Feb 19 2016

International Speedway Corp. Puts Wi-Fi into High Gear Ahead of Daytona 500

To improve the fan experience, the race track operator has boosted its wireless infrastructure at Daytona International Speedway.

With the 58th annual Daytona 500 just around the corner on Feb. 21, International Speedway Corp. (ISC) is lining up its technology infrastructure and racing to get it all ready ahead of the checkered flag.

Over the past year, ISC has enhanced its Wi-Fi technology at its flagship track in Daytona Beach, Fla. (ISC owns and operates 13 motorsports facilities in total), and in recent weeks, has introduced new versions of its mobile applications in a bid to improve the fan experience at the Daytona 500.

Revving Up the Data Center and Wi-Fi Presence

From 2012 through the spring of 2014, ISC worked to enhance its network via new gear from Cisco Systems. ISC also modernized its data center with a converged infrastructure that unified blade servers, storage, virtualization and networking equipment.

ISC had felt that its hardware wasn’t meeting increasing processing demands, and after working with CDW to evaluate is options for upgrading the infrastructure, ISC chose to standardize its architecture on FlexPod. That system is an integrated technology architecture that marries Cisco UCS B-Series blade servers and Nexus 5000 Series switches, NetApp networked storage and VMware virtualization software into what are essentially data center building blocks. 

Jerry Ballenger, senior director of enterprise technology operations and engineering at ISC, says that today the FlexPod data center architecture is still “definitely” working out as a solution.

For its LAN service, ISC had upgraded its network core with 10-gigabit Cisco switches, and from mid-2013 to mid-2014 it also updated the devices at the network edge, installing Cisco Catalyst 3850 Series switches at the distribution layer and Cisco Catalyst 2960 and 2960-S Series switches in local wiring closets. Today, ISC uses 10-gigabit and 40-gigabit Cisco switches at Daytona, with Nexus 2000, 5000 and 7000-Series switches, according to Ballenger, who says that even now, ISC feels like its network can handle the demands being thrown at it. “We still have plenty of capacity left to grow,” he says.

One of the most significant changes ISC has made to its IT infrastructure since the middle of 2014 has been its Wi-Fi network at Daytona. Starting in September 2015, ISC began deploying new Wi-Fi equipment from Ruckus Wireless, backed up with switches from Cisco.

ISC currently has around 300 Wi-Fi access points deployed at the stadium, and the total deployment will eventually include around 1,000 802.11ac access points, according to Ballenger.

Rodney Ward, senior director of venue technology at ISC, says that the Wi-Fi deployment covers multiple levels of Daytona’s grandstand, which is nine-tenths of a mile long. The deployment covers the so-called “midway,” which serves as an outdoor conference and trade show area in front of the grandstand; suites; concession areas; and the Fan Zone, where fans can check out cars in garages, and see concerts and driver introductions.

Ward says ISC is also lighting up Wi-Fi temporarily in the so-called football field between the racetrack and pit lane, which will be the site of a pre-race concert.

Ballenger says this kind of Wi-Fi deployment is only at Daytona for now, but that ISC will be bringing it to other tracks. “As we work with each track and build out the fan Wi-Fi environments, we’ll be looking at keeping that same platform,” Ballenger says.

The core network is at Daytona, from which ISC can centrally manage Wi-Fi networks at other venues, Ballenger says.

Ward says ISC has no plans to add additional wireless technology beyond the new Wi-Fi network. “Fan-facing Wi-Fi at this capacity is pretty new to us,” he says. “We want to see how this works out for us first before we move into any other wireless technologies.”

A Retooled Mobile App

What will all of that new Wi-Fi infrastructure enable for Daytona fans? Ballenger says it’s too soon to say how the network will change the fan experience because the Daytona 500 is the first major event that will take advantage of the new gear. ISC did a test run of the network at the Rolex 24 event in late January, and Ballenger says ISC received “rave reviews about our performance and ease of getting on” the network.

Tina Martin, ISC’s CIO, says that the new wireless network will enable another key initiative at Daytona: a brand new mobile app for iPhones and Android smartphones. The iOS version of the app was updated Jan. 27, and the latest Android version was released Feb. 12. Martin says the app is designed to be “the concierge for the event weekend because the venue is so large” (the entire facility is around 500 acres in size).

The new version of the app will let fans use the Wi-Fi network for wayfinding and provide them step-by-step directions. Users can also add points of interest to their itineraries (Martin notes that many fans stay a full day at the track). The app also has location-based push messaging features that can send fans messages if a concession stand nearby has no line, for example.

Additionally, the “Daytona Rewards” program lets users interact in several locations at the facility for chances to win prizes. Under the Rewards program, there are fan experiences such as car ride-alongs, thanks to a partnership with Toyota, and green screen and photo opportunities. At the end of the day, fans get a personalized URL in the app that brings together all of their experiences from the day.

“That’s where we’re looking to really leverage Wi-Fi, to give back to the fans that experience when they come and really unforgettable memories when they’re here onsite,” Martin says.

Racing to the Cloud

Beyond the Wi-Fi infrastructure, ISC has also invested in NetApp E-Series storage solutions, Ballenger says. ISC uses that system to store its video data more securely and get faster response times, Ballenger adds. ISC adopted that solution in the middle of 2015 and finished deploying the E-Series storage system at Daytona around two months ago, according to Ballenger.

However, looking ahead, Ballenger says that ISC is also “looking at how we can take advantage of cloud solutions to offset some of the storage cost and growth.”

ISC will likely adopt a hybrid cloud approach with both private and public solutions for video and data storage, Ballenger says, as well as disaster recovery and Tier-3 applications.

U.S. Army/Flickr