World Youth Day's IT hangover

The men, and the network, behind the largest and most technological religious youth gathering yet.

World Youth Day (WYD) looks set to have offered more than just salvation for pilgrims and inner-city chaos for the rest of Sydney, with some of the massive IT infrastructure behind the event earmarked for redistribution among Australian Catholic schools.

IT&T project manager for WYD, Josh Lemon, and the IT manager for the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney, Matt Browning, were behind the infrastructure that made WYD 2008 the most technologically advanced ever.

WYD's network utilised a Telstra-managed WAN infrastructure to provide access to the internal network of WYD's Sydney headquarters from two external WYD offices and from most event sites including Hyde Park, the Domain, Barangaroo and Randwick.

"We built a Citrix farm on HP blade equipment. Basically all the back-end infrastructure was stored in our head office - e-mail, file systems, document management etc - and accessed via a Citrix client. That allowed us to drop a computer anywhere, and any staff member from any site could log on at any site," Browning said.

Manning each WYD site with IT staff would have been too cost-prohibitive, so the Citrix model allowed everything from accreditation to incident handling to be managed and supported remotely, with IT staff required only at the major sites.

"We put server equipment at the two major sites with network imaging. There was a standard image that comes loaded with the Citrix client, printing drivers and all that sort of stuff, and it was basically just boot-from-the-network for each PC.

"For the smaller sites we imaged all of the machines here at the head office and then sent them out. There was a bit of a teething issue at the start but once we got the image and the infrastructure right, it was actually pretty painless. We had visibility of all our equipment from the operations centre," Browning said.

90 HP managed switches were used across all WYD sites, in addition to approximately 200 PCs and 16 HP 5400 series chassis switches acting as node backbone points for the mesh network at each of the two largest event sites, Barangaroo and Randwick.

Both of those main sites boasted a meshed 10-Gigabit backbone with roughly eight nodes on both sites.

"From one node there would be three 10-Gigabit fibres to three other nodes, so if we ever lost a connection the network would continue to run," Lemon said.

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Originally there was no intention to run so much bandwidth around the two major event sites, but as more and more network needs cropped up HP suggested to WYD's IT staff that they run all network needs on the one 10-Gigabit backbone.

"I think that was the handiest thing we had across the sites," Lemon said.

"That 10-Gig backbone ran a few different networks. What we did was setup a stack of VLANs at both Randwick and Barangaroo; one contained a fibre network into the head office; another was a pure Internet connection for the media, and that was also used for smaller things like merchandisers; and it also ran production stuff like the lighting and audio guys who ran their own proprietary IP network on that backbone.

"The beauty of it was whenever the audio guys or another contractor on site came to us asking for Internet on a port or switch that they were using for lighting, we could just tag that with a VLAN and off they went. And we weren't running loads of fibre across the sites for ten different networks to use."

Lemon said the network held up without any hitches during WYD events, and only came close to around 50 percent capacity. Running so many different contractors and companies over the same network had never been done before at any WYD, nor at such a large scale.

The network also boasted significant redundancy levels during the week-long series of events, running across diverse fibres to different exchanges, in case Telstra suffered an exchange outage or the fibre link was severed somewhere during crucial events such as the Pope's Mass.

But now that WYD is over, all that IT equipment is sitting in warehouses and at the WYD head office, waiting to be inventoried and reconfigured.

Lemon said WYD organisers are still working through the details of what will happen to it all, with redistribution to Australian Catholic schools likely.

"The plan was for a lot of it to go back into Catholic schools and be redeployed there, but in terms of how far and wide that will spread we're still to be given direction on that. At the moment we're still in the middle of cleaning everything up," he said.