January 25, 2016
The Olympic games are among the most anticipated, watched, and media covered sporting events in the world. Few broadcasts garner so much anticipation and so many viewers outside important world events like global catastrophes on the scale of 9-11. Though the Olympic games are held within a given city, the actual events can be spread apart for miles, with some competitions conducted inside the city while others are orchestrated outside the city limits in mountains or on lakes and rivers.
Broadcasters for the 2014 Olympics faced additional challenges, in that the host city, Sochi, Russia, lacked the infrastructure that some host cities and nations take for granted. Coverage of the Winter Olympics is particularly important to countries where ice and snow are part of their culture -- such as Sweden, Canada, Norway, and other frigid regions. Losing coverage during an important match such as the hockey finals is unacceptable.
Load Testing Challenges at the 2014 Winter Olympics
The worst case scenario testers used was if the score of the final hockey game between Sweden and Canada had been tied or close in the last minutes and the TV coverage went out. That would have driven as many as 4 million fans to the streaming coverage on the website.
Digital entertainment broadcasting company MTG of Sweden was awarded the contract to handle the Web and streaming portion of the 2014 Winter Olympics broadcasting. Ordinarily, this wouldn't have been much more of a challenge than webcasting an event like the Super Bowl or a popular soccer match. But in the event that TV coverage failed, MTG had to be prepared for a sudden and violent influx of anxious viewers. For instance, if TV coverage had gone out during the closing minutes of the final hockey match between Sweden and Canada, the websites could have been hit with traffic from as many as four million viewers within a matter of minutes. That's a lot of load.
Challenges, however, are just opportunities in disguise. This rare and unique event was an excellent chance to prove what load and performance testing and network troubleshooting can really do. Testers were challenged to identify any bottlenecks that existed, fix the issue, and retest to make sure the improvements produced results.
First, the testing and network troubleshooting worked with the digital broadcaster MTG to identify the data points that needed to be collected and measured. They determined six data points to measure per request, with hundreds of requests per user. This meant preloading the load generator manually to assure that it was speedy enough.
Load Testing Solutions at the 2014 Winter Olympics
The Olympic games are not confined to one area of the host city. Events are held miles apart, some in the heart of the city and others in wide open spaces nearby, such as mountain ranges where ski events are held.
Since you can't cache things that are continually changing, like the scores of a live hockey match, testers had to limit the amount of time browser clients were able to cache content. This improved performance by about twofold. There was still a ways to go.
Next, they had to figure out the compression. The CDN was delivering to cache in plain text instead of in compressed, or zipped, format. Since they had plenty of CPU power, they decided to turn on the compression, which gave them the performance improvements they needed to maintain a high level of user experience, even in the worst case scenario of all TV broadcasts going out and all those viewers switching quickly to the website streaming.
You're probably not worried about accommodating four million users within two minutes, but you do need smart network troubleshooting practices in place to improve your end user experience. Learn more about it in this Put the Customer First - Managing User Experience whitepaper.