Data Center

Data centres & VR at 2016 Rio Olympics

Virtual Reality (VR) seems to be the buzzword of the moment, with numerous VR games showcased at the E3 Expo in LA recently, theme park company Six Flags embracing VR technology to enhance its rollercoasters and potential in the healthcare industry including mental health treatment.

Recent research by Greenlight VR revealed that gaming, which many would think of first when it comes to VR, is actually sixth in a survey of 1200 people. More people were interested in VR content categories such as travel, movies, and live streaming events. In March, the Olympic Broadcasting Services confirmed VR broadcasting at the Rio Olympics, with the announcement that viewers will be “virtually transported to the heart of the Olympic action with VR coverage including the Opening and Closing Ceremonies and one key event per day” thanks to a compatible VR headset. But when you have a live event on a huge scale, how do you make sure that your VR audience has a good experience? We talk to Greg McCulloch, CEO of Aegis Data, to find out more about how its data centres are supporting VR streaming at the Rio Olympic Games 2016.


How did Aegis Data come to be involved in Rio 2016?

Aegis Data are not actively engaged with the Rio 2016 Games, or manufacturing the Virtual Reality technology for it. Ideally, we are seeing the opportunity for data centres to position themselves as an ideal support system to realise the potential of VR streaming during the Olympics and Paralympics.


Can you tell us a bit more about how the data centres are being used and why it’s so important?

Data centres are often the unsung heroes in pushing and supporting new technologies. Take VR for example. Virtual reality has very much been one of the hot topics of 2016. As seen with the likes of streaming services and online gaming, organisations are increasingly under pressure to supply and meet ongoing demands for compelling digital content across a wide array of mediums, such as TVs, computers, mobile, gaming consoles and tablets.

The rise in VR represents the next stage in this evolution and in order to manage the increase in consumption, content providers will turn to the data centre industry for support, as they have the necessary infrastructure, speed and connectivity to effectively support it. Historically, one of the criticisms levelled at VR has been its inability to handle the demands placed on it. Having dedicated fibre connections to key Internet Exchanges will enable customers to benefit from high connectivity and speeds, allowing the user to have a seamless, unhindered experience.

Additionally, as data streams created by VR continue to rise, we’ll likely see a greater emphasis on organisations needing high performance computing (HPC) capabilities in place, to ensure applications are able to run efficiently, reliably and quickly. By having the necessary data halls, which are able to deliver the high density power and cooling required for the next generation of platforms such as HPC, customers can be reassured that the right capabilities are in place to grow their estates – as we look to the future events like the Olympic and Paralympic Games, will likely provide invaluable data, which will allow data centre operators to enhance their future proofing capabilities and build into other entertainment and sporting event planning.


What challenges do you face with such a huge event?

Unpredictability is without doubt one of the biggest challenges. The sheer number of people who will tune in to watch the sporting spectacle will push the streaming capabilities of VR technology.

The live VR streaming of a large-scale event has not been attempted before and with VR technology still firmly in its infancy, there is still the possibility that the technology is not at a suitable level to meet this. If a poor user-experience occurs, it’s likely that many broadcasters will harbour doubts and hesitancy on incorporating VR for future televised events.

Another problem could also involve the varying global internet infrastructure. Some regions may have poor connectivity and speeds, which can ultimately hamper the VR experience. In the UK particularly, we have seen various degrees of speeds, where those with fibre optics can fully capitalise on high bandwidth technology, while those with traditional broadband may suffer from the quality in picture, due to the lack of speeds.


How do you ensure that your data centres are sufficient to help VR technology meet the demand?

Data centres must be alert to the growing technological trends. With both the VR and growing high performance computing (HPC) market requiring vast amounts of power, the data centre must be equipped with higher power racks to support this technology. These will essentially need to be built exclusively for these higher-power applications rather than repackaging legacy, lower power racks, as problems can manifest from this hampering both data centres and VR technology. Though data centres must remain vigilant and avoid being over-zealous in the overhaul of racks and cabinets. For most customers, smaller operations which require racks of 2-5kw are usually sufficient, and therefore reaching a middle ground between the need for more power-hungry, high-bandwidth applications and the more day-to-day operations will need to be factored by data centre operators.

Another key factor that data centre operators must prepare for is future-proofing their sites. By looking at the infrastructure that already exists within the data centre, data centre operators can see if the technology needs to be upgraded to suit specific requirements. Pressure-testing the data-centre under true-to-life simulations - the same scenarios that data centres may likely expect during the Games - will go a long way in gathering and understanding consumptions patterns, connectivity and even security risks. Hopefully, this will dispel any irregularities that may pop up and help data centre operators mitigate risks.


Why is Rio 2016 so pivotal to VR and sports/entertainment?

There has been a growing shift in consumer demands, with people looking to maximise their visual experience. In the UK at least, we’ve seen HD TVs manifest from 1080p to 4k TVs and in Japan, they’ve even pushed the limits to 8k. In the same vein, VR headsets will be used to throw the audience at the heart of the entertainment and the global reach of the Olympics serves as a good starting point. Pairing VR technology with the Games will help generate a wealth of data (both the good and bad), which can then be transferred into future events. 


What are the risks of bad design in VR for users?

Arguably it will be the impact on consumers. If expectations are not met or the user experience is poor then there will simply be no demand for the technology. It’s imperative that firms offering VR service have the upmost confidence in their infrastructure and connectivity capabilities that are needed to support this.


When do you think VR will really go mainstream? What will it take for this to happen? Which industry sectors will be boosted/see most potential?

Research from TrendsForce predicts that the VR market will skyrocket to US$70bn by 2020, and a recent report from Forrester supports this number by estimating that almost 52 million VR headsets will be in use by 2020 – and that’s just the US alone.

Ultimately, VR technology is very much in its infancy with many maturity cycles and enhancements laying ahead for it. This period will be crucial and will judge how equipped the technology is to meet the demands of its users.

Initially, the gaming sector will be the first beneficiary of the technology, but this will extend into other sectors including broadcast, simulation, healthcare and many more. Ultimately, VR has the ability to reduce distances in communications created by borders and bring people closer together. For example, someone who is halfway across the world can be directly in front of you with the power of VR technology, helping foster communications.


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Kate Hoy

Kate Hoy is Editor of IDG Connect

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