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The Akamai Blog

The Secret Ingredient to Successfully Delivering Major Online Events

The following is a post from Director of Product Marketing, Kurt Michel, and Senior Solutions Architect, Nicolas Weil.

It has been a very busy first quarter for the media team here at Akamai, where the technical folks have been elevating the quality of online video to all-new heights. In January at CES, we demonstrated 4K/Ultra HD streaming video with help from Qualcomm and Elemental. Last week at the NAB Show in Las Vegas, we showed what we believe was the world's first CDN-delivered 4K/Ultra HD 60 frames per second linear stream using Elemental's HEVC compression and MPEG-DASH packaging, highlighting the performance capabilities of our network and our new native DASH ingest feature.
On the live event front, our teams were extremely busy making sure that a number of high-profile events ran like clockwork. Some notable examples include the GRAMMY Awards, the Super Bowl, and, of course, the Sochi Games. We are proud to have successfully delivered these events to many millions of online viewers, and that we kept the drama on the screen...where it belongs.

If you have read this far, you are probably wondering when we are going to get to the "secret ingredient" referred to in the title and how it is related to the items Iwe've mentioned to this point. If you have a look at this great webinar, "Delivering Events of Olympic Proportions," hosted by IDGTechNetworks, it will become clear.

In the webinar, Greg Ireland, IDC Research Manager for Multiscreen Video, hosted a conversation with Eric Black, VP of Technology for NBC Sports & Olympics, and Bill Wheaton, Akamai SVP & GM, Media Division, in which they reviewed their experiences from the Sochi Olympics. While you may have heard that NBC Olympics delivered 10.8 Million hours of video online over the 17 days of the event - with a little help from Akamai - what comes through in the webinar is the teamwork that was needed to make sure the event was a tremendous success - People.

Using the right technology is critical, of course, but the degree of collaboration that is required to pull off an event of this magnitude is extremely high. Success is closely related to the ability of the different companies to operate as a single team. That team relationship has been built between Akamai and NBC over more than a decade, during which online viewing has continued to grow dramatically, and we have learned many lessons together about what works and what doesn't.

In addition to the teamwork aspect, there were also many other interesting highlights, including:
  • • Eric commented that during "normal" operations, NBC would handle five simultaneous sports events, at most. During the Sochi games, there were 20 to 30 events occurring simultaneously, so scaling the personnel to support that was a real challenge. 
  • Bill's discussion of the Akamai strategic approach to online event delivery. He noted that Akamai has learned that during a major event, things will not always go as planned. Some elements in the system will fail. But our teams plan for those failures in advance, and establish processes and backup systems designed to minimize the impact of these failures on the viewing experience. If and when failures occur, the viewer is unlikely to ever notice.

That is just a brief preview of the webinar. We encourage you to click the link and enjoy the insights that Bill and Eric share. Hopefully you will find it as interesting and engaging as we did.

While our partnership and collaboration with NBC was a big part of our Sochi story, there was a great deal more happening across the globe. In total, we worked with 25 different rights holders to deliver the events online in more than 20 countries across North America, South America, Europe and Asia. In addition to the rights holders, we also collaborated with a variety of other vendors within the online delivery ecosystem to make sure our respective systems played well together.

In order to take on an event of this magnitude, our professional services teams started the planning almost a year in advance, first synchronizing Akamai's various internal teams in order to define the delivery architecture and strategy. We then began the planning activity with the various workflow partners to ensure all of the integration work was being done properly. Testing and validation, as mentioned above, were a big part of this activity; and we also simultaneously developed the documentation for the support teams who would provide the around-the-clock system monitoring and event management. When the event began, our professional services teams provided extensive assistance, working with the broadcasters and the support engineers to adapt security policies and ensure flawless service over the event's 17 days. Our services and support teams found working on an event of this magnitude to be very challenging - and equally rewarding - because it gave them the opportunity to collaborate with large, highly skilled teams at the top of their "game" - both within Akamai and across our partner and customer communities.

Joachim Hengge, Akamai's Program Manager for Olympics sums it up:

"Large-scale events like the Sochi Olympics require very thorough preparation on many levels. Akamai began gearing up for the Sochi Olympics in April 2013, working with the rights holding broadcasters to understand their workflows and support their respective setups. The great collaboration between all of the various teams - from Akamai engineering and sales to the professional services teams to the broadcasters' project teams and service providers, made this huge event a great success story for all involved."

So that's the secret ingredient. Smart, talented people, who not only understand the complicated technology, but have the ability to work together to solve very difficult problems. People and teamwork. Easy to appreciate, hard to replicate. OK, so maybe it is not such a big secret...but it is the key ingredient that allows Akamai's customers to move their online media events Faster Forward.