Cisco Networking Academy Keeps League Connected in NBA All-Star Week

With the NBA All-Star Game about to descend on New York City, it’s all hands on deck for the league. Each year, the NBA relocates more than 600 employees to the host city, and, because those employees need access to the wireless network, their phones, and — most important — each other, the NBA has once again turned to league partner Cisco and the Cisco Networking Academy.

Cisco Networking Academy students from several universities convened at NBA Entertainment headquarters for All-Star orientation.

Cisco Networking Academy students from several universities convened at NBA Entertainment headquarters for All-Star orientation.

Throughout All-Star Week, the NBA is deploying 30 students currently participating in the Cisco Networking Academy to assist NBA IT and Cisco staff with a wide variety of Cisco technologies at All-Star venues across the city.

Last Wednesday, those students were invited to NBA Entertainment’s offices in Secaucus, NJ, for a full tour of the facility, including a behind-the-scenes look at the NBA’s new Replay Center. Representing SUNY Adirondack, Westchester Community College, and St. John’s University, the students are currently involved in the Cisco Networking Academy, which helps individuals prepare for industry-recognized certifications and entry-level information- and communication-technology careers.

“As the partnership [between the NBA and Cisco] has grown, we’ve tried new things, tried to innovate and find new ways to work together,” says Chris Wiebke, director, global marketing partnerships, NBA. “Basically, the folks that lead our IT team were really the brains behind this, saying we can definitely benefit from more help at our events. By getting some bright people in to help us out, we think this could be a real benefit for young men and women who are trying to have careers in the technology industry to get some real hands-on experience.”

The Academy students will assist NBA VP, Operations and Infrastructure, Paul Del Guidice and his staff to support hundreds of NBA employees, media members, and more across two venues and four connected hotels. The team will work to architect the network, provide connectivity, build out meeting space at remote locations, and ensure that employees can continue to access Cisco technologies, including TelePresence video conferencing, WebEx Web conferencing, and Jabber instant messaging. Cisco will also deploy Meraki routers, switches, wireless access points, and controllers to support the network and build reliable firewalls and virtual private networks to handle the data bandwidth.

The students' tour included the NBA’s new Replay Center, as well as behind-the-scenes looks at the TOC, data center, and logging area.

The students’ tour included the NBA’s new Replay Center, as well as behind-the-scenes looks at the TOC, data center, and logging area.

“The All-Star event, just to put it in perspective, [is] very similar to having to open a business or an office facility within a week’s timeframe,” says Del Guidice. “To support the event, we relocate somewhere between 600 and 800 of our employees to the city where the All Star game is. We also contract with tens, maybe hundreds of contractors to support the logistics associated with the event. … And so, to support these folks, we have to build out meeting space inside the city.”

Although this year’s All-Star Game will be played at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, Madison Square Garden will play a major part in All-Star Week as home to the NBA House interactive basketball experience. Both venues are Cisco Connected Stadiums, which will give students hands-on experience with in-venue WiFi.

In addition to Madison Square Garden and Barclays Center, NBA and Cisco will beef up connectivity and bandwidth at the Sheraton (players, security, NBA Entertainment), Marriott Marquis (marketing group, partnerships, international), Four Seasons (board of governors), and Waldorf Astoria (tech summit).

NBA first turned to the Cisco Networking Academy for last year’s All-Star Game in New Orleans, selecting seven local students to support Cisco’s onsite efforts. Networking Academy students also assisted during last month’s NBA game in London and will be an integral part of the staff at next year’s All-Star Game in Toronto.

Student responsibilities range from network origination to configuration in meeting spaces to desktop assistance, working alongside the NBA’s IT staff to address challenges and troubleshoot problems.

“It’s really wonderful, because Cisco puts together this fantastic curriculum, but the missing link is connecting [students] with partners so that they can utilize the contextual skills that they’ve learned in the classroom,” says Marie Zwickert, business development manager, Cisco. “This puts it all together for them. It makes them realize what kind of opportunities are out there in the real world, and they can utilize the skill set that they’ve learned in their classroom.”

“This is the cool stuff,” says NBA’s Paul Del Guidice. "We’re not just moving packets of word processing or printing or typical data transport. We’re moving live video feeds for instant replay."

“This is the cool stuff,” says NBA’s Paul Del Guidice. “We’re not just moving packets of word processing or printing or typical data transport. We’re moving live video feeds for instant replay.”

Preliminary work on the network buildout has begun; students officially began their duties yesterday and will work through Sunday’s game and the postgame breakdown. Throughout the week, students will rotate through the various All-Star venues; a Cisco network engineer will be on hand at each venue to explain how the network is built out and used at that particular site, giving the students a better understanding of the network environment as a whole.

For Del Guidice, working his 12th NBA All-Star Game, having the Networking Academy addresses his biggest annual challenge: finding qualified network engineers in the host city to ensure a smooth show.

“Having the opportunity to participate with Cisco, with the Academy, is just unique and awesome,” he says. “All of our success is based on this event. Believe it or not, the most important thing we do all year long is this All-Star event, so having the opportunity to work with [the Cisco Networking Academy] is a true privilege for us.”