Maurice Haafs is the Chief Technology Officer for Zwarte Cross Festival, located in Lichtenvoorde, Netherlands. It is described as a combination of motocross, music, theater, and stunts. Zwarte Cross successfully completed it’s 23rd successful festival in July 2019 and surpassed 230K attendees. The four-day event is the largest paid festival in the Netherlands and the largest motocross event in the world.
As part of our Game Day is Everyday series, I chatted with Maurice about his unique technology goals and challenges, and how his IT solutions are an integral part of his ‘game day’ playbook.
Not everyone associates information technology with large festivals. What drove the decision to deploy these technologies?
Why did we start using Wi-Fi eight years ago? If you put that amount of people in one area, it makes it hard to use your mobile. Not only for apps, like WhatsApp, Facebook, etc. but just making a simple phone call is challenging when you put that amount of people on a single spot. Our providers weren’t able to handle all the data and all the voice calls, so we had a security issue. Not only could attendees not communicate, but neither could the police, fire department, etc. – these critical organizations weren’t able to use their mobile phones.
That’s when we got in contact with Extreme Networks and Indicum to discuss how we can solve this issue for us and for our audience. The first high-density design was made just for our main stage, but we could host 30 thousand people. Year after year we expanded the Wi-Fi area to the full coverage of the hundred and sixty hectares.
Can you describe what makes Zwarte Cross’ environment so uniquely challenging from an IT deployment perspective?
What makes Zwarte Cross so special (and challenging) in regards to IT? The event itself! The ground in which we organize our festival is a plain ground where the rest of the year cows are grazing and there’s nothing there. When we come two weeks prior to the festival, there’s nothing. Everything is hard in an environment where nothing is there.
We have over 25 kilometers of glass fiber put in the ground prior to the festival. We have to deliver at least some Wi-Fi coverage to the hundred and sixty hectares we can cover. We have a similar problem like sports stadiums and arenas: we’re not able to hang up Wi-Fi everywhere. There are certain points where we can mount our access points, and this is how we create the coverage. Normally with a permanent structure, you can build a robust network. On a plain ground like Zwarte Cross area is, you can’t, so we connect glass fiber to switch to glass fiber. With the new technology Extreme introduced, we can make the network more reliable. We’re able to better supply Wi-Fi to our audience and, of course to ourselves because we’re not only providing pubic Wi-Fi at the Zwarte Cross.
To give you a better overview, I’ve delivered the actual plan of the event. These are the hundred and sixty hectares I mentioned. You can see every circle covers our Wi-Fi. We don’t have full access, full coverage everywhere because we have forested parts where we don’t need Wi-Fi. We’re currently investigating whether we can put access points 10 centimeters below ground to see whether we can create coverage.
Diagram of network plan for 2019 Zwarte Cross Festival. Courtesy of Maurice Haafs: CTO, Zwarte Cross.
Wow. What does that deployment timeline look like? To have everything implemented and configured?
The first week, starting three weeks before the festival starts, people study the area by GPS. Two days later we start digging the holes for our glass fiber. A week prior to the event, everything will get powered on because we only have temporary power supplies on every access point, switch, etc.
We have our network up and running for four or five days before the actual event starts. Putting everything together, connecting everything, and then powering it up, and hoping it still works like the design and a network has to sort of balance one, two days to sort the routine, the balancing. Then you can power up your Wi-Fi and that’s how we climb into our infrastructure. You need people on-site to get things done ASAP because you don’t have time to test, it should work as designed. And if it doesn’t like you thought it would, you need to come up with a plan ASAP. And not ASAP like “tomorrow.” That’s a major challenge we encounter.
What about during the event itself? What are the challenges do you encounter once the event is kicked off?
Just like at the NFL, we’re supporting mobile ticketing and entry ourselves. We have over 60 different kinds of tickets. We have approximately 20 gates where people are able to enter either the festival itself or the camping or the cross area. Of course, we decide where people can enter and where they can’t. But all the ticket boxes must be secured and resilient to be operational.
The other difficulty we have is that our event is only four days a year. Everything we encounter during the event we have to solve or take note of in real team. Any fine-tune adjustments or interferences or drops of service have to be mitigated in real-time, and swiftly! We don’t have time to develop tests and deploy. We do everything at the event and it must work. There’s no time to sit down and relax during.
An additional challenge we’re observing is that event attendees are not sitting using Wi-Fi. They are walking around and expect to have Wi-Fi everywhere, and support activities like streaming content. They’re filming, sending, and downloading data. We transfer approximately 10 TBs of data across three days. We don’t have a ten gig fiber channel yet and these are the things we intend to have for the coming few years.
That’s a seriously impressive accomplishment. What does the future hold as it relates to technology at the Zwarte Cross Festival?
We’ve been using our Wi-Fi over the last five, six years. We must replace and come up with new technologies for the coming years. What we started last year is using locationing on the full area. So, people can use our app and see where they are in this huge area and they are able to see, “Okay, where’s the nearest bar? Where’s the nearest toilet?” etc., to make it more active and not just Wi-Fi, but building apps and services on top of our current infrastructure.
We’re renewing our partnership with Extreme and Indicium to get every new technology that’s available from our partners into our area which we can benefit from and supply our visitors with. Doing this for four days you need instant partnership and technology to people who can come up with design ideas. We are not able to modify and make it perfect week after week. We only have four days a year to do this and we can’t do it without adequate partnership.
Want to learn more about how Maurice and his team’s success with technology at Zwarte Cross? Be sure to check out our blog post!