction delays.

Mr. Frohwerk isn’t the only local member of the team. Five Avaya staff members from the company’s Ottawa office are on it. The rest are from around the world.

“It’s truly a global team,” he said.

When the games are over, Mr. Frohwerk said Avaya can use the experience it gets building and running such a huge network to help its clients.

“A lot of the learnings we get there are applicable to our enterprise customers.”

While many of the solutions being used have been introduced recently, they’re not brand new.

"The reality is the Olympics aren’t bleeding edge technology,” Mr. Frohwerk said. "These are generally available products, using tried and true technology.”

The only difference is the scale, he said.

Organizations: Avaya

Geographic location: Sochi, Vancouver, Ottawa

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